Family Values Drive American Fidelity’s Success
Founded on the principles of fairness and financial security more than 50 years ago, American Fidelity has achieved great success as a specialist in the education, auto, healthcare and municipality industries.
The Oklahoma City-based Company serves more than 1 million Customers in 49 states and 23 countries. American Fidelity has ranked among FORTUNE magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America 10 times. Since 1982, American Fidelity has consistently been rated “A+” by A. M. Best Company*, one of the leading insurance rating services in America.
At the heart of the Company’s achievements are three generations of the Cameron family, men whose resilience and steadfast vision enabled them to triumph over professional setbacks and personal tragedy.
“This is a family business, and I like the feeling that I am adding on to the foundation that my grandfather and father built,” says Company Chairman and CEO Bill Cameron. “I am proud of the products and services we sell and the difference we make in people’s lives. Reputation means everything.”
Bill's grandfather, C.W. Cameron, and his father, C.B. Cameron, started American Fidelity in 1960 as an outgrowth of an insurance agency C.W. had operated since 1930. The elder Cameron's humble beginnings make the present-day success of the Company all the more remarkable.
The oldest of seven children, C.W. was raised on a small tenant farm near Mangum, Oklahoma. When his father was disabled, C.W. dropped out of school at age 14 to help take care of the family and run the farm. He later worked odd jobs as a carpenter, cotton picker and part-time bank clerk. Life was uncertain and financial struggles persisted.
"I think a lot of what my grandfather went through in his childhood left an impression on him and was the genesis for him going into the insurance business," says Cameron.
C.W. worked his way up to assistant cashier at the First National Bank of Altus, earning $135 a month. He noticed that insurance salesmen seemed to bring in larger paychecks, so he decided to try that line of work. He partnered with a farmer in starting the Boise and Cameron agency in 1930. The business prospered until the Great Depression took its toll, forcing Boise to leave the agency in 1932.
Using his savings, C.W. bought one-third of an agency in Davidson and sold fire, casualty and disability insurance. He also sold insurance for other firms, but his big break came when he started selling insurance for North American Accident and Health Insurance Company of Chicago in 1933. C.W. sold his interest in the Davidson agency and became the local agent for North American. Two years later he moved to Oklahoma City to become North American’s general agent for the state of Oklahoma. In a short time, C.W. distinguished himself as the top-selling agent managing the most profitable North American branch in the nation. By the mid-1940s, he was the general agent for four states.
Much of Cameron’s success was the result of pioneering efforts to make insurance available to the working class. He was an early leader in voluntary payroll deduction insurance, known today as worksite marketing. Cameron sold group accident and health insurance to state agency employees and to trade associations. His agency was also one of the first of its kind to offer insurance to schoolteachers. Building on that beginning, AF is now one of the largest providers of voluntary disability insurance to teachers across the United States.
As the agency prospered, the need arose for more office space. Cameron constructed his own office buildings on Classen Boulevard in 1954, building one of the first suburban office buildings in Oklahoma City. In 1959, C.W. and Gene McCrory started the affiliated North American Insurance Agency to focus on property and casualty insurance. Today North American is INSURICA and is still affiliated through the Cameron family’s ownership.
The North American Company in Chicago experienced changes in ownership in the 1950s and was eventually acquired by the CIT Group. Since CIT wanted to focus on selling individual insurance, Cameron proposed that he take on all of the accident and health business previously handled by the Cameron Agency for North American. His son, C.B., had recently returned home from the Air Force, and the pair decided to start their own insurance underwriter. In 1960, American Fidelity was born.
Their new Company grew very rapidly until, at the height of their personal and professional success, the Cameron family’s world literally crashed in 1977 when a Thanksgiving plane flight turned deadly. Returning from a Colorado family ski trip, the plane slammed into a mountainside and two days went by before rescue teams found the passengers. C. B. died in the accident and the rest of his family, their friends and the pilot were severely injured.
After the death of C.B., thanks to key leadership and the solid foundation set by C.W. and C.B., the Company continued to grow. Following C.W.’s death in 1991, the Company was able to continue to grow with a strong financial base and grew rapidly.
C.B.’s son Bill started working at American Fidelity following a two-year period at Liberty Bank where he began work after graduating from Dartmouth in 1982. In 1987, Bill led the recapitalization efforts for Commercial Bank that has subsequently become First Fidelity Bank, which is affiliated with American Fidelity through the Cameron family’s ownership.
We focus on serving our markets with a different opinion. Our value-added products and services provide our Customers with a unique advantage to meet the needs of their employees in an ever-changing world.
Bill Cameron is proud that the Company his grandfather and father started is still operated like a family business. “We are committed to keeping the Company private and independent,” he says. “I’m building on their foundation, and I want to pass these opportunities on to my kids and to future generations.”
*www.ambest.com/consumers (June 10, 2016) (A+ is the 2nd out of 16 with 1 being the highest)