West Indian Insurances Ltd, trading as Sentry, an indigenous insurance company that is the second largest in the sector in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
As part of activities to celebrate the golden anniversary, the company worshipped today (Sunday) at the Rillan Hill Church of the Nazarene, where its general manager, the Reverend Fidel Taylor is the pastor.
On Thursday, the company launched its anniversary celebration at a media event in Kingstown, where Taylor said:
“The rest of the year 2023 has been earmarked with a list of activities to mark this milestone as there are not many local companies these days that make it to 50 years.”
Taylor, who has been at the helm of the company since 2010, noted that it was founded in February 1973 by Vincentians the late Randolph Russell and his widow, Gwendolyn Russell. He said the entrepreneurs saw the need for another indigenous company in SVG and made every effort to capitalise on the opportunity, adding, “everything has to do with timing.
“You can miss your opportunity if you don’t move on time,” Taylor said, adding that the Russells were people of vision.
He said that Sentry complimented the services of the First St. Vincent Bank, of which the Russells are also shareholders, to provide insurance coverage for their property and vehicles loan portfolio while at the same time serving the general public.
In 1999, the company was rebranded to lay the foundation for the next phase of its success, Taylor said.
He said a group of new investors were brought into the company, namely Bertille “Silky” Da Silva, Vidal Browne, Kenny Ford, Trevor Sylvester and the late Othneil Sylvester to give the company a boost of capital investment and some fresh ideas.
“A new trading name for the company was needed that was catchy, I’m told, and easy to remember. So, the name Sentry was conceptualised, which actually means the guard,” Taylor said.
He said that Marcus McDowall, an insurance professional, was contracted in 1999 to manage the company and did an excellent job in laying the foundation for others who will come after him.
McDowall retired after nine years of service and in July of 2008, Veronica Da Souza-Phillips, an insurance executive was brought in from Trinidad and Tobago to manage the company.
Philips was charged with continuing to grow the business, develop the new office facility that the company now occupies on the first floor of the First St. Vincent Bank Building on James Street, Kingstown and to recruit suitable additional staff to do the work of the growing company.
“I am one of the persons,” Taylor said, adding that he was hired as sales and marketing manager to look after the marketing aspects of the company to make the company more visible as well as to grow the products portfolio.
“After Mrs. Phillips’ contract was out in 2010, she returned to her homeland, Trinidad and Tobago, and I was appointed as general manager of the company in February 2011. I was charged with the responsibility to continue to market the company, to grow and develop the business, to recruit and train staff as the company was growing fast,” Taylor said.
He said that at the same time, he had to respond to new regulatory requirements under the newly formed Financial Services Authority and the Financial Intelligence Unit.
Taylor said that as Sentry evolved, he saw the need to move the company into the digital age by fully computerising the operation, a move that the entire board approved.
“So, we began to invest in our accounting software programmes, development of underwriting software programmes, the building of our website, which is interactive, among other things.
“Another significant accomplishment, under my watch was the purchasing of a property at Frenches to store our wrecked vehicles that we used to have all over the place in people’s garages.
“And sometimes, we will not benefit because people in some places would strip the parts and then you end up with a shell rather than your whole wreck.”
He said that Sentry started its claims recoveries department on that property at French’s and began to strip its wrecked vehicles to salvage good parts for resale purposes as well as to supply itself to repair clients’ vehicles.
“Sometimes, rather than looking outside to purchase parts, you look inside first and you’re able to cut costs,” he said, adding that the board of directors of Sentry recently decided to turn that department into a subsidiary company, which is called Sentinel Auto Inc.
“So, today, 50 years later, we have the second largest and profitable motor vehicle portfolio in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and a growing and profitable property business, covering all classes of property business with several thousands of clients,” Taylor said.
“The lines of products we carry include all classes of motor vehicles, commercial property, home insurance, cash-in-transit, goods in transit, bonds, contractors all risk, marine hull, employers’ liability, public liability, professional indemnity, electronic equipment, heavy equipment, among other things.”
He said that over the past 12 years the company has invested significantly in the training of its staff as well as to provide a medical insurance plan which 100% is paid for by the company.
“There is also a compulsory savings plan for the retirement of the staff, which is matched by the company. The percentage they put in is much by the company. Other benefits include profit sharing, uniforms, and other incentives to ensure that our staff feel that they are part of the company.”
He said that the activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary will recognise people for their service.
“People in house, staff, directors, and people outside of the company — service providers who have been working with us to ensure that we don’t fail,” Taylor said.
The plans include customer appreciation every last Friday of every month for the rest of the year. Also, each month, the company will recognise people who have been customers for increments of five years.
“… today we give thanks to Almighty God for His grace, his mercies and blessings and us for keeping us over the past 50 years. We believe that there is a God and we believe that he is at the helm when all is said and done, we look to Him always in our highs and lows in our ups and downs, to lead us and he has certainly done well for us in health in wealth and favour,” Taylor said.