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Executive profile: Chester Cooper

“All of our core business [in The Bahamas] is driven by the international community. An understanding of the international context is absolutely critical,” says BAF chief executive officer. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chairman and chief executive officer of BAF Global Group (formerly British American Financial), Chester Cooper is a man with a vision. The hardworking 40 year old took up the top position at the Bahamian insurance provider five years ago with a clear strategy in mind: to make the oldest insurance company in The Bahamas relevant to a whole new generation, keeping its core values intact, while strengthening the brand.

“The company was a sleeping giant,” he explains. “It was well-known in the marketplace by second and third generation Bahamians. Every Bahamian will remember the policy man coming to collect; invariably he was from our company.

“My challenge was to leverage that legacy and take the company to the next level and, in order to do that, we needed to become more cutting edge and more relevant to the grandchildren and great grandchildren of our original clients.”

Cooper, from Forbes Hill Exuma, describes himself as “one of those people who not only descended from Exuma, but is indigenous to Exuma” and says his home island is “the most beautiful spot on earth.”

Originally wanting to follow a career in law, Cooper found that economics was a better fit after showing a natural aptitude for the subject. “I always had a curiosity about money and how it worked,” he explains.

After graduating from Acadia University in Nova Scotia with a BA in Economics and Finance, Cooper continued his studies at Florida’s Nova University, earning an MBA.

His academic success soon led to opportunities in the banking sector with companies such as Ansbacher and SG Hambros. “[The financial services industry] was a progressive, dynamic environment. I found my niche and the rest, as they say, is history,” says Cooper.

It was while working at SG Hambros, that Cooper was offered a two-year secondment to work in Dublin, Ireland in 1998. He enthuses about the opportunities available in working abroad and is keen to see more Bahamians from the business sector learning from their international counterparts.

“I have fond memories of Dublin,” he reminisces. “I went at a very dynamic time in their development. I was able to see the international side of the business and bring some of that expertise back to The Bahamas.

“All of our core business [in The Bahamas] is driven by the international community. An understanding of the international context is absolutely critical.”

In 2001 Cooper joined British American Insurance as vice president of financial services and investment and, four years later, became the company’s CEO and president.

“It was an opportunity I could not refuse–to develop a financial services and investment business where it was non-existent, but the company had a large core of health and life insurance clients.”

Today, Cooper is focusing on expanding the business. It was rebranded in 2007, adopting a new name (BAF Financial) and logo to freshen up its image. “The idea behind the rebranding was to show we had progressed to being more than an insurance company and that we were more dynamic and more relevant, while retaining the attachment to the past,” he explains.

The company is now rapidly expanding its product range and regional presence. In November 2009, BAF acquired insurance business BACO in the Cayman Islands, and in March 2010 added Bramer General Insurance Agency in Turks and Caicos to its portfolio–working towards Cooper’s aim of transforming it into a “pan-Caribbean” company.

The married father of two says he wants the company to grow further and–with BAF’s parent company BAF Global in the midst of launching a new range of products to cater for Bahamians who do not have bank accounts–the company has certainly come a long way from its humble roots.

“It has been a very exciting ride,” he says simply.

SMEs and start-ups are facing testing times amid economic slowdown. In an effort to improve the environment, the government is looking to streamline business licence renewal processes and introduce new legislation to foster entrepreneurial ventures.

The local economy continues to show signs of improvement, according to a newly released economic report.

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