Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Insuring solid futures

First Nations find financial strength in numbers

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Manitoba First Nations communities -- and individuals -- will be able to do more business with themselves on a broad spectrum of insurance products through a new partnership that's ultimately owned by Manitoba First Nations people.

Tribal Wi-Chi-Way-Win Capital Corp. (TWCC), the Winnipeg-based aboriginal financial institution, has been the leader of an initiative that has created a partnership between TWCC and three insurance brokerage firms. Those firms specialize in providing a range of insurance products to First Nations and aboriginal communities.

TIPI, (TWCC Insurance Partners Inc.) has been in the works for a couple of years and Monday was its official launch.

One of the specific aims of TIPI is the eventual creation of a single pension and benefit plan for all First Nations, Métis and aboriginal organizations.

"This is about First Nations people taking their rightful place in the financial-services marketplace," said Alan Park, chief executive officer of TWCC. "Aboriginal people in Canada have great financial resources but no clout. This will be another way for our own financial resources to stay in the community."

TWCC has a lengthy track record as a lending institution and is a finalist in this year's Manitoba Chambers of Commerce's Business Awards in the medium-sized business category.

It's owned by five of the seven tribal councils in the province, supports about 725 aboriginal entrepreneurs and has provided more than $45 million in commercial and personal loans in Manitoba.

TIPI is a partnership between TWCC and three existing insurance companies -- FirstPlan Benefits, First Commercial Benefits and First Commercial Brokers -- all of which have about 15 years' experience providing pension plans, group benefits and property and casualty insurance to First Nations communities.

Park said bringing them all together creates a broader, full-service offering.

Kent Cook, the managing director of First Commercial Brokers, itself a partnership with the Swampy Cree Tribal Council, said. "We are trying to create some economies of scale and extend our respective reach a little further into the First Nations communities."

Half the fees

In explaining why such an entity makes sense, Park uses the analogy of the Manitoba Teachers' Society pension plan that is available to all teachers in Manitoba as opposed to First Nations who have to buy one-off plans, paying retail rates for the management of the plans.

TIPI officials say they believe they will eventually offer pension benefits at half the management fees First Nations communities are currently paying.

Whereas TIPI will have some expertise right away, pension-fund management is not one of them and it will use a third-party manager at the outset.

"This is about capacity-building. That's what's going on," Park said. "It is about us managing our own funds, taking the middle guy out. The middle guy is now us. And who owns us? The community, who are the real benefactors."

Peter Forton, the managing director of the CAPE (Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship) Fund, the Montreal-based fund started by former prime minister Paul Martin, said there are huge opportunities for aboriginal communities these days but the capacity to handle those opportunities is evolutionary.

He said while he did not know the specifics of this arrangement, he does know about TWCC and its track record as a well-managed operation.

"This kind of joint venture is exactly what needs to happen," he said. "You partner with someone with expertise. It's a partnership agreement between those who know and those who want to know. Over time, the knowledge is transferred and perhaps ownership and control (is transferred) as well. We see this model in other industries."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2012 B4

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