The Medical, Clerical and General Life Assurance Society, as it was originally known, was set up in 1824. It was founded by Dr. George Pinckard of London, assisted by a committee of medics and clerics. He was appointed the Society's first chairman, a role he held until his death 11 years later. By that date, the Society had issued some 2,700 policies.
Pinckard was a remarkable man. As an army physician he had travelled to South America, the West Indies and the United States. He had witnessed slavery first-hand, and became a vocal abolitionist.
He was also committed to public health, particularly that of the urban poor. In 1801, he had established a free dispensary in Bloomsbury. Here he inoculated against smallpox, and treated a range of conditions, all free of charge.
The new society differed from existing life assurance providers. It was a requirement that no fewer than nine members of the medical profession should serve on the board of directors. This gave it an expertise which rival companies lacked. By conducting a medical examination of every applicant, the directors were able to predict life expectancy with far greater accuracy. Where an increased risk was perceived, cover would still be offered, but at a higher premium. This was known as 'rating up' - a revolutionary concept then, but now standard practice for all life assurance companies.
The First Policy
The Society's first board meeting was held on 23rd June 1824, at 32 Russell Square, London. Its business hours were established as 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. daily, with the exception of Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Shortly afterwards, the first policy was issued to Dr. Richard Pinckard, nephew of the chairman. He was granted assurance 'in the Sum of £500, upon and for the whole Term of his own Life'. The policy records that Pinckard was in good health, having had cowpox, but neither smallpox nor gout. Nor was he 'afflicted with Asthma, Spitting of Blood, Convulsions, or Insanity' but was 'of sober and temperate Habits.'
The policy also contained some notable restrictions. These included not travelling beyond the limits of Europe, or travelling by sea without licence from the directors.
It further noted that should Pinckard 'die by Duelling, or by his own hands, or by the Hands of Justice' the policy would be void.
In the event, Pinckard did none of these things. But he still died twenty-two years later, aged just 43. His premature death caused a loss to the Society of £210.
In its first year, the Society's income amounted to £1,960. Fifty-two life assurance policies were granted, with a total assurance value of £44,300. Within a few years, business had grown to £200,000 a year, and in 1832, Clerical Medical declared its first bonus. Bonuses were declared every subsequent year to 'with-profits' policyholders - despite outbreaks of cholera, two world wars and stock market crashes.
Spreading the Word
The founders of Clerical Medical were active in promoting this 'new Assurance Office with Improved Arrangements'. They placed advertisements in the newspapers and sent circulars to members of the professional classes, especially clergymen and medical practictioners. They firmly believed that 'the practice of Life Assurance is a bounden duty.' The Society also engaged in the innovative system of using 'travellers', or salesmen, who criss-crossed the country drumming up business.
'Outdoor staff' - Clerical Medical travelling salesmen, 1924.
In 1855, Clerical Medical moved from Bloomsbury to Lichfield House, in St. James's Square. An office was opened in the City of London in 1873, and in February 1888, the first branch office was established in Manchester. This was followed by branches in Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and Newcastle.
Growth and Mergers
The Society acquired the General Reversionary and Investment Company in 1913. Then in 1920, it merged with The Employers’ Liability Assurance Corporation. This relationship lasted for 40 years, during which time Clerical Medical operated as a separate entity. In 1960, it regained full independence when the Employers’ Liability merged with the Northern Assurance Company. In 1961, an Act of Parliament was passed making Clerical Medical a mutual office.
Having outgrown its head office in St James's Square, the company decided to relocate to Bristol, in 1975. By the early 1990s, it employed more than 2,500 staff and managed assets of £15 billion.
In 1995, the decision was taken to 'demutualise', and to offer Clerical Medical for sale to another financial institution. The following year, the company was purchased by the Halifax. It subsequently became part of HBOS plc in 2001.
In 2009, following the acquisition of HBOS by Lloyds TSB, Clerical Medical became part of Lloyds Banking Group. Shortly after, it was announced that the Clerical Medical brand would be phased out.
Return to the Halifax family tree.
- Our Centenary: being the History of the First Hundred Years of the Clerical, Medical and General Life Assurance Society by A. D. Besant (Clerical Medical and General Life Assurance Society, London, 1924).
- The Employers Liability Assurance Corporation Ltd. 1880-1930 by Sir Harry Perry Robinson (Waterlow & Sons Ltd., London, 1930).
- Extensive archives relating to Clerical Medical are held by Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh - for further information see our archive collections.
- Records and artefacts relating to Clerical Medical are also on display in the Museum on the Mound.