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Temple, Edward Ames
(September 23, 1831–February 12, 1909)

–pioneer business leader–founded the Bankers Life Association in 1879, and served as its director until his death. From an initial customer base of bank employees, the company became the Principal Financial Group, one of the nation's largest insurance and financial services companies.

    The third of nine children, Edward Temple was born in Lebanon, Illinois. In 1837 young Edward and his family moved to Burlington, capital of the Iowa Territory. His father, George Temple, served in the territorial legislature and became a state legislator, serving as Speaker of the House in the Third General Assembly, representing Des Moines County. The elder Temple's position enabled him to establish acquaintances and connections with prominent pioneer business leaders, especially Phineas M. Casady.

    As his father assumed political leadership in the young state, Edward quit school to take his first job as a Burlington postal clerk. Seeking real estate opportunities in Iowa as thousands of settlers streamed in to establish towns and farms, Temple left his Burlington job in 1849, and became a partner in the Fair-field realty company of Henn, Williams and Company; he opened the company's Chariton office in 1851. Six years later Edward and his brother George established their own land speculation company, conducting business in various locations, including Mount Ayr and Council Bluffs. Bad timing, however, practically decimated their assets. During the Panic of 1857, the firm's New York banker became insolvent, and the Temples recovered only 8 percent of their cash deposits. Refusing to file bankruptcy, the Temples worked hard to pay back all their creditors at interest, and in doing so, earned a reputation for honesty and integrity that served Edward Temple well when he launched a new career some 20 years later.

    In the meantime, Temple sought new opportunities. In 1862 he and his wife, Elizabeth, traveled to Idaho, where they prospected for gold and speculated in land. After those activities faltered, he joined the Union army during the Civil War, and served as Fort Vancouver's chief quartermaster. Following the war, the Temples moved back to Chariton, where Edward found work as cashier at the First National Bank of Chariton and inspiration for a new business idea.

    The Civil War experience had sparked increased public interest in life insurance, an industry that had previously been largely a concern for the wealthy. Bank customers asked the 37-year-old Temple for advice about the need for life insurance. Mindful of his unpleasant experience with a Wall Street banker, Temple doubted the trustworthiness of eastern companies and most life insurance companies, and he thought their rates excessive.

    By chance, he learned about a ministerial life insurance assessment association. Upon the death of a member, the other ministers would pay a beneficiary an assessed amount, a structure with very little overhead. Intrigued by the simplicity of that business model, Temple endeavored to apply it to bankers and their employees. Temple's adapted plan called for a 1 percent assessment ceiling, no excessive reserves, no dividends to distribute, and no unnecessary expenses for members.

    Preliminary inquiries with banker associates and the influential Phineas Casady proved favorable. Thus Temple launched the Bankers Life Association in Des Moines in 1879 with Temple as president and Casady as vice president. Temple purchased the first policy and teamed with banker colleagues to begin seeking other policyholders. Bankers themselves served as early sales representatives.

    Mindful of the need to continue adding young members, Bankers Life began offering coverage to additional people the bankers thought met strict standards. Thus the young company, with very low overhead costs, expanded dramatically through the 1800s, reaching beyond Iowa, but not south of the Mason-Dixon Line, a region Temple viewed as a place of higher mortality rates. Temple ran the growing company economically and continued with careful and selective membership practices. Even though his plan worked better than other similar companies around the country, the company's first actuary, Henry S. Nollen, grew concerned that Temple's assessment formula would ultimately fail, reasoning that even with Temple's strict standards, the laws of probability would prevail and the Temple Plan would lose financial viability. Temple resisted change, because his was the largest, most successful assessment company in America. By the time of his death, Bankers Life held $13 million in assets and nearly $500 million in force, enjoying rock solid integrity. Two years after Temple's death in 1909 in Orlando, Florida, Bankers Life converted into a level premium life insurance company.
Sources A front-page obituary appeared in the Des Moines Capital, 2/13/1909. See also Joseph Frazier Wall, Policies and People: The First Hundred Years of the Bankers Life (1979); and Ottumwa Weekly Courier, 1/30/1878.
Contributor: Jack Lufkin