Supporting staff at home and abroad
Throughout the First World War Prudential encouraged its staff to support the war effort.
On 12 August 1914, a week after Britain declared war, the Chairman, Thomas Dewey, and the General Manager, Alfred Corderoy Thompson, called a meeting of male Chief Office staff in the courtyard of Holborn Bars. By then, more than 500 Prudential men had already joined the regular forces; the rest were told that their jobs and salaries would be safeguarded, and that no man would be at a financial disadvantage through enlisting - the difference between the service pay and their Prudential salary would be paid by the Company.
By October 1915, Prudential was operating with its office and agency staff reduced by some 9,000 men.Of the Chief Office clerical staff who were eligible to enlist, 76 per cent were serving or had volunteered for service.
For most of the war, the office was run by temporary staff, women, and men who were over or under age, or otherwise unfit for service.
In addition to staff enlisting in the forces, others were released from their office duties to pursue voluntary roles, mostly through the Red Cross. More than 100 women served as volunteers in hospitals and other areas.
At Christmas 1914, a precedent was set for the next three years, with the despatch of parcels from Holborn Bars to the Prudential men serving in the forces. On the first occasion, some 1,300 packages were sent, each containing a pound of De Bry’s chocolate and a letter signed by Alfred Corderoy Thompson.
Policies and payments
Prudential had 21 million policyholders in 1914, and 700,000 of these were men of enlistment age, for whom war risk was now very real. Prudential’s directors agreed that the Company would pay in full claims arising from death due to war circumstances if the policies had been taken out before the outbreak of hostilities. No extra premium was charged for existing Industrial Branch policies for either servicemen or civilians.
For those on active service wishing to take out assurance or increase it, a new table for soldiers and sailors was introduced, which was payable after 15 years or ‘on previous death’. No medical examination was necessary, ‘so assurances can be completed with the promptness their urgency demands’.
By 1918 the value of war claims paid out by the Company amounted to £5 million. Prudential paid 230,000 war claims in total, representing around one third of the British soldiers killed during the war.
Supporting the British government
Prudential also provided considerable financial support to the government during the war, most notably through the sale of its American securities in 1915 and its subscription for £25 million of the Victory Loan campaign in 1917.
On 5 December 1917, as part of the third Victory Loan campaign, a tank arrived at Holborn Bars to collect a donation of £628,000 which the directors had decided to invest in National War Bonds. It was the largest donation received at the time. Holborn was crowded with onlookers as the 76-year-old Thomas Dewey climbed on top of the tank to present the cheque to a representative from the War Savings Committee.
Several senior members of the Company were asked to assist the government in its work, including Thomas Dewey, who became a member of the War Office Expenditure Committee and the Treasury; and Alfred Corderoy Thompson and George May, Company Secretary, who worked as consultants to the Treasury.