Finance and insurance are more closely associated in people's minds with share options and bonuses than with health clinics, but the purpose of a new boutique corporate finance consultant and insurance intermediary in Bermuda is to support a medical charity.
Bermuda has long been regarded as an innovative and interesting insurance market, and ISIS Limited and the ISIS Foundation are perhaps just another example of the unique style of entrepreneurship that finds its home on the island.
ISIS is the brainchild of three friends and long-stayers in Bermuda. Two of them, Sharon Beesley and Audette Exel, are structured finance lawyers by training. Ms Exel ran one of Bermuda's three banks for a number of years. The third, Charles Swart. is an emergency physician. They decided in late 1997 that they would combine their skills to create an unusual animal: a finance consultant and insurance intermediary that generated revenue to pay and run a charitable foundation. The trio believed that they could bring a fundamentally different approach to bridging business and development and that business skills and capital could assist in creating sustainable aid projects.
Two years later, the three are proud of their achievements. The ISIS Foundation, led by Dr Swart, is running two primary health care projects: one in central Uganda and the other in northwestern Nepal. In partnership with a local hospital, the ISIS Foundation has built a community training hall as a centre for its work, recently completed a pediatric intensive care unit there and provided a mobile clinic for health workers to access remote rural areas. ISIS continues to fund a number of the hospital's health workers and to expand its programme of outreach health care in partnership with the local community.
In Nepal, ISIS is just putting the roof on a new school for the local ethnic Tibetan population, again in partnership with the local community. It is also teaming up with a local organisation to run an outreach primary health care project in the remote area of Humla, providing nurses, essential medicines and vaccinations to those communities.
The funding for all of this has come primarily from the business of ISIS Limited, which is licensed as an insurance intermediary in Bermuda. “Originally, our aim was to pay for all the administrative costs of the ISIS Foundation as a bottom line expense of the business” explains Ms Beesley. “We had hoped to secure project cost funding from the large grant-making foundations. As it turned out, because we had no track record in the development area, we were unsuccessful at tapping those funds.
“We, therefore, decided to pay for everything from the business as a consequence. Much to our surprise and delight, however, we were approached by a mixture of individuals and businesses that followed our progress, and received help from them, instead, with project costs. The business continues to fund all administration costs and, now we have a track record, we hope this year to have another go at the grant-making foundations to get help with project costs going forward”.
Ms Exel says it was a struggle in the early stages to get both the business and the charity off the ground at the same time. “If we were not in Bermuda, I doubt we would have made it,” she says. The business decided to specialise in structured finance transactions that could use some element of finance-related insurance. “We have received a great deal of encouragement from the Bermuda insurance markets, in trying to source and structure finance-related transactions that meet their risk appetite. In particular, Centre Re has been very supportive of our efforts and has spent a great deal of time with us, working to teach us how they view finance-related risk. The cultural and business differences between a banker's view of risk and that of an insurer are huge,” Ms Exel says, “and that provides a significant arbitrage opportunity”.
Deals, however, take a long time to structure and both women say that it has been the corporate finance work they do, together with consulting opportunities, that have kept ISIS alive in its early stages. “ Bermuda is a fantastic market, and there is plenty of work for us in consulting to businesses in other jurisdictions about the benefits of doing business here, and finding them partners.” Ms Exel says.
“We also spent some time raising capital for Max Re, which we believe is the first of a new breed of insurers to approach asset management more aggressively. Max Re is yet another example of Bermuda leading a new wave in the insurance world”.
As for their future plans, the three partners see 2000 as a year to consolidate on the work of the last two years, and institutionalise both the business and the charity. “If we get to the end of this year with a structure that has solid policies and procedures, a business that has a consistent revenue stream, and a charity that runs two sustainable long term projects, we will be very happy,” Ms Beesley and Ms Exel say. “Our aim is not to grow for the sake of growth, but to create a long term, sustainable structure that will fund our health care projects for years to come”. With the continuing support of the Bermuda insurance markets, they should be able to do just that.