Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance company was started in 1946 with four employees to provide Oklahoma Farm Bureau members with insurance that served rural Oklahomans.
After more than 70 years of insuring Oklahomans, OFBMIC is a thriving insurance company known for its customer service and local presence with insurance agents in all 77 Oklahoma counties. The history of OKFB is inextricably linked with the success of OFBMIC as both organizations strive to serve Oklahomans with needed services.
Attitude for excellence
The following feature story appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Oklahoma Country magazine as OFBMIC celebrated its 60th anniversary. We have included it here to share the history of Farm Bureau insurance in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Casualty Company began in 1946 with four employees, who went above and beyond to launch what would become a thriving insurance company.
Money was tight in the beginning, but OFBMIC’s first General Manager Ralph Gfeller, or “Mr. G” to his employees, wouldn’t let that stand in his way. Thankfully, Farm Bureau members and policyholders were a hospitable lot.
“I don’t know how many times Ralph Gfeller stayed with Farm Bureau members in their homes at night in order to save the price of a hotel room because the insurance company simply did not have the money,” said Russell Fletcher, who was hired in 1949 as an assistant automobile underwriter.
Fletcher, an OFBMIC retiree with 45 years of service, remembers a number of Farm Bureau families who accommodated the insurance company in order to ensure its survival.
Gfeller spent most of those early years traveling the state, recruiting agents for the company. He did find time, however, to make his first in-office hire, an accountant by the name of Howard Howell, who later retired as OFBMIC’s second general manager after more than 40 years with the company.
“The first eight months that we operated, we did not have a single claim, which was probably a good thing since we didn’t have an adjuster at the time,” Howell laughingly said.
However, the company did eventually hire an adjuster as well as several more employees as the company took off.
“We were growing rapidly at that point,” he said. “The agents were starting to write insurance and Mr. G was recruiting more agents, so it just snowballed from there. We hired claims people and underwriters and other people necessary to keep the company growing and functioning properly to give service to the policyholders, the Farm Bureau members.”
Most of the company’s work force in the early years were young and inexperienced and learned the insurance business from the ground up. The employees were trained in the job each was hired for because there were few insurance-experienced people available in the labor market following World War II.
“I think that’s unique in the history of the company in how we started and how the company progressed and succeeded to the point it is today,” Howell said.
The early success of the company was due, in large part, to a new concept: offering insurance to rural people.
“It was a new idea, the approach that was taken,” Howell said. “When OFBMIC started, practically no insurance company was out writing rural business. They didn’t think it was very good business, or something. So, it was an open field for us as far as going out and getting the business.”
Fletcher remembers the company benefiting from a state law requiring liability insurance.
“People who owned automobiles now had to carry liability insurance,” he said. “A great number of farming and ranching people who owned vehicles did not carry liability insurance. So, all of a sudden Farm Bureau began to sell quite a bit of insurance.”
In its early years, the company sold a basic 5-10-5 policy, or $5,000 for one person, $10,000 for two people or more and $5,000 for property damage. The premium was $5.68 every six months.
The company made money with a $10 deductible on collision coverage, Howell said, because in those days people didn’t report every dent or fender-bender, and lawsuits were far less prevalent than in today’s world.
As the years went by, OFBMIC changed with the times by raising deductibles and increasing rates while continuing to maintain a competitive edge. Progressive leaders, including Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s first President John I. Taylor and Vice President Lewis H Munn, played a major role in ensuring the company’s longevity.
Jim Taylor, son of the late John. I Taylor, thinks back to the early days of Farm Bureau and remembers how in tune the leaders were with the needs of their members.
“They did see a need to provide a good source of insurance as a service to members,” said Taylor, a Roger Mills County Farm Bureau member. “They had dreams, but I don’t think they knew how big it would be.”
“Most people think of farmers and ranchers as being ultra-conservative, and generally speaking they are,” Howell said. “But, our rural leaders saw the need for this insurance program to expand, so we could afford to stay in business. I would say, considering their background as farmers and ranchers, that they were pretty progressive people. They certainly contributed their part to the growth of the company.”
Fletcher, who served OFBMIC in several capacities, including casualty/underwriting director, ratings supervisor, personnel director and legal, recalls Farm Bureau’s early leaders as great champions for their communities.
“They were good, efficient individuals when it came to trying to express the needs and wants of the farm and ranch community,” he said. “They fought for a lot of things.”
In addition to insightful leaders, integrity added to the success of the company, Fletcher said.
“I always said, ‘You pay what we owe. You don’t give the money away. And you don’t argue or try to cheat them out of what belongs to them,’” he said. “I think this has been one of the things which has kept the Farm Bureau as a company with integrity and the financial ability to pay the promises that it offers on paper.”
The policyholders also strengthened the insurance company with a protective mindset.
Howell recalls a member approaching him at an annual meeting about a broken window, which he told the member to have fixed and the company billed. After several months and no bill, he asked the member about that window, which had been repaired at the member’s expense so as not to affect the company.
“The members were really something else back then,” he said. “They were really protective of the company. I’ve remembered that story all these years, which I guess expresses my sentiments as far as the members’ and policyholders’ feelings toward the company.”
Having seen so many changes throughout his years of service with OFBMIC, Howell has high hopes for the future for the company.
“I’d like to see the company continue to grow, expand and increase its capital while protecting the members for whatever their needs are,” he said.
Fletcher said keeping up with the changing times is essential to the continued success of the company.
“The need for protection is going to continue,” he said. “There will be change in the insurance world, but there’s been change since the beginning of time. If the leadership is alert to the requests of the membership, Farm Bureau Mutual will survive as an entity that is needed and worthwhile, not just to the farming and ranching population in the state, but also to the total population of the state.”
In 1946, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Casualty Company was launched with four employees and one line of coverage. Today, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company employs 548 people, along with 231 agents, and offers over 15 lines of coverage.
The first sixty years of OFBMIC were built upon hard work, honesty and integrity. The future strength of this company will depend upon the same qualities as possessed by those who came before us.
OFBMIC history timeline