Shares of Clarica Life Insurance Co., previously named Mutual Life, made their debut on the Toronto Stock Exchange Thursday well above the initial value set by the Waterloo-based firm.

Shares of Clarica's public offering were selling at $24 this morning, $3.50 above the price set by the company earlier this week.

Clarica's debut marked the beginning of informal trading, a week ahead of the stock's first official day on Canada's stock markets.

"In just a week, when we close our IPO, our conversion to Clarica will be complete," said Mutual Life's President and CEO, Bob Astley. "We're very pleased with the reception from investors, and we're looking forward to the opportunities and challenges of growing as a publicly-traded company."

When complete, market watchers expect Clarica's market capitalization will amount to $2.7 billion.

Mutual Life's foray into the stock market is only the beginning, though; four other Canadian insurers are now demutualizing and plan to go public in the next 10 months.

If all five companies complete the demutualization process, it's expected their market capitalization will equal almost five per cent of the value of the TSE's 300 top stocks.

Demutualization is intended to give the companies access to the equity capital they need to finance expansion and acquisitions in the rapidly consolidating world of financial services. Currently the companies are owned, mutually, by their policy holders.