From helping Dutch people pay for funerals 150 years ago to offering loans from a converted saloon in San Francisco; our history spans the world and stretches back all the way to 1844.
Most of Aegon's Dutch predecessors hail from the mid-19th century, which saw a small boom in burial funds and insurance companies in the Netherlands. Funerals were (and are) expensive, not to mention an unexpected cost at a difficult time. Aegon's earliest predecessor was Algemeene Friesche Begrafenisfonds 'Memento Mori', a burial fund created by two civil servants, J. Oosterhoff and J.S. Spoelstra, in the northern Dutch province of Friesland in 1844. Oosterhoff was a former burial fund inspector, Spoelstra a tax inspector.
Throughout our history, Aegon people helped finance new ventures and bright ideas. They fought in wars. They built businesses from scratch - frequently in foreign countries. They commissioned beautiful buildings, invested in profitable businesses on behalf of customers and assisted people in hard times.
Aegon's head office is still in the Netherlands. But over time, through mergers and acquitions, Aegon grew to be a large global insurer, offering far more than funeral insurance. But just like back in 1844, we take our purpose of helping people achieve a lifetime of financial security seriously.
You can read our full history per decade below.
Almost 200 years of our history in just 160 seconds
Did you know?
- Predecessor, Bank of Italy was one of the first banks to issue loans to help rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 fire.
- Transamerica supplied Walt Disney with a loan, which allowed him to complete Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- The Aegon name was created after the merger of two Dutch predecessors: AGO and Ennia, on November 30, 1983.
- Alette Jacobs, suffragette and one of the first female doctors, donated her time to do physical exams for a low-cost pension fund for labourers - one of Aegon's predecessors.
Extended history per decade
Although we could never capture all of Aegon's rich history in a single document, we've given it a shot to write Aegon's story from 1759 to present day.
Aegon's official predecessors started operations in 1844. However, Aegon's history goes back further, due to businesses we acquired in the last few hundred years. We don't consider these our official predecessors (which are described as businesses that we have merged with), however our acquired businesses do form a unique part of our history.
Aegon's earliest predecessors were all burial funds from the Netherlands. Why? The need to set money aside, or take out insurance, for a proper funeral can be largely attributed to the Dutch culture. Being buried at the expense of the state or charity was considered not done, even by people with little means. And funerals were (and are) expensive. There were also plenty of them; most people didn't live to see old age. Born in the early 1800s, you could expect to live between 30 and 35 years old. A third of children did not survive infancy.
Burial funds, such as the Broederlijke Liefdebeurs ('Brotherly Love fund'), founded in 1759 and one of Aegon's unofficial predecessors, was the solution. Insurers were not professional organizations; sometimes, insured families had to serve as unpaid pall bearers at other funerals, to keep cost down. At other times, members were asked to collect premiums from other families or pay out claims in name of the company.
In 1825, a royal decree banned burials inside churches for villages of more than 1,000 people in The Netherlands. As a consequence, people were buried outside cities for the first time. Funerals became a commercial endeavor as funeral costs were spent on businesses affiliated with funerals (shroud makers, pall bearers, grave diggers), instead of being paid to churches.
Some burial funds also included a modest fund that would financially support the widow or orphan for a short period of time. The Meisjes-, Vrouwen- en Weduwenfonds ('Girls'-, Women's- and Widows fund) from 1828 is Aegon's earliest unofficial predecessor that sold life insurance based on actuarial science. This rigorous mathematics, to calculate risk and uncertainty, is still used today.
Across the globe, similar insurance companies were set up. In 1831, Scottish Equitable was founded in Edinburgh. Our UK headquarters are still in Scotland's capital city today, with additional offices in London, Lytham St Annes, Witham, Manchester and Peterborough.
The mid-19th century saw a small boom in burial funds and insurance companies. Most of Aegon's Dutch predecessors hail from this period. Aegon's earliest predecessor was Algemeene Friesche Begrafenisfonds 'Memento Mori', a burial fund created by two civil servants, J. Oosterhoff and J.S. Spoelstra, in the northern Dutch province of Friesland in 1844. Oosterhoff was a former burial fund inspector and secretary of the local body that oversaw tax efforts, Spoelstra a tax inspector. The two worked closely with the city government and, although their offices consisted of a room in Spoelstra's home, held their meetings at the Leeuwarden city hall.
Another key predecessor is Het Groot-Noordhollandsch Begrafenisfonds, founded in 1845 by a pastor with the name Pfijfers.
Couriers that collected premiums for burial funds were known to start their own businesses. Most insured families didn't know where they were insured - but they knew the courier from their weekly visits to collect a few cents. If couriers stopped working, they needed to find someone else to take over their duties. This led to family businesses, whereby couriers who passed away could pass responsibilities to their sons. In 1844, directors of the Hellevoetsluis branch office agreed to allow a courier's widow to take on duties until the courier's son was of age. At the time, working outside of the home was considered 'unnatural' for women.
Although the first Dutch life insurance company was founded in 1807. It had barely any competition until 1850, when Aegon's predecessor Vennootschap voerende den naam Nederland was founded.
In the mid to late 1900s, insurance was often not a fulltime business and directorship was a part-time job. The leadership role frequently rotated between members. Clerks were frequently hired by the director and were not employees of the insurance fund itself. Algemeene Friesche hired its first clerk in 1855 – up until that point, the directors were in charge of all administrative tasks.
One of Aegon's core predecessors, De Vennootschap, was founded in 1858 by André Langrand-Dumonceau of Belgian origin. Considered a financial genius in his time, he was involved with managing over twenty companies, including banks and railway companies. Before starting De Vennootschap, he worked as a baker, stone mason, spent time in the French Foreign Legion, became a count (and later a baron) and met the pope.
Baron Langrand-Dumonceau, however, was not known for staying with a company for long – and his decisions were considered questionable. He used one company's equity capital to take up the loan capital of another, and declared personal bankruptcy in 1870. In fact, he fled the country after being accused of theft, bribery and criminal recklessness.
Aegon has roots in what was known as the Dutch East Indies (the Republic of Indonesia) as well. Nillmij (short for Nederlandsch-Indische Levensverzekering en Lijfrente Maatschappij) was founded in 1859. Although operations were profitable, they were small: the island of Java counted only 3,000 Dutch people at the time. Moreover, most were military personnel or had access to state pensions. But people's chances of meeting an untimely end were double that of mainland Europe - apparently predominantly due to unruly lifestyles and plenty of alcohol.
Wiggers van Kerchem, director of Nillmij until 1876, started the company with just 23 insured members. Communications to customers was tough: Nillmij would publish in papers that they had, indeed, received premiums.
1861 was a remarkable year for our UK business: Scottish Equitable's first customer, a Mr. Christie, started his well-deserved pension.
Insurance operations changed throughout the years, but the role of couriers remained critical for decades. They had a great deal of power and could pressure insurance directors to sell new types of products or improve guidelines in the customer's favor. In 1871, couriers from Groot-Noordhollandsche proposed better pay and the company subsequently increased their premiums for new policies.
The Dutch insurance sector expanded rapidly in the second half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. The main drivers were strong economic growth and increasing prosperity. An example is the expansion of De Dordrecht into Belgium in 1876 - without much success by the way – and next a first office in France. Expansions were not extravagant: directors would hire an agent or open a small office in a foreign country, and wait three or four years to see results. Most ventures ended after such a time period. In 1880, Vennootschap Nederland struck out in South Africa, but this was literally a dead end: the hired agent unfortunately committed suicide and the venture was shut down.
In the late 19th century, dozens more burial funds, widows' funds, life insurers, health insurers and other companies and associations eventually formed the Aegon that we know today, via mergers and acquisitions. Such as Olveh (Onderlinge Verzekeringsmaatschappij Eigen Hulp), incorporated in 1859, which was initially formed as a self-help organization for civil servants and white-collar workers. Olveh was founded by Mr. De Bosch Kemper as a work-from-home business. His place of residence in The Hague served as the company headquarters. To give an idea of size; in its early days, Olveh had a paid clerk, but an unpaid director.
B. Janse Johanneszoon, a former naval officer, started the Eerste Nederlandsche, one of Aegon's primary predecessors, in 1882. After a trip to England in 1879 or 1880, he was inspired by the Railway Passengers Assurance Company, which sold short-term insurance against accidents while travelling.
A few years later, in 1885, the Nederlandsche Pensioenvereniging voor Werklieden ('Dutch pension fund for labourers') was started. This was a net pension construction, whereby the organization's costs were not paid using premiums, but via charitable donations. Fortunately, the pension fund was able to make bank transfers for free, and doctors donated their time for physical exams - including the first female doctor, Alette Jacobs. Ms Jacobs was the first woman to officially graduate from a Dutch university, helped form the first Dutch political party that allowed women members and is considered a hero of the suffragette movement.
In the 1890's, tech improvements were slow. To give you an idea of what constituted innovation; a funeral insurance fund in Sexbierum started using a stamp, instead of drawing logos by hand. De Dordrecht got its first phone line in 1889, the same year that Olveh bought its first typewriters. Counting machines were considered innovative for math departments. Card systems were introduced at De Dordrecht in 1900, and at Groot-Noordhollandsche in 1906. Machines that could pump out invoices and addressed envelopes were considered advanced in 1910.
Aegon's first predecessor to offering credit (loans) was De Dordrecht. Around 1890, it dealt with civil servants, many of them returning from the East Indies, who needed credit. In exchange for a life insurance policy, and a portion of their pension or salary, the company offered credit to bridge to gap to the next salary. This was a great success, until the government stepped in and outlawed this practice.
A New York venture
Count Langrand, who escaped Belgium after financial ruin, entered the USA in 1872 and after almost two decades of living the quiet life, proposed a new insurance company in the US in 1892. Leveraging his connections, he convinced Vennootschap to let him open up a New York office. Disregarding previous questionable financial decisions, Venootschap agreed to a new office on the corner of Broadway and 18th street, which opened on January 4, 1893. Another office soon opened close by. Langrand pulled out of the business just two years later.
Reports from the American daughter to the Dutch headquarters were in English and typed up - something which was still unusual in Europe. They also held conventions for agents every six months. Business flourished, with expansion west and south. Meeting notes from the time hold interesting details; for example, doing business in Texas was considered a risk, and selling to customers in Colorado was impossible due to the high number of murders. American sales overshadowed Dutch ones almost immediately - by 1894, the American branch brought in 21 million guilders - the Dutch branch just 1.3 million. But directors in the Netherlands saw the profits as a fata morgana and were concerned about finances. Costs spiraled out of control, while fees for members were too low. In 1896, the decision was made to close the US business, which, after much back and forth, was finalized in the spring of 1897. It would take another 30 years to sell the portfolio of American policies.
First employee pensions
In 1895, De Dordrecht started a pension insurance for its own employees. Employees contributed 2.5% of their annual salary, while the employer contributed 5%. The idea was, that retiring workers would hold on to 60% of their last salary after the age of 65. In case of invalidity or dismissal, the fund was released. However, if employees switched jobs to work for the competitor, the employer's contribution was forfeited. Algemeene Friesche started a similar pension scheme in 1896, Olveh before 1900, Groot-Noordhollandsche in 1905 and Eerste Nederlandsche in 1910.
It is therefore not a surprise that the early 1900s saw the first collective pension contracts. Algemeene Friesche noted its first in 1906, and Groot-Noordhollandsche has one dated 1918 (which was a 28 member pension fund for a cooperative of office and trade clerks in Zwolle). These collective contracts became increasingly popular in the 1930s.
In 1903, Eerste Nederlandse started the Eerste Hypotheekbank ('First Mortgage Bank'). All mortgages had the option to include life insurance, with Eerste Nederlandsche of course. The businesses were to be kept strictly separate. The only thing offered, according to letters, was 'moral support' for the directors.
Birth of Transamerica
In 1904, a young entrepreneur with a reputation for helping small merchants and immigrant farmers named Amadeo Giannini founded the Bank of Italy in a converted San Francisco saloon. His goal was to make financial services available to everyone - an innovative concept at the time. Two years later, in the chaotic days after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, Giannini set up a makeshift bank on a desk on the San Francisco docks. Instead of collateral, he gave residents loans to rebuild secured with only a handshake. Giannini was never one to make a big deal about his role in helping the city and its residents rebuild, but his legend and his business grew. His business would turn into Transamerica, one of Aegon's key brands.
Competition on the Dutch insurance market was tough. In 1905, Algemeene Maatschappij van Levensverzekering en Lijfrente attempted a hostile takeover of Nillmij, by having straw men purchase shares and influence the company's directors. This venture was successfully deflected.
The first female inspectors were hired in 1874, at a time when few women worked outside the home. De Dordrecht, Venootschap and Olveh are all known to have hired women for their back office. In 1907, De Dordrecht even asked a female inspector to set up an all-female department. There was a good reason for this – insurers had trouble keeping staff. Male clerks stayed on an average of three years; female inspectors averaged seven years at the same company. In fact, when most agents at De Dordrecht were fired in 1915 due to the economic uncertainty, the only two to stay on were female. In a photo taken in the The Hague office of Eerste Nederlandsche in 1913, you can clearly see the number of women on the team. Times changed though; the all-female department was shut down in 1920. By then, just one out of 10 agents in the Netherlands were female.
In 1911, Nieuwe Eerste Nederlandsche started selling car insurance. Accidents occurred all the time, according to the insurers. There were not that many cars on the road, and people were not used to keeping roads clear: mothers with babies were known to chat in the middle of the street. The number of accidents had something to do with the drivers as well: prior to 1927, those applying for a driver's license were given it immediately, no questions asked.
In 1913, the Eerste Nederlandsche acquired Vennootschap Nederland, which at the time was an unusual practice. The Vennootschap had been in financial trouble for a while, which led to some very unhappy shareholders. One key shareholder, an 84-year-old blind author, published a never-ending stream of negative articles about the insurer.
The growth of insurance companies was halted by the outbreak of World War I in 1914, which led to massive disruption across the continent.
Although World War I devastated Europe, Dutch insurers didn't do poorly during the war. Early on in the war, the Dutch government needed cash - and fast. The government costs increased rapidly. A war loan was inevitable. Eerste Nederlandsche lent two million guilders, roughly equivalent to what the Dutch queen lent to the state, at 5% interest.
Initially, the outbreak of the first world war nearly stopped the sale of new policies. Premium collection was a nightmare, and agents improvised. One of the offices sent all clerks home for a week: they were supposed to go fishing.
After the first shock wore off, customer payments continued. Between 10 and 16% of policies were unpaid, or paid late. For most customers, paying off the due amount was virtually impossible. Insurers were flexible and didn't cancel policies when premiums were not paid - a sign of the times.
The war also threw a wrench into new initiatives, such as the building of De Dordrecht's new headquarters. To save cost, directors decided to build just one wing, along with the central structure. The construction finished in 1917, and the company called it home until 1955.
After two years, the life insurance market saw some recovery, which mirrored the war. But not all companies would stand to benefit. By 1918, Eerste Nederlandsche was already in talks with Algemeene for a merger, which was set to improve competitiveness and lower costs. This was a precarious situation: according to the French, Algemeene was blacklisted as having done business with the enemy.
The years immediately after the Word War I were marked by economic uncertainty, high inflation and rising unemployment. All Western European countries and their currencies were unstable. Revolutions in Europe affected the business of life insurance companies De Dordrecht and Algemeene. Both had offices in Hungary. Local insurers were nationalized - but foreign insurers only received extra supervision. This led to directors of the Hungarian branch of De Dordrecht being fired - and rehired two days later - twice(!) in 1919. De Dordrecht sold their Hungarian business in January 1920, to nobody's surprise. The Hungarian director of Algemeene was literally chased out of his office. He later said he sold flowers to pay his way back to Amsterdam.
De Dordrecht didn't survive - 1919 and 1920 saw the division of its portfolio. It took until January 1, 1927 to finalize, since an accelerated division would cause chaos.
It also became clear that De Algemeene would not recover; a rescue operation by Eerste Nederlandsche was underway. Large portfolios were acquired and two directors were added to the Management Board of Eerste Nederlandsche.
Despite these difficult conditions in the post-war years, the insurance sector again grew quickly. For example, by 1920, nationwide income from premiums had almost doubled compared to 1913 levels.
New employer-employee relationship
The end of the First World War meant a new relationship between employer and employee. Old-fashioned patriarchal relationships became more business-like. An example of this changing relationship is when Eerste Nederlandsche moved most of its administration from The Hague to Dordrecht. The clerks were reluctant to move for their employers. The directors even had 24 small homes built, as well as a large home for female, unwed clerks. But the decision was not popular and the homes mostly stood empty.
In the early 1920s, "scientific management" was all the rage. This included advice to employees to 'love their jobs' and adopt clean desk policies. Eerste Nederlandsche stimulated the formation of a personnel association, to discuss working conditions. The proposal put together by employees - which included a raise in pay - was taken on, and even improved upon by directors.
In 1928 USA, Amadeo Giannini consolidated his bank into what would become Bank of America. Two years later, the organization acquired the Occidental Life Insurance Company through the newly created holding company, Transamerica Corporation.
During those expansion years, Giannini's legend grew as he provided funding at a critical time to the emerging California agricultural and wine industries. The generous banker also purchased bonds to secure the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge (finished 1937) during the Great Depression.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression hit the global economy hard. During the 1930s, while economic turmoil rocked the global economy, insurance companies were less affected than others. Factories closed for several days a week and unemployment skyrocketed. But premium incomes continued to grow. The number of new contracts decreased, however, and invested capital felt the effects of the stock market crash. In a pamphlet from 1931, Eerste Nederlandsche wrote that it turned out that 'a life insurance policy with a strong company is considered a safer investment than owning stock'. Which is why most insurance companies saw some growth after all. Some insurers even looked across borders for new businesses, such as Olveh, which hired its first agent in Surinam in 1933.
The Dutch East Indies though, where Nillmij did most of its business, were heavily affected by the 1930s crisis. Average family incomes in the region more than halved between 1930 and 1936.
In the spring of 1938, Algemeene Friesche and Groot-Noordhollandsche joined forces by promising to meet each other's obligations in times of crisis. Both pledged a bond of 1 million guilders and continued to operate under their original names.
The return to war in Europe in 1939 brought more upheaval to the Dutch insurance business.
Please note that this section focuses primarily on what occurred in the Netherlands, to Aegon's Dutch predecessors during World War II.
They knew war was coming
Although the invasion of the Netherlands started on May 10, 1940, the mobilization of Dutch military forces was announced on August 29, 1939. This meant that many employees and agents were called to arms and Aegon's predecessors made preparations. Eerste Nederlandsche, for example, prepared shelters to protect employees from gas attacks and bombings.
With records being paper only, keeping the policy and company administration safe was critical. Algemeene Friesche and Groot-Noordhollandsche separated their administration over two locations, just in case. In fact, Algemeene Friesche moved their administrative offices to the famous "Gothic Hall" in the royal Kneuterdijk Palace in the Hague, until the Germans claimed the building in 1941. And documentation had to be safeguarded in Scotland too. At the outbreak of the war, Scottish Equitable moved all of its records to Inverness for safe-keeping until it was safe to return them to Edinburgh.
Insurers also reconsidered their policies, ahead of expected casualties. Before the war, "death due to war" was always fully covered by your life insurance, unless you were in the military. Dutch life insurers joined forces in 1939 and decided to cut a maximum of 10% of all pay-outs, so they could pay out every policy and eliminate this difference between civilians and military personnel.
De Algemeene Levensverzekering-Bank, which would be acquired by Eerste Nederlandsche in 1950, moved into a brand new office in 1939. After the war was over, the business counted itself lucky: all of the former offices (which had been in use since 1903) were completely destroyed, while the new headquarters were spared.
When German troops invaded in 1940, banks held all money and the inflow of premiums temporarily stopped.
Many employees and agents were called to arms and the sales of new insurance dropped dramatically during the war. The occupation also broke the bonds between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. Local offices continued working as usual, if they could. About half of the Nillmij office personnel in Batavia (present day Jakarta, Indonesia) were called to military service. They were photographed in February 1941. Eleven didn't survive the war.
Nillmij Bureau Chief Jan Hendrik Pel, for example, was a sergeant and was killed in battle with German paratroopers while guarding the Valkenburg airport in 1940. A monument bearinghis name stands in Leiden.
Anton Detrie, corporal in the 37th Border Batallion, and agent for Algemeene Friesche, who was stationed at the border near Maastricht. He was killed in the fight over the locks across the Juliana channel.
Nillmij accountant and clerk Willem Mica was conscripted as a soldier and lost his life in May 1940. The Waalhaven airport, which he was defending, was bombed in the early hours of the morning of May 10, 1940. From the airport head office, he battled the German 'Fallschirmjäger' but didn't live to tell the tale.
Reserve captain Henri Herman Moquette, who was a life insurance inspector for Nillmij, is known for successfully defending the so-called Grebbe Line, which was a forward defense based around the Dutch Water Line. With just 64 men, he held out against overwhelming German numbers for 48 hours. After the capitulation by the Dutch government, he became a resistance fighter with 'Het Oranjevendel' in Hengelo. He was betrayed, imprisoned in the Oranjehotel and executed, along with 32 others, in 1942.
Others were, fortunately, had more luck. Deputy Director of Eerste Nederlandse Paul Koch was captain in the army and responsible for the air defense of the Hague, commanding 236 troops. They defended the power plant, phone company, gas factory and the north side of the city. After the capitulation by the Dutch army, Paul Koch returned to the company. On March 3 1945 he survived the bombing of the main offices in The Hague.
In 1942, all men between ages 18 and 35 were banned from working at banks and insurers. Aegon's predecessors were forced to send the Arbeidsbureau (Labour agency) lists of names. Some employees were sent to Germany for forced labour. Others went into hiding.
Aegon resistance fighters
Aegon can count prominent resistance fighters in its personnel during World War II. Such as Joop Meijer, inspector of life insurance at Nillmij, who smuggled weapons and shared military information with the English via a home-made radio transmitter. He was, unfortunately, caught and killed on April 16, 1945.
Another resistance fighter was Johan van Medenbach de Rooij, inspector of life insurance at Nillmij. He survived the bombing of Rotterdam while stuck in the post office and, according to reports, had direct contact with the English Secret Service. He put the reports together, which were transmitted from a care home in Bilthoven. An acquaintance of Johan would enter the care home dressed as a nurse, spend 30 minutes transmitting reports to the English, and walk out without arousing suspicion. The Germans caught Johan in 1941 and he was sent to camp Sachsenhausen in Germany, where he was shot. Transmissions to the English, however, continued until April 1943.
It is important to note that plenty of resistance fighters remained unknown and operated on their own or with a small group of people.
Aegon's offices and buildings
In mid-1940, a bomb missed the Eerste Nederlandsche headquarters by mere meters. Employees had practiced for just such an event: everyone knew exactly where they were supposed to sit in the bomb shelters during air raid alarms. In a twist of fate, the alarm did not sound when the bomb was dropped. Employees were just moving the typing room to a different location and the stairs were full of people. By sheer luck, people didn't panic and nobody was hurt.
Some offices were however, destroyed by bombs or surrendered to the occupying force. The Burmaniahuis in Leeuwarden, Friesland, and head offices of Algemeene Friesche, was used by the German Sicherheidsdienst (SD) in February 1945 for a period of three months. For many people in the city, the building is a symbol of repression and resistance - it's where resistance fighters were imprisoned. However, the rooms were bugged and the Dutch resistance managed to listen in on conversations in the building. The insurance company was able to start using the building again in July 1945, after the liberation.
On March 3, 1945 the British Royal Airforce mistakenly bombed the Bezuidenhout neighbourhood in the Hague, killing 550 people. The head offices of the Eerste Nederlandsche was hit as well. Fortunately, it was the weekend and few people were in the office. Four people were wounded. The director at the time, Mr. Holleman, managed to free himself from the burning building. Plenty of employees lived in the neighborhood and were rendered homeless by the bombing - one employee died. Although the building collapsed, the company's administration was well-protected in the company safe and survived the bombing and subsequent fire. The company temporarily set up office at the NUTS Spaarbank.
In April 1945, Canadian soldiers liberated Groningen. Nillmij van 1859's had a Groningen office on the Grote Markt, a lovely 17th century building. In withdrawing from the city, the building was set on fire by the Germans, along with 270 other buildings in Groningen.
During the war, insurance companies found that making decisions as an industry was almost impossible, since the longer the war carried on, the fewer they could meet. Travel was too tough. The German occupier tried to exert extra control over insurance companies, for example by making reinsurance for non-life mandatory. This was to sell the reinsurance contract to a German reinsurer, led by Joseph Goebbels' brother. Dutch insurers sabotaged this by delaying the organization of such a policy.
In what is considered one of the blackest periods of our history, on May 21, 1942, all insurers in the Netherlands were asked to split their portfolios into 'Aryan' and 'Non-Aryan'. Any policies that may have a Jewish beneficiary would need to be disclosed to an agency called Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co Sarphatistraat (Liro, for short). This was next to impossible; insurers had no clue if beneficiaries were Jewish, unless they asked and most insurers had no plans to do so. In their own records, Aegon's predecessors noted every policy as 'Aryan' unless the Liro told them otherwise.
This delayed the process immensely, but unfortunately, the portfolio split was carried out. In June 1943, the German occupier decided that all policies by Jews needed to be surrendered (paid out). This included policies that were, according to the law, not eligible for surrendering. Attempts to sabotage this process were not successful and vast sums of money were paid out to the Liro.
After the war, all policies by Jewish citizens were reinstated by royal decree - and insurers were responsible for financial redress of beneficiaries. In 1956, Liro was able to return 90% of funds to insurers.
1944-1945 Dutch Hunger winter
As the war turned on the Germans, life became hard for many people in the Netherlands. By late 1944, the occupied north was completely cut off from the freed south. Agents in the south independently sold emergency policies, but most sales stopped completely. In fact, local offices had no choice to become more independent as there was little fuel for travel and food was becoming scarce. In the headquarters of Groot-Noordhollandsche, staff received a free hot lunch daily, made with ingredients from the office garden. For the 1944 annual Christmas dinner at Algemeene Friesche and Groot-Noordhollandsche, an agent managed to purchase pork for split pea soup. The meat was smuggled to the office by secretaries, who had strapped the meat to their bodies.
All in all, insurance companies braved the storm that was World War II. In uncertain times, people were keen to purchase insurance. The Dutch government, also, made some premiums tax-deductible in 1941. Although times were hard, the amount of money in the Netherlands quadrupled during the war. Plenty of people found, however, that money was hard to spend.
The end of World War II in 1945 was followed by period of strong insurance industry growth in the Netherlands. After WWII, Dutch people overwhelmingly purchased insurance. Sales were sky-high and continued to grow spectacularly until the mid-1970s. Pensions were all the rage, supported by Dutch laws.
The same was true for non-life insurance. Plenty of homes in 1944 and 1945 stood empty, inviting thieves due to post-war scarcity. During the occupation, people got used to limited traffic, which made car accidents rampant in the post-war years.
In a global context, 1946 saw Bank of America (Transamerica's predecessor) as the largest private bank in the world. Due to the US Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, Transamerica had to choose whether to divest its banks or its non-bank investments. Transamerica surprised the financial world and chose insurance.
Although the situation after the war was chaotic in the Netherlands, it was more so in present-day Indonesia. It took ages for employees to find the administration. Archives were in disarray. Most people had been unable to pay premiums – and contacting them was now almost impossible. It took until 1948 before order was restored. Just a year later, in 1949, Indonesia was born, which impacted both Nillmij and Aegon's other predecessors with portfolios in the former Dutch East Indies. Portfolios shrank tremendously as Europeans left the country and administrative problems abounded. The decrease of the value of the Indonesian rupiah was also a growing problem. Monetary transactions between the two countries was restricted. In 1957, all insurers in Indonesia were nationalized and Nillmij merged with De Arnhem due to its financial difficulties.
In 1947, Nieuwe Eerste Nederlandsche opened offices in Brussels, Paramaribo (Surinam) and Curaçao. An agent was hired in Venezuela in 1950, as well as in the United States.
In the 1960s a wave of consolidation swept in as insurance companies faced growing competition, a need to control costs and rising inflation. The fifties and sixties also brought innovative technology. As early as 1956, Nillmij developed the X-1 computer, together with the Dutch Mathematical Institute, via subsidiary Electrologica, The business was sold to Philips in 1960. Across the water, in 1963, Scottish Equitable bought its first computer. And the decade even brought a few IPOs: in 1966, our first predecessor Eerste Nederlandsche was publicly traded. Nillmij followed in 1968.
In 1968, three insurers – Algemeene Friesche, Groot Noordhollandsche and Olveh – joined forces to create a new company called AGO. A year later, Eerste Nederlandsche, Nieuwe Nederlandsche and Nillmij merged to create Ennia. Between them, AGO and Ennia controlled 20% of the Dutch market. Both companies grew quickly throughout the 1970s.
In the following years, AGO and Ennia both expanded their international businesses. But with mixed success. At the time, local insurers were preferred over foreign businesses. In 1966, the office in Caracas of Nieuwe Eerste Nederlandsche was renamed La Primera Holandesa de Seguros, and a Venezuelian company owned the majority share. Although Nieuwe Eerste Nederlandsche still owned 49%, the percentage decreased year by year. A similar thing happened in Morocco and Saudi-Arabia.
After decades of expansion, Transamerica commissioned architect William Pereira to design a new headquarters in San Francisco. The Transamerica Pyramid was completed in 1972, and remained San Francisco's tallest building until it was surpassed in height by construction of the Salesforce Tower (opened January 8, 2018).
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw expansion and growth. In 1974, Ennia acquired Triump Insurance Company in Great Britain. In 1979, AGO purchased 13% of shares in Life Investors, a US health insurer, founded in 1959. Its stake in the company grew, until AGO announced in 1981, its aim to be a majority shareholder. The founder of Life Investors disagreed, leading to several court cases, which were decided in AGO's favour.
In 1980, Ennia acquired a 85% stake in Spanish insurer Galicia S.A., based in Madrid. One year later, Ennia acquired National Old Line in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. A year later in 1982, Ennia bought a minority share in Canadian Extendicare, which was sold a few years later.
Aegon was born on November 30, 1983 from the merger of AGO and Ennia. The news of the merger was a great surprise: together, AGO and Ennia would form the second largest insurer in the Dutch market. The name Aegon was chosen from over 700 submissions. The letters were formed from its major predecessors: Algemeene Friesche (A), Eerste Nederlandsche (E), Groot-Noordhollandsche van 1845 (G), Olveh van 1879 (O) and Nillmij (N).
Leadership was decided swiftly. The Executive Boards were merged, and three members would leave after the first 12 months. The first year, Joop Bakker (AGO) would lead as CEO. After the 1984 AGM, he was succeeded by Ennia director Jaap Peters.
As a Marketing initiative, Aegon hosted a chess game with Russian grand master Artur Yusupov in 1986 against 40 contestants. It was a great success. A year later, 13 chess computers were added to the match. The competition grew - with Russian chess master Anatoly Karpov competing in 1996 (who was, coincidentally, beaten by a computer that same year). The competition, which was the largest computer chess tournament in the world - lasted a full week.
Throughout the 1980s, Aegon continued its international expansion. In 1986, Aegon bought the Baltimore-based life insurer Monumental Corp. By June 1988, Aegon had brought its growing US business together under a single roof: Aegon USA, with headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But Aegon's expansion was not confined to North America. The 1980s saw a series of further acquisitions in Europe, particularly in Spain. By 1987, the company was one of the ten largest insurance companies in the country measured by premium income.
In the 1980s, Aegon floated its shares, giving the company its first access to international capital markets, and the vital funding for its continued growth. Initially listed on the Amsterdam and London exchanges, in 1991, Aegon went a step further and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. At the time, the flotation was heralded as, "the most important arrival from Holland since Peter Stuyvesant founded New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1653."
The 1990s was a decade of expansion across three continents, starting in 1991 with acquisition of Regency Life, a UK insurer specializing in unit-linked products and pensions.
In March 1992, Aegon bought a 75% stake in Állami Biztosító, Hungary's former state-owned insurance company. At this point, Hungary and the rest of the region was emerging from decades of Soviet domination.
Aegon set up a totally new operation in Taiwan in 1993. Over the next few years, the company strengthened its position in Taiwan, which played a significant role in helping Aegon expand into Asia. In the same year, Aegon began its relationship with Scottish Equitable, acquiring 40% of the company, one of the best-known names in the UK financial services industry.
By 1998, Aegon had taken full control of Scottish Equitable. A year later, Aegon acquired the life insurance operations of Guardian Royal Exchange. The UK business now operates under the Aegon name and is based in Edinburgh. You can find more about Scottish Equitable's history here.
Aegon acquired Transamerica in 1999. It was the largest purchase ever made by a Dutch company overseas and the second largest in the US insurance industry. Transamerica operates under its own brand in North America, and remains one of the most-familiar names in the American insurance industry.
The early 2000s were an exciting time for Aegon. Acquisitions and partnerships were announced left and right as Aegon invested heavily in international expansion. To connect locations in a sustainable way, video conferencing was introduced for the Executive Board in 2001. It was limited to two locations, as reported in the personnel magazine of July that year. Today, everyone at Aegon has the capability to work from anywhere, including video conferencing.
In March 2001, Aegon announced it was expanding its U.S. health and life-insurance business by buying U.S. retailer J.C. Penney Co.'s direct-marketing services division for EUR 1.4 billion in cash.
In June 2001, selected assets of World Marketing Alliance, a multi-level US marketing company selling investment and insurance products were purchased by Aegon, and renamed World Financial Group.
The early 2000's did see some speedbumps. For example, the 2001/2002 dotcom bubble lead to Aegon announcing in July 2002, outside of regular quarterly updates, that profits would be lower than expected.
In 2002, Aegon acquired the Dutch business TKP Pensioen. Spain was also a focus: from 2002 onwards, several partnerships and joint ventures with Spanish savings banks were announced, since these were the primary distribution channel for life insurance in the country. Via the La Mondiale Participations joint venture Aegon built its French business, but sold it in 2015. Aegon Asset Management remains active in France via the La Banque Postale partnership. In Eastern Europe, Aegon started new businesses in Slovakia (in 2003) and Czech Republic (in 2005). Aegon Poland also steadily grew, mostly from acquisitions, including Nationwide Poland in 2005, and PTE Ergo Hestia (a pension business), which was finalized in 2007. Aegon also initiated large distribution partnerships. For example with Clark (in 2006) and Merrill Lynch, a year later.
Between 2003 and 2014, Aegon also operated a joint venture with the China National Offshore Oil Company, known as AEGON-CNOOC. In 2014, Aegon announced its partnshipered with Tsinghua Tongfang and remains active in China today, through this joint venture known as Aegon THTF.
Annual reports from 2000-2007 describe the company strategy as focusing on 'Decentralized organization, emphasis on profitability, international expansion and commitment to the core business'. The head office in The Hague was only a supporting center, with in-country management for the various business units. This slowly changed, from 2006 onwards. In that year, business unit leaders became part of the Management Board. In 2008, the formation of Aegon Asset Management was announced, an entity which would invest on behalf of every part of Aegon from 2010 onwards.
The financial crisis of 2008 was a severe worldwide economic disruption, considered by many, at the time, to be the most since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The 2004-2005 housing bubble in the U.S. is named as the spark for the 2008 financial crisis. This evolved into a global recession.
Like all financial institutions, Aegon did not see the economic downturn coming. In fact, Aegon CEO Don Shepard wrote in the 2007 Annual Report that, "AEGON's exposure to subprime mortgage-backed investments represents just over 2% of its general account investment portfolio, [therefore] the Group experienced no material impairments to its portfolio during the year." Yet Aegon was vulnerable to the knock-on effects of the financial crisis and expected substantial losses in late 2008.
In October 2008, Aegon announced that it had accepted EUR 3 billion from the Dutch government, acting to shore up its cash position in the face of the continuing financial crisis. "We welcome this additional capital buffer that the Dutch state has provided in this time of uncertainty and unprecedented economic turmoil," said Alex Wynaendts, who had taken on the role of CEO in April of 2008. Several other Dutch banks and insurers received similar funding. As a consequence, dividend payments were suspended, and executive bonuses were cancelled.
In exchange for the funding, the Dutch state nominated two additional members to Aegon's Supervisory Board, who also sat in the Audit, Nominating and Compensation Committees. The government support was fully repaid on June 15, 2011, earning the Dutch state EUR 550 million in interest.
Throughout the financial crisis, Aegon continued to pursue opportunities and make strategic moves. In 2008, Aegon expanded in Asia with the launch of its Aegon Religare Life Insurance Company joint venture in India. Aegon also acquired Turkish life insurance and pension provider Ankara Emeklilik Anonim Sirketi in 2008, which is now known as Aegon Turkey.
Aegon also established the Aegon Industrial Fund Management Company Limited (AIFMC) in Shanghai. This partnership with Chinese brokerage Industrial Securities provides fund products and asset management services to the local public domestic market. In 2009, Aegon also entered the Japanese market with joint venture Aegon Sony Life. Aegon sold its stake in this partnership in 2019.
Aegon closed its Taiwan business in 2009. The same year, Aegon formed two joint ventures in Latin America: Seguros Argos Aegon in Mexico (which has since been unwound) and Mongeral Aegon in Brazil.
In 2013, Aegon took over Eureko's life insurance and pension business in Romania, one of the largest providers of insurance and pensions in the country. This business is now known as Aegon Romania. The same year, Aegon entered a 25-year exclusive distribution partnership with Banco Santander in Spain, Spain's largest financial group, with over 4,000 branches. In 2014, this successful partnership was extended to Portugal.
In 2015, Aegon sold its Canadia operations to Wilton Re. In July of that year, Tsinghua Tongfang became Aegon's new joint venture partner in China and the company was renamed Aegon THTF. Headquartered in Shanghai, the company has established 11 branches across China. The joint venture provides comprehensive life insurance products and services and has successfully launched health and life protection products.
In 2015, amended legislation on foreign direct investment in India enabled Aegon to increase its share in the Aegon Religare Life Insurance Company, a joint venture, to 49%. At the same time, the company was renamed Aegon Life and Religare exited the business.
2015 brought the sale of Aegon's 35% stake in La Mondiale Participations in France, and the forming of a new long-term strategic Asset Management joint venture with La Banque Postale. As a result, products wereill be distributed through La Banque Postale's network of approximately 17,000 points of sale, online and by its institutional sales team.
In 2017, asset management company, Akaan Transamerica received formal approval from the Mexican Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV) to initiate operations in the Mexican market. Aegon decided to exit this joint venture in 2019.
In 2018, Aegon announced the acquisition of Robidus, a leading income protection service provider in the Netherlands. The same year, Aegon also announced it was backing The Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF), the world's largest venture fund devoted to a single disease area. Aegon also offered a USD 100 million US affordable housing debt fund, by Aegon USA Realty Advisors LLC (AURA), and announced in January 2018 which quickly was fully subscribed. It is the first fund of its kind and contributes to access to practical, safe and affordable housing for all.
In 2019, Aegon announced the sale of its stake in Sony Life in Japan and completed the sales of its Czech Republic and Slovakia businesses. Aegon Asset Management, Aegon's investment arm, took the first steps to establish a wholly foreign-owned enterprise in Shanghai, which allows it to sell world-class offshore investment products and services to domestic Chinese institutions and high-net-worth investors.
Lard Friese (profile) was appointed as Aegon's CEO at the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders in May, 2020. His appointment came in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. With offices closed and most employees working from home, Aegon continued to provide support and an uninterrupted service to our customers and business partners. It was in this environment that we also began a transformation to turn Aegon into a high-performance company that creates value for all our stakeholders.