By Gemma Handy
DISTRAUGHT clients with bankrupt insurers CLICO are at risk of losing thousands because they are unable to keep their policies live due to the Providenciales branch shutting up shop.
Sick with worry policyholders say staff have apparently vanished since news broke of the beleaguered firm’s plight, leaving their investments – and their futures – hanging in the balance.
The company’s 260 TCI clients have been told their only chance of retaining the cash they have invested is by continuing to pay their premiums.
This will allow policies to be transferred to a new firm if a buyer is found.
Superintendent of Insurance Derek St Rose said he had been inundated with calls from frantic Islanders terrified they will be left high and dry.
He said he had urged the manager of the Leeward Highway outlet to reopen immediately.
But, more than two weeks after the winding-up order was granted, the shop remains closed.
A sign on the front door merely refers clients to liquidators in the Bahamas for information.
Single mother Euwonka Selver says she has invested more than $20,000 in life insurance and savings for her children’s future over the last five years.
Ms Selver, who has two young daughters aged two and five, said she only learnt of the company’s troubles after seeing it on a Bahamian news channel.
“I have been saving for my children’s college tuition ever since I was pregnant with my first.
“I rang the Superintendent of Insurance who said I should carry on paying so my policy does not become invalidated.
“I have been going by the office every day for the last two weeks but it’s still closed.
“CLICO has not contacted anyone or said anything.
“It’s horrible. The lady that manages the place is my aunt, she sold me the policy.
“Now she seems to have disappeared. I have been asking everyone but no one knows where she is.
“I just want my money back; I can’t afford to lose it. I am a single parent, I work really hard and have been saving for such a long time.
“I feel sick when I think about all the money I have invested.”
Meanwhile, anger is mounting at the Government’s continued silence on the catastrophe.
Many clients are furious that no official statement has been made to advise them or assuage their increasing concern.
Ms Selver added: “The Government really needs to say something. I have tried contacting the Premier who is now Minister of Finance but have heard nothing back.
“We desperately need some sort of representation on our behalf.”
Yvonne Ewing has held life and health insurance policies with CLICO, an acronym for Colonial Life Insurance Company, for several years.
She said she had managed to contact local staff – only to be told not to pay any more cash in premiums.
“I find it strange that no one seems to know what is going on.
“My big beef is that the Government gave CLICO a licence to operate in the TCI but are not saying anything now.
“I have invested over $10,000. It’s very important to have insurances in place; I have two children aged 20 and seven. It’s distressing.
“The Government needs to step in and make sure they reopen.”
Mr Rose said it was “very likely” CLICO would be sold to another entity but warned the process was “complicated” and could take some time.
He said it was essential policyholders were able to continue paying their premiums to keep policies current.
“Although the company is in liquidation, it is very likely that they will get another entity to take over the business and the portfolio will be transferred to a new company.
“I have had calls from people who are worried because they need to make payments and they can’t.
“I contacted the branch manager who was under impression that staff were not to collect any money.
“That’s not the case. They can’t sell any new policies but they have to accept money from existing clients.”
As one of the country’s principal providers of pensions, life and medical insurance, the tumult could have a devastating effect on the nest eggs of hundreds of TCI residents.
Locally, claims already top a colossal $2.6m, many of them surrender requests.
Talks are currently in place with a number of potential buyers in the Bahamas where sister firm CLICO Bahamas, which has 30,000 clients, is being forced to sell up following a court hearing initiated by the Government.
The move follows losses of more than a billion dollars suffered by Trinidadian parent company CL Financial.
Mr St Rose said it was not yet clear whether a buyer would be prepared to take on the company’s entire portfolio.
Fears are rife that investment-linked annuities may be left out in the cold.
“Investment type policies such as annuities are more ticklish because they are based on the value of an investment made.
“We don’t yet know any details about a potential sale. We will just have to wait for the liquidators to give some sort of indication.
This week’s news that FirstCaribbean Bank has called in a debt of almost $500,000 will do little to allay clients’ fears.
The deficit is just one of a number of bank loans made to CLICO which collectively stand in excess of $2m. They also include a loan from Belize Bank.
CLICO’s accounts payable and accrued expenses are listed at just under $2m.
Other creditors have reportedly also lined up to be paid as liquidators continue their assessment of the company’s assets and liabilities.
A spokeswoman for Premier Michael Misick said he was still involved in discussions with the country’s chief economists regarding the local situation.
She said it was not yet known whether he would make a public statement.
Parent firm CL Financial has faced months of difficulties as financial establishments across the globe continue to grapple with worldwide economic strife.
The Trinidadian Government announced some weeks ago it would bail out the firm due to the massive losses it had racked up.
CL Financial is one of the largest conglomerates in the Caribbean, encompassing more than 65 companies in 32 countries worldwide with total assets standing at roughly $100 billion.
TCI policyholders can contact Mr St Rose at the Financial Services Commission at Harry E. Francis Building, Pond Street, Grand Turk, or call 946 2550 for more information.