Aegon's history: how insurance embraced early innovative technologies

Aegon's history: how insurance embraced early technologies

From the 1890s, innovate machines and devices were adopted by the traditional insurance business to assist with administration.

A stamp, a phone, a typewriter...

Starting in the 1890s, innovation had a wholly different meaning than it does today. At a time when electricity was only beginning to be introduced and escalators were considered the hottest development in transport, Aegon's predecessors experimented with the latest technology that would assist them in administrating thousands of policies.

To give you an idea of what constituted innovation: a funeral insurance fund from a small Frisian village announced they would start using a stamp, instead of drawing logo's by hand. Nearing the end of the decade, Aegon predecessor De Dordrecht installed its first phone line. This was 8 years after the first 49 phone lines were introduced in Amsterdam.

The same year, Aegon predecessor Olveh introduced typewriters to its offices. Remington commercial typewriters had been introduced in the US about 20 years previous, and a New York venture of Dutch insurer Vennootschap sent typed-up reports to headquarters as early as 1893, which the directors at the time considered unusual.

The typewriters were heavy and the location of the letters on the machines lead to unnatural hand movements. This was because the main objective was to ensure the letter "arms" didn't get stuck together, by placing letters that frequently followed one another at opposite sides of the typewriter. Fun fact is that typewriters were solely used by women.

Strong hands were needed to push the letters, and typing speed was around 200 letters a minute (which you can easily achieve using just two fingers on your laptop today).

Counting and card machines
The devices that would make the greatest difference to the administration of insurers were card, counting and printing machines. Counting machines were not only innovative, they allowed math and risk departments to become more professional and get ahead of the competition.

Card systems to track customer accounts, which were a form of early computers, were introduced at Aegon predecessors De Dordrecht in 1900 and Groot-Noordhollandsche in the year 1906. Mail rooms also experienced innovation: machines that could pump out invoices and addressed envelopes were considered advanced in 1910 and were introduced by insurers shortly afterwards.

The image above shows the machine room of Aegon predecessor, Eerste Nederlandsche, in 1913. It was published in a book about Aegon's history: "Werken aan Zekerheid: Een terugblik over de schouder van AEGON op twee eeuwen verzekeringsgeschiedenis" (1986). Author: B. P. A. Gales.