Nicholas Barbon, Insurance Pioneer

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For the most part of history, natural and man-made disasters were simply “Acts of God”. The effected people were left to their own devices after the disaster. Although they rebuilt their lives, there was no assistance agency. It was almost impossible to find charity in any organized way. The government was distant and not involved in administering relief funds.

This was how a commercial opportunity was discovered, addressed, and successfully harvested. London was hit by a huge fire in 1670. It was the biggest fire ever recorded. At that time, the city was the most populous and largest in the world. Nearly all the London buildings were made of wood and were closely grouped. London, at that time, was a highly vertically-oriented metropolis. New York City and Hong Kong, on the other hand, were more vertically-oriented. The fire grew and spread, devouring everything in its path.

The fire destroyed London’s city center and decimated its population. Nicholas Barbon, a prescient resident, witnessed firsthand the destruction of his metropolis. Barbon was a German-trained physician. Barbon assisted in the care of the injured, but felt there was more to be done to help people rebuild their financial, emotional and physical lives.

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His brilliant and simple idea to create an insurance product that could be mass-produced, affordable, and protect against fire loss was brilliant. Nicholas Barbon met accountants and financial professionals to develop some of the first actuarial tables that could price and assess risk. London Assurance was incorporated. It was the first company to offer fire insurance to individuals or businesses.

Benjamin Franklin, an American entrepreneur, founded the first fire insurance company. It was established in Philadelphia in 1760. Franklin was an entrepreneur who had many business and charitable interests. He was one of America’s most successful men at that time. At the same time, he started Philadelphia’s first fire department. Imagine being able to sell fire insurance and then putting together a professional fire department in order to reduce fire-related losses. Bright fellow, no?

These beautiful, modern metropolises would have been in much worse shape if fire insurance hadn’t been widely used by the time they burned. Chicago is now called “The 2nd City”, and not because it is second to New York but because the modern city that we enjoy was built on top of the ashes of Chicago.

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Fire insurance is now a common practice. To get a loan for a house, you must have fire insurance. Many cities around the globe have developed building codes that minimize fire hazards. An actuarial skill is required to assess fire insurance risk. Nicholas Barbon’s pioneering fire and casualty industry has created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

We still benefit from the genius of Nicholas Barbon’s ability to put together the elements that made the fire insurance business a success. His vision allowed millions of people and businesses to survive natural disasters and rebuild their lives.

Entrepreneurs are creating new products, services, and techniques every day in different locations around the globe. For their genius and contributions, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, and Ben Franklin are honored. These men are role models for those who want to create new opportunities. Nicholas Barbon is a less well-known example. Yet, even though it seems mundane, fire insurance can be a great template to use as we create exciting new innovations.

Geoff Ficke is a serial entrepreneur who has been doing this for nearly 50 years. He learned how to sell himself and offer value for money as a young boy working odd jobs around the neighborhood.

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After passing the University of Kentucky’s Bachelor of Arts, Mr. Ficke was awarded a B.A. After completing his Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism in 1969 and serving in the United States Marine Corps, Mr. Ficke began a career as a cosmetics industry professional. At 28 years old, he was promoted to the position of National Sales Manager at Vidal Sassoon Hair Care. He then started a variety of ventures including Rubigo Cosmetics and Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris.