Those first Bermudians were on their way to relieve the beleaguered and starving colony of Jamestown in America and even losing their ship to a hurricane did not deter them. Within six months of washing up on the shores of Bermuda, they had built two smaller ships from scratch and set off again to Virginia, but they were canny enough to leave three sailors behind to protect this new colony for England. Bermuda has been continuously inhabited since that time, often in the face of starvation, plagues of rats and fear of invasion by foreign powers, and it is that indomitable spirit which continues today. Bermuda no longer faces starvation or adversity and has grown adept at creating new opportunities for its people for nearly 400 years. Whether it was boat building, whaling, salt panning in the Turks and Caicos, onions and potatoes for New York, Easter lily bulbs or tourism, Bermudians developed new skills and industries to meet its needs. However, for rapid growth, wealth and global stature, there has never been anything to rival today's insurance industry, but this in itself created a new problem.

With a population no larger than an average small town and a land mass of only 21 square miles, the problem was how to maintain the industry's growth while not overloading the island's infrastructure. How was the island to develop a human resource pool of Bermudians with the educational skills and training necessary to fully participate in this new industry?

To meet this challenge, in 1996 several of the island's leading insurance executives established a charitable foundation to develop and coordinate the availability and funding necessary for Bermudians to receive the education and training for a career in the insurance industry.

The newly formed Bermuda Foundation for Insurance Studies (BFIS) worked closely with the Bermuda College and the College of Insurance in New York to establish a viable programme of study. Students were to take the first two years of their bachelor of administration degree majoring in Insurance at Bermuda College and then seamlessly transfer their credits to complete their degree overseas at The College of Insurance…and this was just the start.

In September 1996, eight students received two-year scholarships to Bermuda College. As these students moved on through the system, they had to compete again to receive the overseas scholarships to complete their degrees at universities overseas and they had to maintain a 3.0 GPA in order to continue receiving their awards. Those first scholarship students have already begun work in the industry and a stream of students is following in their footsteps.

These Bermudian students are high achievers, often graduating at the top of their classes and winning other scholarships and awards while studying overseas.

In addition to the scholarship programme, a mentor programme was also started which matches any student studying insurance or actuarial science (not just the scholarship winners) with a professional already working in the Bermuda insurance industry. This provides the students with someone to give them advice on their studies, help them to network and learn more about what is expected of them in the workforce. In cases where the student was the first in his or her family to plan a career in insurance, this touchstone is invaluable.

Encouraging Bermuda's insurance companies to hire the students for internship during the summer vacation has proved a success and the foundation also helps the students by reviewing their CVs or resumés.

As part of its mission, the foundation gives an annual grant to the Bermuda Insurance Institute's educational fund to ensure that professional designation classes continue to be offered in Bermuda. With an average of 300 enrolments per year, those working in the industry can continue to benefit from improving their education.

Nineteen students have received scholarship funding to date and in May 2000, 11 students graduated with degrees in insurance or actuarial science. The mentor programme continues to grow and 47 students have now been found mentors.

Many names well-known in the insurance world such as Brian O'Hara, Brian Duperreault, Michael Butt and Brian Hall continue to be closely involved with the foundation, and Bermuda registered and overseas companies and private individuals have donated or pledged close to $4.7 million. An endowment fund has been established and a further $6 million needs to be raised to ensure that the foundation will continue to benefit Bermudians and the Bermuda insurance industry.

BFIS chairman, Brian Hall says, “The BFIS programme has even caught the attention of such well known overseas companies as Mellon Bank, Loomis, Sayles and DLJ, who benefit from doing business with Bermuda. They are now a source of significant donations which is extremely encouraging and demonstrates the high esteem in which Bermuda and Bermudians are held”.

The comments of BFIS scholarship recipient Stephen Jones sum up what BFIS is all about: “BFIS does everything in its power to ensure that every student gets the help needed to succeed, which does not necessarily mean monetary awards and classroom studies. I was able to broaden my education through the mentor programme, the on-going advice and even the social gatherings where I met ceos, executives and other insurance professionals. Now I have started working full-time in a career which I never believed was an option available for me and without BFIS I would never have been able to even consider it.”

  • Catherine Lapsley is executive director of the Bermuda Foundation for Insurance Studies. E-mail: bfis@ibl.bm.

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