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When the mutual difference really matters


by Shaun Tarbuck, Chief Executive, ICMIF

11 May 2020

You will by now, I hope, have seen some of the 60 plus news stories on our website of how ICMIF members have responded so superbly to the COVID-19 crisis to support their customers, their communities and, in some cases even, their countries. The stories are all both individually and collectively inspirational.

According to our research, the global mutual/cooperative insurance sector has responded with over USD 8 billion of financial assistance including motor insurance rebates, financial assistance, health advice, healthcare donations, investments in social impact bonds, community support packages and general donations to support frontline healthcare professionals. With stories from over 30 countries around the world these stories demonstrate a truly remarkable global response. I recommend you take a moment to look at the stories if you have not already done so.

In times of real crisis, leaders of organisations are required to step up and demonstrate true leadership and we have seen this in abundance from the mutual and cooperative insurance sector. It is this type of response that is needed and more importantly that will be remembered by the general public. From our conversations with members during the coronavirus pandemic we have seen that the drivers behind the mutual response are, without exception, ‘to do the right thing’ in a crisis. However, as we saw in the 2008 global financial crisis, ‘doing the right thing’ became a mutual differentiator which led to business growth. So, whilst not being the driver of the mutual response right now, it may be the unintended consequence, in a good way.

The resiliency of the mutual sector in continuing to service members needs and indeed servicing increased customer needs, whilst at the same time providing a safe and secure home working environment for their staff, is to be applauded. In fact, the shift for so many companies may lead to a new world of more permanent working from home strategies that could benefit employees, customers and even the environment alike.  We already seen a start towards this in announcement by Nationwide Insurance (USA) last week to make home working “business as usual” by November 2020.

The resiliency of the mutual sector was tested greatly in terms of solvency at the  time of the global financial crash and yet came out the other side in a good position. Indications now are that the mutual sector, with its conservative long-term outlook to investments and reserving, may well again weather the storm and emerge from the Covid-19 crisis stronger than ever. In fact, ICMIF members such as Folksam and Länsförsäkringar have taken the opportunity to assist in supporting the global pandemic response by investing in Social Bonds.

So, my belief is that the various responses from our members have, or will, become mutual differentiators for our sector. I also believe that, as the different countries around the world start to come out of lockdown, we will see a new and different world start to emerge. This is a chance for society to be rebooted, for a new global community spirit to grow, through which we respect our healthcare workers and systems and respect and support our neighbours. This looks and feels like the embodiment of the mutual/cooperative ethos to me. There is a no business as usual right now, there were no business models or scenarios that predicted or planned for the current situation and yet we, as global citizens, have collaborated and cared for each other in a way never seen before. 

The one thing that differentiates ICMIF members is their willingness to collaborate and share strategies that work with an openness not often found elsewhere in business. The stories of caring and assisting are testament to that willingness to help each other and to help their communities. The world has had a shock and the mutual sector has responded by “doing the right thing” by its stakeholders.

Whilst the coronavirus crisis is long from over, there is another global crisis on our doorstep, that of climate change. To some it still seems too far away, something we still have time left to “fix” the crisis but we do not.  It has crept up on us slowly, but the changes that need to be put in place are needed now, before the point of no return has been reached. Can we react collectively as the mutual sector to this crisis also, using both our assets and underwriting skills to fight the climate crisis, which is a slowly burning platform?

We heard this challenge from Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at ICMIF Supporting Member Aviva Investors in last week’s webinar “Disclosing your climate risks: being prepared to report against the TCFD framework.” It is a challenge we can and should rise to. Indeed, some members are doing so already.

Can we harness the same collective response from the mutual sector to climate change as we are doing for COVID-19 and demonstrate, yet again, the mutual difference? I believe we can and hope that we will.

In a special ICMIF webinar on 28 May 2020, three mutual/cooperative insurers will share their responses to the outbreak, giving examples of various initiatives to help their member policyholders, to ensure the safety of employees and the continuity of business, and to support local communities and wider society. Find out more and register here.

For member-only strategic content on the cooperative/mutual insurance sector, ICMIF members have exclusive access to a range of online resources through the ICMIF Knowledge Hub 

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