Strategic Management Practices and Bahamian Culture
Bahamian Insurance Industry: Background
The Bahamian insurance industry is divided into two main braches: one domestic, one captive and each operate without regard to the other, overseen by their own act of Parliament (Oxford, 2009). Within this field, around 100 companies are engaged in business, the bulk of them working as brokers, with just a few working as underwriters, working closely together when they do (Oxford, 2009). There appears to be a system of checks in place: agents aren’t able to underwrite, and companies cannot engage in sales pitches to prospective customers directly (Oxford, 2009). The Office of the Registrar of Insurance Companies (ORIC) which is looked after by the Ministry of Finance regulates the entire insurance arena and is largely expected to inspect, license and oversee the companies, agents, brokers and sellers that make up this industry (Oxford, 2009). Oric has made it clear that it would like to raise the local industry’s standards of corporate governance, internal controls and professionalism and move from a prescriptive, rule-based approach, to a more risk-based advisory approach” (Oxford, 2009).
The industry has indeed experienced rocky times in the last few decades, with nearly every election in the Bahamas entailing promises of politicians to help reform the insurance industry (Craton & Saunders, 1998). In 1981, the Bahamas engaged in an elaborate wooing process to get multinational insurance company back to doing business with them, targeting mostly captive insurance companies as a means of growth and warding off competition from other banking centers in the Caribbean (Craton & Saunders, 1998).
One of the main ways that ORIC has sought to accomplish such a goal is via an overhaul of 1969’s Domestic Insurance Act, which nearly all professionals of the field regard as out-dated, mostly inapplicable and not responsive enough to the evolved financial instruments of the modern era (Oxford, 2009). While the draft of this act was created in 2005, approval of the act was met with many delays as a result of arguments arising from agents and underwriters.
Captive insurance refers to “firms that insure and reinsure the risks of subsidiaries and affiliated units through a company established for that purpose in the Bahamas. Despite its well-established position as an international centre for banking and finance, the country is still home to a limited share of the international captive insurance market” (Oxford, 2009). Essentially, expert panels and overseers of the field at large believe there is much to be gained if the local sector bolsters its share in an expanding global market and is pushing and developing new legislation which will assist in allowing such objectives to be achieved (Oxford, 2009). The captive insurance sector is truly rapidly evolving.
On the other hand, one could make that argument about the industry as a whole. New investment vehicles have debuted in the last few years, and as generally unknown creatures, many players in the field were unsure of the proper risk management techniques.
Strategic Management Practice
Thus far in time, the insurance industry in the Bahamas has been characterized by creating and revising legislation which will specifically spur the captive insurance arena of the industry at large. This is a classic tactic of strategic management to spur growth internally (Harrison & St. John, 2009). Bahamian insurance offers potential American and foreign clients a higher level of asset protection: “â€¦the degree of asset protection is obviously higher when the policy is provided by an insurance company outside the U.S. And where the assets are also held offshore” (Whelehan, 2002, p. 427). One could argue that the Bahamian insurance industry has worked hard to advertise that asset to potential clients, giving the impression of being able to offer increased asset management.
The insurance industry of the Bahamas truly engaged in a strategic management plan which worked hard to please the customer and to make themselves look as attractive as possible. This is representative of yet another classic tactic within strategic management practices as it is one which is focused on customer needs and viewpoints (Kozami, 2002). For instance, “segregated accounts” were offered in the event that an individual wanted to protect their assets in a manner that was separate from the insurance company at large in the event that the insurance company was liquidated, these assets would not be subjected to the scrutiny and demands of creditors (Whelehan, 2002). Furthermore, insurance companies in the Bahamas simply have a greater degree of investment flexibility: by engaging in offshore insurance an American can have access to a wider range of investment opportunities which essentially creates a bolstered amount of cash-flow benefits, which should be attractive to any potential client (Whelehan, 2002).
Another branch of Bahamian strategic management plan was in the focus on, development of, and promotion of captive insurance plans. This is an example of the Bahamas carefully scrutinizing their strengths and determining that captive insurance plans represent one of them, and making a decision to mobilize and properly calibrate this strength (Teece, 2009). The benefits of setting up a “captive” were promoted strongly, and these benefits represented much of where the strategic management plan hinged. For example, massive cost reductions exist when one sets up a captive because one is no longer paying commissions which contribute to the profits of the insurer (Whelehan, 2002). This is also a more attractive form of insurance for medical groups and Bahamian insurance groups were certain to promote this logic. As a result of the fact that many business have to buy insurance at market-rate when their risk profile is reduced: “By using its own insurer, a business can control its exposure by use of deductibles and reinsurance such that it can cover itself more effectively at less cost” (Whelehan, 2002, p.428). This statement clearly demonstrates why such an arrangement would be more attractive to medical groups. One must not forget that captive insurance companies are essentially just insuring the risks of another company which manifests in simpler claims records which makes them better candidates for reinsurance.
Finally, Bahamian insurance companies were aware that they offered prospective clients a means of profit center diversification, making them attractive investments for companies oversees who wanted to gain profits outside of their jurisdiction in an arena that was distinctive from their general type of business (Whelehan, 2002). Bahamian insurance companies were aware of the tendency of human nature to seek out “something different” and to dabble with investing money in areas outside of one’s standard line of work. Strategically, captive insurance companies, which make up a huge part of Bahamas’ budget, knew that they could not only offer potential customers their mass of other benefits, but the enchanting thrill of being something different for many business professionals. Moreover, as a result of the fact that captives have so many benefits and so much popularity, strategically, a range of other captives were created, such as association captives, medical captives, credit life captive among many others.
However, strategic management within a changing environment is not without its limitations. The book, “Understanding Strategic Management” by Anthony Henry highlights how all forms of analysis within an organic environment have their limitations as a result of the fact that the environment is forever changing. Furthermore the industry players may be too focused within their boundaries, or some strengths may also be viewed as weaknesses (Henry, 2008). Likewise, in the book “Government and Business” by Trehan and Trehan highlights common limitations of strategic management in that it can bring rigidity to an organization, and can have problems reacting to a fast, changing external environment. “The external environment in which business operates is very dynamic, complex and it changes very fast. By the time, the strategy is formulated and implemented the environmental components might have changed, thereby rendering the strategy ineffective” (Tehran & Tehran, 2009. p.34). Thus, strategic management can’t always keep up with the lightning fast speed of the surrounding world.
Hofstede views culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes one group or category of people from another… The ‘mind stands for the head, heart, and hands — that is, for thinking, feeling, and acting with consequences for beliefs attitudes and skills” (Hofstede, 2001). Hofstede believes that culture is a system of values and generally those values are manifested by behavior by a collective group of individuals (2001). On the other hand, British anthropologist Edward Tylor defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. More recently culture has been defined as ‘a mental map which guides us in our relations to our surroundings and to other people’ (Downs 1971: 35), and perhaps most succinctly as ‘the way of life of a people’ (Hatch: 1985:178)” (Ferraro, 2008, p. 28).
Despite all of these somewhat different definitions and viewpoints of culture, one can surmise that culture is directly related to the values and behavior of a group of people, and it’s generally how humans behave that can act as the prevailing way for measuring culture.
Culture is no small force; it shapes individuals and impacts tremendously on politics (McCartney, 2004). Nations are made up of people, who, from the moment of their birth, are deeply and profoundly shaped by the cultures and customs from whence they came (McCartney, 2004). Because history and culture are two such inseparable animals, it’s worthwhile to take a brief look at the history of the Bahamas.
Many history scholars believe that the first inhabitants of the Bahamas were Aborigines of Mongol ancestry who migrated there 100,000 years ago via a bridge which connected Alaska and Siberia. However, others attribute original dwellers of the Bahamas to have come from Haiti (McCartney, 2004). And yet still other scholars believe that the original inhabitants of the Bahamas were the Lucayan Indians (Arawaks) that Columbus met when he arrived there in 1492 (McCartney, 2004).Despite Columbus’s “discovery” of this land and these people on behalf of the king and queen of Spain, the Spanish influence never took hold in the Bahamas (McCartney, 2004). This didn’t stop the Spanish from seeking to attempt control over these people: “the Spaniards had enslaved or transported the Arawaks; some 40,000 were transported to Hispaniola where they died working in mines. British pirates also used the islands, and in 1629 the islands were given their first constitution as part of the Carolinas (USA)” (nationsonline.org, 2012). The strongest foreign influence on the Bahamas was the British, starting from 1647 to the present; the British influence can be seen heavily on the Bahamian laws, parliamentary and court structures, educational systems, as well as cultures and customs (McCartney, 2004).
Because the bulk of the Arawaks all died as a result of Spanish enslavement or from the diseases the Spanish brought to the islands, they remained deserted for a couple hundred years aside from pirates like Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Sir Henry Morgan and others. In the late 1700s the area was taken up again by a group of Americans referred to as Loyalists: “The Bahamas lay close to the North American colonies and the outbreak of the American Revolution put the Bahamas in the firing line. The islands ties to the 13 colonies were intimate, for Charles I’s original grant to Sir Robert Heath had lumped the Carolinas and the Bahamas together. Trade and family ties bound the islands to the colonies” (Baker, 2001, p.23). This meant that when the American colonies received an independence, a large bulk of English loyalists vacated, moving to the Bahamas, and essentially tripling the population there from 1783-1785 (Baker, 2001). One could argue that the Loyalists introduced two things to the Bahamas that would come to be of extreme importance in shaping their future: slaves and cotton (Baker, 2001). However, despite the intentions of these American colonists, many of them didn’t have a strong background in farming, coming from essentially merchant backgrounds and — combined with the infertile and finicky soil of the Bahamas — such agricultural efforts failed (Baker, 2001).
This essentially saved the Bahamas from having a massive slave trade and from the brutal subjugation and barbarous oppression of a mass amount of people. It did however cause the population to become dominantly black almost overnight (75% by 1788) and caused a weaving of African culture into what was once mainly British culture (Baker, 2001). Thus, slavery failed, slaves were emancipated and became the foundation of the population today.
Bahamian Culture and Lifestyle
Given the multi-colored and multi-faceted history of the Bahamas and the range of nations and ethnicities that had a hand in shaping the way that it is today, and taking into consideration the racial tensions and debilitating issues which exist around the world, it’s indeed quite a surprise that peaceful coexistence between races is an overall trend in this area (Barlas, 2000). Racial conflict is rare, even though Bahamians have clear distinctions and divisions by color, ethnic origin doesn’t concern them much (Barlas, 2000). Some superstitions do still exist and are believed by certain Bahamians, although friendliness and chattiness (even to perfect strangers) are hallmarks of the culture (Barlas, 2000).Bahamian culture places a strong emphasis on the importance of the family, and the extended family. There’s a definitive “laid back” quality to the way of life, where many argue that the inherent priority revolves around enjoying life, rather than being worried with what might occur tomorrow or the next day (Barlas, 2000).
On the other hand, some scholars assert that income is a big determinant of class in Bahamian society, but one which can be made more complicated by historical circumstances which connect class with race and where certain modern developments can create illegal economic activity, such as the drug trade (Hackert, 2001). As Hackert argues, some of these complications, so unique to the history of the Bahamas combined with issues of the drug trade can mean that social class within the Bahamas is something else completely — falling out of typical class models (Hackert, 2001). Hackert gives the example of the Family Island whites, explaining how despite the fact that this family is undereducated, they still warrant a certain degree of social respectability as a result of the fact that they have a strong hold on the fishing, boating and tourism industries (2001). Likewise, individuals involved with drug trafficking might live in “the ghetto” but have massive amounts of capital at their disposal at any given time, even though this can’t quite be counted as “income” (Hackert, 2001).
However, as some rightly point out, whether or not the Bahamas are more British or more American is definitely a point worth discussing. “Of course, the Bahamas were British for more than three hundred years and the British legacy is still visible in the country’s schools, courts and its parliament; nevertheless it was American settlers and their slaves who, at the end of the eighteenth century, almost overran the little colony” (Hackert, 2004, p.31). Thus, while the British gave the nation its foundational and perhaps most lasting foreign cultures, the Americans has a tremendous impact on it as well during the 18th century — and even today. North America is the “mainland” and millions of American tourists visit Bahamas each year. Just as many Bahamians assert that they speak the Queen’s English there’s also, some might argue, a lilt and musicality to their speech that some deem to be Creole (Hackert, 2001). And yet, from underneath the American vs. English debate is the fact that strong West African influences impact the culture and customs even today. For example, Junkanoo is a lively new year’s celebration which is known for goombay, a type of music that originates from Bahamian slave music made with a range of instruments including the goatskin drum, which serves as a replacement for the massive drum used in the massive forests of West Africa (Dold, 2003). Church and religion is still a big part of Bahamian culture, with Baptism being the predominant religion and some scholars and historians viewing the islands as a continuation of America’s southern Biblebelt (Hackert, 2001). In fact, things like rigging and chatting are gospel traditions used in many Bahamian churches and are things that one would definitely witness within southern churches (Dold, 2003).
The Bahamian National Trust (BNT) has been attributed by many to have acted and to continue to act as a major player in the task of cultural heritage preservation via “balancing the domestic and international factors of growth and development” (Hoffman, 2006, p.436). The BNT originated in 1959 when Parliament gave it the freedom to make its own rules and laws with the government signing off on them (Hoffman, 2006).
Hofstede: A Framework of Cultural Dimensions
The framework of cultural dimensions is one of the outlines of cultures developed that can be used as a resource for professionals within the global business community, and is one which is extremely well-known. One of the hallmarks of this outline is that Hofstede developed five dimensions which could be used for comparing and contrasting cultural distinctions and areas of overlap, these dimensions are: “power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, and long-term orientation” (Stonehouse et al., 2004, p. 46). Power distance refers to a dynamic of acceptance within people in society that the power of the society is distributed unevenly. When power distance is high, people generally accept that the power distribution is uneven; when power distance is low, there is discord and dissatisfaction with the way that power is divided (Stonehouse et al., 2004). A clear example of this would be in Brazil which has a high tolerance for power distance and where 10% of the country receives 50% of the wealth and people accept this as simply the way it is and will be (Peng, 2010). On the other hand, in Sweden, the richest 10% of the population only get 22% of the national income (Peng, 2010).
European and American societies tend to have low tolerance for power distance, whereas Asian societies tend to have a higher tolerance for power distance (Stonehouse et al., 2004). Another way this is reflected is in the standard American office or business, subordinates can still address their bosses by their first name, whereas in Asian cultures a more formal way of speaking would be required (Peng, 2010). Since Bahamian culture, education and political system is strongly influenced by the British and the Americans, one can safely conclude that this area has a low tolerance for power distance.
“The cultural dimension of uncertainty avoidance relates to the lengths to which an organization or society will go to escape uncertainty. It thus describes an attitude to risk” (Stonehouse et al., 2004, p.57). This really is a succinct description as this classification describes how societies with low tolerances for such things will value conformity and develops more rules and laws; on the other hand societies which aren’t afraid of risk thus embrace risk-taking, non-conformity and informality (Stonehouse et al., 2004). It would be difficult to determine with any accuracy how much of a tolerance the Bahamas has toward uncertainty avoidance. As discussed, the Bahamas has had strong cultural influences from American and Britain — two countries who do not go to great lengths to avoid uncertainty. On the other hand, the Bahamas did gain full independence from Great Britain almost 40 years ago, something that signals that they’re not averse to taking risks or living freely with uncertainty. Countries with less tolerance to risk would probably have been happy to maintain the status quo.
The third dimension, individualism vs. collectivism, regards to what extent the society values the needs and achievements of the individual, versus those of the collective (Stonehouse, et al., 2004). The United State has historically been a very individualistic society, on based on rugged individualism and a pioneer spirit, valuing the achievements of separate people throughout history and their achievements to the modern world. Alternatively, Peng gives a good example of how in American schools, where individuality is valued highly, children change classes every year and they begin to realize that their classes, and collective identity of a certain class isn’t that important (2010). Yet, in China, a country with high uncertainty avoidance, kids stay in the same class for years and years, graduating through all the grades together — and thus forming a strong sense of a collective identity (Peng, 2010). The Bahamas represents a society that has been accused of lacking individualism. Because they’ve had such strong domination from foreign cultures and continue to, they’ve been deemed by some as “cultural copycats” and that their children aren’t adequately taught about individualism and the task of embracing their own uniqueness. Others have argued that individualism has been feared to a certain extent in the Bahamas, as a result of a decline of the African cooperative economy (SNWG, 2002).
The next dimensions of Hofstede’s guide to cultural dimensions is masculinity/femininity, which determines to what extent a society values assertiveness and materialism as opposed to peace and supportiveness (Stonehouse et al., 2004). The United States, with its rampant military spending and mostly male dominated political system is obviously a place which has a higher value on Hofstede’s view of masculinity. While the Bahamas has a strong American influence, it doesn’t have the racial divisiveness and tensions of the United States. In fact, the racial harmony that some social critics have made of the Bahamas implies it might just be very feminine-oriented society. On the other hand, certain Bahamians argue that this is generally not the case, “Although it’s no longer a matter of law or custom, there are still churches and clubs and parks and professions and schools that are avoided by whites or blacks. There is still very little opportunity for mingling, for getting to know the people beneath the skin. And we have to say so.
It’s time for us to ask hard questions — like what makes some White Bahamians feel as though they don’t belong in the Bahamas? Why do some Black Bahamians fear whites who hold political power so much? Why do we still refuse to accept the fact that Bahamians of Haitian parentage have a place in our nation?” (Bethel, 2007). These remarks showcases the lack of harmony of race relations in Bahamian society according to one Bahamian and could be an indication that this society might have more masculine values. Or however, since the Bahamas have only had true, complete independence for a short while, they still might be in the case of forging an identity, and ultimately determining how much they place importance on either masculine or feminine values. For instance, one could argue that it’s this search for identity and values that has in part attributed to the Bahamas reluctance to properly deal with HIV and STD transmissions, sexual abuse among young people, or to create useful policies regarding immigration and citizenship (Bethel, 2007).
The final dimension that Hofstede developed refers to long-term orientation, or the extent to which a culture attaches importance to long or short-term goals: “A culture with long-term orientation is based on stability, persistence, order and thrift. On the other hand, a culture with a short-term orientation will expect immediate returns and will focus on the satisfaction of immediate needs rather than on longer term investments” (Stonehouse et al., 2004, p.58). As Stonehouse and colleagues further explain, Japan is an excellent example of a nation with a long-term mentality, having made investments into their nation’s stability and economy as far back as the fifties, sixties and seventies, whereas the United States is a nation that has repeatedly and accurately been criticized for focusing too much on immediate profits and making shareholders happy (2004).
One could say that with the insurance industry in the Bahamas, the society is moving more steadfastly to a mindset of long-term commitments and investments towards their nation’s economic health, stability and prosperity. The Bahamas insurance industry has been said to be driving economic growth since 2000 (Bfsb, 2000). As economist and professional Lennox McCartney points out, “The industry in the Bahamas is very vibrant. We have the largest premiums per capita and premiums to gross domestic product in the region, outside of the U.S. And Canada. So, we have a large, vibrant domestic insurance industry and it continues to be that way” (Cotterill, 2010). Much of that vibrancy, at least internationally, comes from forging and nurturing strong relationships with other countries and working hard to make them lasting and mutually beneficial.
Criticism of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions emerged from an experiment where he interviewed IBM employees all around the world. However, one of the main criticisms of Hofstede’s work was that his questionnaire was not even designed to measure culture, but to determine employee satisfaction, morale and perception of work (Silverthorne, 2005). “Another criticism of Hofstede’s approach is that he used an exploratory factor analysis as his statistical technique to develop the cultural dimensions. This approach is not considered statistically valid because it is based on trying a variety of options until one appears to fit rather than the more rigorous statistical approach of testing a specific set of parameters based on specific hypotheses (Find & Monage)” (Silverthorne, 2005, p.15). While Hofstede’s findings were valid enough and demonstrated enough consistency for him to create these cultural dimensions, it appears as though many professionals in the field had a problem with his methods.
Strategic Management and Bohemian National Culture and Hofstede’s Dimensions
The areas of strategic management that one could argue are most impacted by Bahamian national culture are generally the tendency to focus on the positive and ignore the negative aspects of a situation in business and in day-to-day life. This represents a certain amount of uncertainty avoidance and short-term thinking. A society averse to risk can often be satisfied with ignoring the riskiness inherent in some of their shoddier economic policies. For example, strategic management as it pertains to the insurance industry and is putting a tremendous amount of energy in captives and rightly so — yet other sectors of the economy need more attention, support and guidance, like small business development. Likewise, one could argue that more attention should be given to the domestic insurance branch in the Bahamas as a long-term investment and as precautionary measure.
The planning, implementation and evaluation of strategic management practices in Bahamian insurance firms can mediate and potentially negative impact of the cultural dimension by using successful nations as a guide and mentor. Financial leaders in the Bahamas need to select attributes and tactics of certain nations that have been successful in ways that this society admires and model their business practices. While the foreign partnerships they’re already forging in the insurance industry reflect a mimicking of certain Asian values and strategies, such as long-term investments and a strong division of power.
National culture no doubt impacts every area of a citizen’s life and the impact that it has one strategic management is also indelible. The national culture of the Bahamas imprints a certain quality of antiquity on to strategic management practices, with not enough aggressiveness on fixing or bettering weaker issues of aspects of business. Instead, the bulk of energy is used to spur the stronger, more promising and positive aspects of a situation.
Strategic management practices can be used to further strengthen positive dimensions, by first acknowledging what those positive dimensions are and seeing how they can be furthered. For example, “The financial sector of the Bahamas is highly developed and dynamic, providing a wide array of services by several types of financial intermediaries. The Central Bank of the Bahamas and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU, December 2000) are the regulatory bodies of the financial sector which is comprised of savings banks, trust companies, offshore banks, insurance companies, a development bank, a publicly controlled pension fund, a housing corporation, a public savings bank, private pension funds, cooperative societies, credit unions and commercial banks — which dominate financial intermediation” (State.gov, 2012). This statement reflects the high level of the diversity not just in economic affairs and practices in the Bahamas but an attempt to spread attention and diversify assets for the good of the society.
However, to harness strategic management for improvement, one should stress the importance of strategic awareness. The Bahamas does not appear to exert a great deal of self-awareness about their weakness and shortcomings, but appears only to exert actions to address their strengths (Thompson & Martin, 2010). Furthermore, it would behoove the Bahamas to exhibit a greater level of strategy in their decision-making process. This would involve an evaluation of current strengths, weakness and current performance while examining the work and performance of colleagues and competitors in order to better flesh out ways that the economy and life for civilians can be improved, while examining and considering strategic alternatives (Orcullo, 2008).
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