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How cooperative values are represented and embedded within The Co-operators

The Co-operators is a leading Canadian-owned cooperative providing multi-line insurance and financial services. For over 70 years, it has been a business based on shared values and guided by its cooperative principles. The need for profitability is balanced with meeting the unmet needs of its members; having an impact to strengthen local communities; and building a sustainable and more prosperous society. Pursuing profit to benefit the people and communities it serves and taking a long-term view of business decisions makes The Co-operators fundamentally different from many other insurance companies.

In this webinar, hear how maintaining its cooperative identity is core to The Co-operators’ strategy and how this identity is actively represented within the organisation’s culture. The webinar specifically looks at how its unique value proposition enables The Co-operators to focus on areas that its competitors are not able to or are less likely to pursue; how it demonstrates its cooperative values through communication and interactions with members and clients; and how it differentiates itself both externally and internally by embedding sustainability throughout the organisation.

The mutual advantage: Episode 4, The Co-operators (Canada)


  • Ken Kolstad, Vice President, Enterprise Planning and Execution
  • Chad Park, Vice President, Sustainability and Citizenship

In this series of bi-monthly webinars, ICMIF members from around the world present how they leverage their mutual/cooperative difference in order to gain competitive advantage in their market. In each case study, an ICMIF member shares how they embed the mutual/cooperative value proposition within their business strategy to create a positive differentiator from their competitors. Hear different examples of how mutuality makes a difference across various business functions, delivering enhanced value for member-customers and other stakeholders. We also hear how these mutual/cooperative insurers are transforming their business, in today’s rapidly changing landscape, to create a sustainable, purpose-driven, customer-centric organisation for the future.

Ben Telfer:

Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s ICMIF webinar, The Mutual Advantage. Today, we’ve got episode four of our webinar series and we’ll be looking at how co-operative values are represented and embedded within The Co-operators. I’m delighted to welcome from The Co-operators, Ken Kolstad, VP of Enterprise Planning and Execution. And also Chad Park, who’s VP of Sustainability and Citizenship.

Ken Kolstad: 

Well, thanks Ben and hello everybody. We were just talking earlier, the day is just getting started for Chad and I. We’re out in western Canada. I know for some of you folks though, you’re based all over the world, and probably heading even into the evening, so I’ll just say thanks for joining us today, and hope everybody is well and your families are safe during these crazy times. That’s the only way I can describe it.

Before we get going here, I just thought I’d give a brief summary of today’s session. So we’re going to try to explore with you how our co-operative DNA and being a purpose-driven organization, enables us to be different and how we embed and elver this difference, within the context of our long-term strategy, as well as our value proposition and our daily operations.

But even before that, want to begin with a short one minute video that was developed by our marketing team, that I think really helps tell our story today. So this will give you the overview, and then I think Chad and I will be able to fill in some details and give you some real concrete examples of how we’ve demonstrated that embedment within the context of our strategy value proposition and so on.


“These days, big business is focused more on profits than on people. The Co-operators is a different insurance company. We’re part of the co-operative business sector. Co-ops are democratically owned and controlled businesses, created when people with shared values come together to provide needed products and services.

“Our business is built on the values of honesty, caring, hard work, family and community. We make a difference in the communities our members and staff work and live in, while still watching the bottom line. You see it because we work to provide coverage everywhere, even in markets where our competitors won’t.

“Our service review panel is made up of clients. People just like you. They have the power to change company decisions. Our claims guarantee means that claims counseling is free, there’s no impact on your insurance rate when asking our advice.

“If there’s a fair way to pay a claim, we always work to find it. Our clients and partners have input into our strategy, products and community programs. The Co-operators connects their co-operative values to client service every day.”

Ken Kolstad: 

Here’s our agenda today. So basically, we’re going to try and answer the three questions that are outlined in blue text there. So we’re going to spend some time talking about how we’ve embedded the values of mutuality in our context, the co-operative identity, in our business strategy, and then we’ll give you some examples of how that embedment is working with our value proposition itself, and how we see that giving us a competitive advantage.

Then from there, Chad’s going to take over, and he’s going to talk a little bit more about how we go about communicating our co-operative difference in a way that obviously resonates with our members and our clients, and then talk more so about our sustainability leadership and how all of the above points actually fuel that within the context of our organization and how we operate as a company.

I believe we’re going to have questions being asked at the end of the day, so we’re really excited again, about being here and sharing this with you and telling our story.

All right, we’ll talk a little bit about again, how our co-operative difference is embedded within our strategy. So looking at our current mission and vision statements, this was again refreshed with our board of directors at the beginning of our new four year plan, which began in 2019. As we went through the process, we re-evaluate our mission in terms of making sure that, that still holds true in terms of our raison d’etre. But then on our vision statement, in terms of what long-term success looks like, because we went through that process with the board of directors.

As we looked at our vision around being valued by Canadians as a trusted leader in the financial services industry, that’s where our previous strategy stopped. And in this go-round, one of our directors was astute enough to call out that, “No, we need to add in there”, this being about distinct in our co-operative character to really strengthen that co-operative difference that we need to espouse as an organization.

That was a great enabler for us in terms of helping strengthen our DNA as it relates to being a co-operative and giving us more license to actually pursue some of the good things we do outside of, I’ll just say in a blanket statement, selling insurance, so to speak.

The third bullet on the vision statement talks about being a catalyst for a sustainable society, and this is a real key driver for us in terms of our sustainability efforts, and definitely influences our culture. Chad’s going to talk more about that in his portion of the presentation.

What’s not on the slide, but I think equally important to our value statements and these are definitely steeped in our co-operative DNA as well. I’m just going to call out two of the statements themselves. One is, giving life to the co-operative principles and values, which I think is an obvious statement we should be including in our values. The second one is about balancing our economic goals with a concern for the environment and welfare of the society.

Again, we’ve got demonstrable actions where we support the co-operative system in Canada, as well as ensure we’re addressing larger societal issues that, as they relate to the environment and welfare of our society in general, as well. So again, that second statement there, really helps again, give us license and strength and support to actually pursue some of those things outside of the normal course of business.

This is an image or a graphic of our current focus areas for our current four year strategic plan, but I’ll talk to those in a little bit more detail in a second. But before we go to that, I’d just thought I’d talk a little bit about our governance, and how I think that is key to the effective embedment of our co-operative DNA in the organization.

So yes, we’re a member owner organization, like any co-operative, we’re mutual in that context. We have 43 members that are grouped across the country in seven regions. And there’s a delegate structure within the context of each region for those members. We spend a lot of time with our members, capturing their input and their insight and their views in terms of how we need to be operating as an organization and, as a co-operative, in particular.

We have our annual general meeting, but we also have a couple of sessions we run with our member organizations through the course of the year as well. From those 43 members, we’ve established a 22 member board. They’re voted for democratically and it’s a large board. Most boards average around eight to 10 people and it’s a bigger board and it’s a bit unruly at times, but the good news is, is that we have the benefit of a very diverse makeup or composition of board members. So we’ve got representation from banking and financial services through our credit union sector, as well as owners from our agricultural sector. That includes not only the primary producer, but up and downstream producers, as well.

Then, also retailer co-operatives and not for profits as well. So it’s a great mix and it really helps maintain the balance for us in terms of focusing on the financial side of our business, in terms of maintaining profitability and growth and everything else. But also, our co-operative identity and making sure that, that’s kept in check as well. And hence, when you see comments like in the previous side, while being distinct in our co-operative character, we find that balance within the context of our board and that’s really helpful.

Now, just on the graphic itself, these are the five focus areas of our current four year strategic plan, which I think I mentioned previously, that starts in 2019 and extends out to 2022. Every four year plan, we go through and re-evaluate the areas of focus as part of our strategy, but what’s always a constant, is really those first two, for sure. So the client engagement, client’s always number one in our hearts and minds and that represents our members as well.

But as a close second is co-operative identity, and that’s a good news story again, that from a strategic framework point of view, we’re very intent on making sure co-operative identity, it ranks up there with maintaining our financial position as well.

The goal statement we have for co-operative identity is fairly general, but I’ll give you some examples of our objective statements underneath this, that I think help reinforce our focus on how this helps support our differentiation in the market. So the goal, we call it as, we’ll continue to be invaluable to the co-operative system, because being a co-operative is core to our identity and to our business.

The objectives we’ve called out here. And I’ll just give you some examples of some of the statements. The first one is about delivering relevant and contemporary and compelling solutions for our members, so obviously being member focused. Championing the advancement of the co-operative system, and that really ties to working with organizations in Canada, co-operative associations and whatnot. But also working with organizations like ICMIF, as well.

Then moving on from there, we’ve got being the financial service provider of choice for co-operatives and like-minded organizations. Again, being very supportive of that sector. And then leading with initiatives to address the unmet economic and social, environmental needs of Canadians. Again, this is where we start to extend ourselves out beyond the need about being profitable, but really more value add from a societal point of view.

Then the next one I’ll call it, enhancing the resilience of Canadians and their communities. So again, one of the things we’ve observed with climate change and the impacts as a result, in terms of frequency and severity of storms and climate related events, is that in our clients, it’s okay to provide risk indemnification products for them, so insurance products to help keep our clients solvent, but what can we do to help our clients be more resilient? What types of risk mitigation services can we add to our client’s portfolio to help support them and be more resilient in the face of climate change, for example.

And the last objective, I’ll just call out, and this is going to tie into a lot of the information that Chad’s going to share with you, is about integrating and embedding the co-operative and sustainability principles in all areas of our business, including decision-making, actions and processes. So it’s good to be outward focused in terms of providing the value added services that we do extend to our clients, but also we need to be able to walk the talk from an internal point of view as well, and making sure that we’re inculcating this culture with that type of a lens, as well.

I think we’ve covered a fairly broad spectrum in terms of activities and outcomes that we’re driving towards as part of our strategy that supports our co-operative difference. That even includes performance management related goals for executive team in terms around supporting our sustainability efforts as well. So I think we’re very deliberate and very aggressive on that front, which is a good news story, overall.

We’ll shift gears and talk a little bit about our value proposition now. And we certainly believe this value proposition helps enable us to focus on areas that our competitors are either not able to, or are just less likely to pursue, given for profit organizations are very driven for more quarterly profit results as opposed to something longer term. And again, with our strategic plan, it allows us the framework to actually pursue these types of things.

I’m going to read to you a statement within our strategy that I thought about trying to memorize and recite on my own and I knew my memory’s great, but just not short, so I’m going to read it for you and it’s going to be less painful for you. So it starts with:

“At the end of day, we pursue profit to benefit the people and the communities we serve. The value we create, in turn, benefits our members, clients and communities as the strength of our organization leads to the long-term prosperity and peace of mind of the people we serve.”

“Our co-operative identity enables us to lead in the community and to support and meet the unmet needs of our member organizations and clients, and in many cases has helped shift the industry towards the behaviors and actions that better protect Canadians and their communities.”

I have an example on the next slide that talks a little bit about that last bullet, in particular. And that’s our overland flood coverage product that again, was not available within Canada until we brought it forward. There was a lot of pushback, from the industry on that front, as well.

But at any rate, I just want to add on this, to support this and based on our research within the North American market, we’ve certainly understood there’s a growing trend about millennials and, in particular, they’re more likely to do business with purpose-driven organizations like ourselves, or people on this call, for example, than working with for profit-driven organizations, just because we’re doing more and we’re helping to address these societal issues.

That’s partly a competitive advantage right there, but to add to that though, for The Co-operators in particular, we’re consistently recognized for our sustainability leadership. We’ve ranked generally in the top 10 within the Corporate Knights Best 50 Corporate Citizens list every year, I think, except 2010. And this year, I think we’re number four. Last year, we were first.

The point here, is playing up the breadth of these initiatives that have earned us this kind of recognition, I think is essential for us to continue to help push that message about how our co-operatives and mutual difference creates value and sets us apart. Frankly, I just don’t think we do enough to be… We’ve got to be less humble and share that message more intently.

Then, when I was looking at the presentation this morning, actually, an example came for me that I thought I would like to share after this session, if I can find some links. But one of our member organizations, it’s called Federated Co-operative. They’re based in Western Canada as well, excuse me. They’ve just come out with a new ad campaign, talking about their co-operative difference and why they’re a co-operative and what it means, and they’ve done just a fantastic job in sharing that message.

I thought this might be a good message to share with you folks and a good example to see what you can build from there, maybe, because that’s one of the things that sitting on some of the co-operative associations that I’m involved with, one of the common themes is that we just don’t do a good enough job in selling our difference and articulating that to create and further competitive advantage. We’re pretty humble as a collective organization, and we could be a little bit more alert on that front.

Then again, this example with Federated Co-operative, I think they’ve done a great job in sharing that message, so I want to share that with you folks, if possible.

This is a bit of a busy slide, I apologize for that, but we wanted to do is again, share some examples of some of the products and services that we’ve developed that we certainly believe help demonstrate the embedment of our identity within our value proposition. So earlier I talked about the natural tension, between being profitable and maintaining our co-operative identity, and focusing on sustainability and whatnot and that’s always going to be a challenge.

We see that at the board, we see that at the management table, but we always come to a balance which is necessary, but it still supports our strategy and our long-term plans. And having said that though, I just want to share a statement that our CEO often says is that pursuit of our mission, not profit, is on page one of our plan book. And our mission is about financial security for Canadians and communities and talks to our vision as well. So understanding the importance of providing that co-operative difference is very clear from our CEO and cascading that down to our management team, which is a good news story. And the message is consistent, so that’s a positive as well.

The process we follow about creating these products and services, I don’t think is rocket science. We spend some time talking with our members and clients about what the unmet needs are, that they’re faced and challenged with, and then frankly, we go out and figure out a way to help solution those needs in a profitable manner.

To achieve that, we work with various stakeholders, again to identify what the gaps are, and then use our approach around innovation and product development to come up with a solution for that type of thing. So on the slide, we’ve got some examples here of some of these products that we’ve developed for that, or through that process.

First one is our member benefits program, and this really extends value added products and services to the members of our member organizations. So it helps deepen the relationship between our member and their clients or their members, but also us with our member organizations, as well. So it’s a real win-win for us and for everybody.

From the client perspective, we have our client service review panel, which is on the next slide. So I’ll give you a little bit more detail on that one. But it’s again, another really good example of our co-operative difference.

Again, I talked to you in the last slide about our overland flood product, and again, this is a new product. It’s not new anymore, I guess, but it offers overland flood coverage to any Canadian, regardless of their risk profile. Interesting to note that Canada was the last G7 to actually introduce this type of coverage, and again, we ran into a lot of headwinds in the industry in terms of our peers not wanting us to raise this topic because they didn’t see this is a positive profit generation type of model to pursue.

But regardless, we did pursue it and we filled that unmet need, and I think as of 2019, we’re just under about a half a million water coverage endorsements across Canada right now. And the good news is, the other part of the story is actually, and it’s good news, is that our competitors have actually come up with a product as well. And that’s a good thing. So it’s a win-win for Canada, it’s a win-win for our customers and the Canadian population in general, because again with the impacts of climate change and the catastrophic-related events, especially flood, is becoming more and more common in our country. So this kind of coverage is really important.

Another example on the bottom left, is an organization called Duuo, that we created in partnership with a company called Slice Labs. So Slice Labs is an FinTech / InsurTech type organization. Duuo basically is a digital on-demand insurance provider for clients in Canada, we just went national with it, I believe, this year. So it covers things like event-based coverage, vendor coverage as well as short-term rental. So this is anything from condo’s or apartment-type rentals, or home rentals, but also if you have different types of technology that you’re not using, or tools, for example. So cameras, and what not are also available to be rented and provide coverage for.

Essentially, it’s kind of a usage-based insurance. So we’re growing this as a new opportunity and we’re quite excited about where it’s going so far, but it’s still a long road ahead. But again, it’s covering off one of those unmet needs that really just wasn’t available in Canada.

A couple of examples are two products on our commercial side of our business. One is called Co-op Guard, and the other one is our Community Guard. So basically these are products, defined directly for co-operatives in general, but also community-type organizations, or not for profits. When I talked to an advisor friend of mine, he’s quite excited about these. He personally says that he sees these two products as one of the biggest advantages we have in the market right now. There’s nothing in the market quite like them, and from the pricing to the rating and the bundling, they’re second to none. So we’ve hit a niche here that we’re quite excited about and it serves again, an unmet need to a very distinct community.

Finally, there’s a few other types of products and services we offer that I didn’t include on the slide, but we have home insurance discounts for LEED certified homes. So LEED is just an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. So environmentally sensitive homes.

We also provide discounts for auto insurance covering hybrid and electric vehicles, and we also do a lot of work around supporting socially responsible investments. So impact investing and those types of things.

A lot of good examples of how we’ve taken the wording and the strategy from our value prop and what not to extend that out into real products and services that do make a big difference in our clients’ lives and world and I think does give us some element of a competitive advantage as well.

I mentioned this on our previous slide. So this is a slide just on our service review panel. When we met at our last ICMIF meeting, there was quite a bit of interest about this panel itself. So I thought I’d just create a dedicated slide for it, and give you a bit more information.

This is a function that’s national in scope and it’s not really matched, as far as I’m concerned, within the industry. I don’t think anybody else really does this. And again, I believe it’s a great reflection of our co-operative difference in the market. So the panel was established really to further The Co-operators further dedication to client service by providing really, a cost-free process for the democratic resolution of client concerns. So a lot of these usually are contested claims and outcomes related to that, as an example. But ultimately, what’s really good about this, it enhances our decision-making credibility because the concerns are resolved by an independent, peer client group and they’re independent of The Co-operators and the good story is, from what I understand, is that the vast majority of the decisions made really are supportive of The Co-operator’s claims decisions as well.

There’s the odd one from my understanding that goes the other direction, but for the most part, we’re pretty consistent in that. But the good news is, that we walk the talk. And we’re being true to our values in that sense. This panel meets roughly about four to six times per year, to independently evaluate these client concerns.

We obviously have confidentiality, privacy clause that we need, or agreement, that our panel needs to sign, obviously because they’ll have access to claim and policy information. From a structure point of view, basically there’s 12 panelists, including the chairperson and that’s representation right across the country. The panelists serve for about a three-year term, but there are some appointments that can be extended as well. So depending, I think, on the interest of the panelists and the effectiveness of the process itself.

The Co-operators’ role in this, again, we act as a facilitator and a technical resource to the panel, but we do not take part in the decision-making process whatsoever. The panelists are not compensated for their involvement. They’re not employees. But they are volunteers, so they are entitled to travel expenses being reimbursed, plus a per diem or honorarium for each meeting that they do attend.

Geographically speaking, we used to actually have three panels, one in Western Canada, one of the East Coast and one in Ontario, which is our biggest market. They ranged again, from four to seven panelists. But in January of this year actually, we made the decision to move to a national panel, so it’s just one panel now, with representation across Canada.

So normally, these panelists have met face-to-face but since COVID has emerged, we’re actually doing this work now virtually, and by all accounts, that’s adapted very, very well. So it’s actually making life a little bit easier on our panelists as well from a travel point of view.

The panel currently consists, from a demographics point of view, consists of seven males, five females, varying ages of backgrounds, some retired and some are still actively employed as well. So it’s a good mix. And it’s a really a great news story and again, at the last session, there was quite a bit of interest, so I just wanted to add one more slide that just talks a little bit more in detail about this function that The Co-operators provides. And I’m not sure how long it’s been in place, but I’ve been with the company at least 15 years now, and I know it’s been in place for at least that long. So I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon as far as we’re concerned.

Chad Park:

Okay, thanks Ken. It’s great to be here and present to all of you. Ken’s had 15 years of service with the company, and I’ve had about seven months or so. I started in this role in June. Though have long known and admired The Co-operators for all the things that Ken’s talking about so far that I’ll elaborate on here.

Let’s shift our focus to the value proposition for communities and for the sake of this presentation, I’ll focus in on impact investing, advocacy and community investments. So first, we’ve embraced impact investing, and that’s obviously an investment approach that provides compelling financial returns and positive social or environmental impact through our sustainability investing and impact investing policy and then our advocacy work related to sustainable finance.

We’re trying to help lead the way in supporting an economy that puts the wellbeing of current and future generations at the forefront. So our goal with that is to equip communities and sustainable projects with the capital that they need to build long-term resilience within communities and environments. So you can see the tie back to our mission.

We’re really proud of the fact that we’ve achieved 19.4% of our invested assets, so that’s over $2 billion that are now invested in externally verified impact investments. That was by the end of 2019. In 2020, we’ve now cross the 20% mark, which is a big number and a big percentage. Sometimes, I’ve heard our CEO say, “Imagine if every financial institution in the world had 20% of their assets invested in impact investing.”

The next thing I’ll focus on is on advocacy and that’s where we play a role and it’s reflective of our co-operative values, in helping bring communities, businesses, academia and governments together on various issues that help address and build a more sustainable, low carbon economy.

So obviously a lot of these issues, well most of these issues cannot be addressed by any single organization, and we find The Co-operators can play an important role in convening stakeholders around the issues, or in participating in collaborative initiatives that way.

So a couple of examples there, we do play a leadership role and support the work of United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative, UNEPFI. Also, we help support the financial sectors’ response to and support for something called Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, was appointed by the government and released a series of recommendations in 2019, so these and on many other issues, we show how we work across sectors to try to help catalyze industry, government and community action on sustainability and other goals.

Third, I’ll just focus on community investments where we consistently donate well above the benchmark that Imagine Canada sets of 1% of pre-tax profits to support community causes. In fact, in 2019, The Co-operators was at 4.2%. So that’s money being invested directly into communities and charitable organizations and co-ops and so on.

We have 500+ advisor offices that are embedded all across the country, and across Canada. And the advisors and their staff in those offices, they provide a direct link to Canadian communities and so we offer a number of community investment initiatives that help engage our advisors and to support them in amplifying their own community involvement and providing critical funding to community organizations in their community.

This includes, for example, something called an advisor community fund, and that’s a program where corporate funds are distributed to match advisors’ contributions to local causes. In 2019, just as an example, we contributed almost $900,000 to communities through this program.

The two photographs on the right of the screen show our advisors and their teams presenting checks to local agencies which is always a great thing for relationship building. We’ve also got significant involvement with the United Way and then we have a new $2 million signature initiative called Pathways to Employability, which provides Canadian youth with supports and opportunities to progress along their path toward employability.

Obviously youth, like everywhere, youth in Canada have been really hit hard by the COVID pandemic and this program was designed to help support them in their employability. Overall, our Co-operator’s Community Funds invest in a whole range of initiatives, and we’ve used them to launch a co-op impact program, which provides $1 million to small and medium sized co-ops to support them as they adapt to shifting economic landscapes. So, that is community scale impact investing.

All of these give you a sense of the kinds of supports and investments we provide in communities. I’ll shift a little bit more to our communications and external engagements.

First, on the member front, I think we do a terrific job of communicating and working with our members and it’s definitely paying off because we consistently score very high on member engagement. Ken has already laid out a few of the specifics here, but I can just say in terms of how we communicate with our members, for one thing, we have a dedicated team that’s focused on member and co-op needs from a business perspective. We hold bi-annual meetings which include education, information sharing and other issues.

And the image on this slide is from one of our seven fall region meetings, which welcome delegates from our members to connect virtually, obviously, this year. And in this business relationship with members, we focus on price, service and coverage first, and then we sell our community differences well.

Approximately 25% of our total revenue is from co-operatives and members. Of course, we are happy to celebrate and promote co-op week in Canada and many of our staff participate in provincial co-op associations.

I’ll just elaborate a little bit on something Ken alluded which is one of the key initiatives we’ve introduced to communicate our co-op difference is our member benefits program. And that includes discounts for member insurance, first claim forgiveness to associated co-ops who are also members and discounts on travel insurance of other co-ops.

From a retail perspective, it’s a little more challenging and it comes back to having to articulate what a co-operative is and why it’s better. This has been a challenge and a topic for discussion, I think, for a long time within The Co-operators and other co-ops, I’m sure.

We’ve got farm plan for co-op members of our members, which provides packages and coverages at a discounted price. And overall, we estimate 10 to 15% of our business is through co-op minded people. Direct to our member owners, it’s 5%.

A key principle we adhere to in our communications, whether it’s to members or more generally, is to be values-based. And this means being clear about we’re focusing on and making sure we walk the talk and using our values and our value as an anchor.

When it comes to communicating with clients, we focus on price, service and quality of the product first, and then focus on the co-op difference as a sort of extra value for money. I know I’ve seen a lot of co-ops who are the opposite, who may be overpriced a little bit, not necessarily high service, but they’re a co-op, so they hope that, that means that signals that you should buy from them. So we really try to reverse that when it comes to engaging with clients. And in all of that, authenticity, transparency and relationship are fundamental to the communications.

Our integrated report tells the story of our organization, beyond your financial performance and accentuates the co-op difference. Our messaging really focuses on the how and why we serve our clients, so a lot of what Ken has already described. Trying to use simple language and really to focus on the products and services and accessibility of those.

We do try to enable and highlight and emphasize in our communications our various advocacy efforts, some of which I described earlier. And we think that’s part of the brand and it helps profile our active involvement in creating the enabling conditions for sustainability and resilience. Obviously, Ken has already highlighted the client review panel, that’s another aspect.

In general, in marketing, I heard Ken say this and I liked the point. Although The Co-operators is in our name, and that helps, we often find it’s a bit too big of a gap to lead with the co-operative message when we’re approaching retail clients, so that’s why we take the approach that I just mentioned. We do highlight our sustainability leadership and link it to our co-op difference.

We can go to the next slide. And there’s only two more, I think. This is a little bit more on our sustainability leadership. There’s another aspect of differentiating and walking the talk and what it means to be a co-operative. And the way we describe it is we try to embed sustainability principles throughout our organization and we think that that helps bring to our various stakeholders a further reinforcement of our co-op identity.

I’ll share a few examples of how that’s worked and what it looks like in practice. First of all, we have a dedicated sustainability and citizenship department, which is the area that I lead. And we provide subject matter expertise on a whole range of topics, but we’ve also made a concerted effort, especially in recent years to truly integrate sustainability throughout the organization, so that the sustainability related initiatives are led by various other departments across the organization.

Up on the left hand side here is a couple of examples. Are finance team has been integral to building our institutional knowledge about climate risk and opportunity and leading on our disclosures, like the taskforce on climate related financial disclosures. This year we released our inaugural report for that.

I’ve already talked about our investments, and our investment specialists lead that. We support them in that. And then on the right side, we’ve got our products and The Co-operators has a whole range of products and Ken has already outlined those. And the work on that is led obviously by our product teams.

On the bottom left, you’ll see claims. We encourage our clients to favor sustainability options when replacing damages, and we work with Habitat for Humanity to donate any usable home fixtures from claims to their Restores. There’s also operations and governance, so we set a goal and we’re going to achieve it by the end of 2020, which is to be carbon neutral equivalent by this year. And our 500+ advisors across Canada are also 97% carbon neutral through a partnership we have with Bullfrog Power to purchase renewable energy, equivalent to our advisor offices’ energy usage.

Governance, sustainability and citizenship are prominent and we’ve actually got a dedicated board committee on sustainability and citizenship which provides strategic oversight to all these efforts. And then finally in human resources, we’ve got a strong learning culture and we’ve created opportunities for learning around sustainability including a sustainability e-learning course that’s accessible to all staff, advisors and board members. So far, we’ve got 63% of corporate staff have completed the course.

We also have on human resources, we also have sustainability goals for senior leaders. Ken already referred to that and sustainability and co-op identity is a big factor in our talent recruitment. This slide is just meant to reinforce this is a bit of a cycle. Let’s call it a virtuous cycle where things reinforce each other, so the sustainability impacts that we contribute to, combined with the feedback that sustainability is a key motivator for various stakeholders, just reinforces our commitment to sustainability.

Greater stakeholder engagement means more collaborative partnerships and a more fulfilled workforce. And then external recognition of that reinforces that our efforts are meaningful, which raises the profile of The Co-operators and being seen as a leader and one that consistently punches above our weight, in terms of our size compared to our influence means we get invited to collaborate on global and national sustainability topics.

There is a great recent example of this. We were invited by the Bank of Canada, and our financial services regulator to collaborate on climate scenario analysis alongside the biggest financial institutions in the country. And from those new opportunities, then we can deepen and expand our initiatives, which results in even more on the ground impacts and the cycle continues. That’s the way we view that relationship and how the sustainability reinforces the co-operative identity and vice versa.

I think at this point, we’re wrapped up and I’ll just see if you have anything else to add Ken, and otherwise I think we’re ready to take a few questions.

Ken Kolstad: 

No, I think you covered it well, Chad. This is great. I’m glad we had the opportunity to share our story. Ben, so I’ll pass it over to you.

Ben Telfer: 

Thank you very much, Ken. Thank you, Chad. An excellent overview of The Co-operators strategy and how you really are embedding co-operative values throughout the organization. We do have a number of questions in.

First question, Ken I’ll probably come to you first on this one, because it relates to your service review panel. It’s a two-part question. Firstly, are volunteer members selected or elected? And secondly, why was the decision made to move from three regional panels to one?

Ken Kolstad: 

Good questions. The panels’ membership is basically, I guess from my understanding they are invited to join The Co-operators. But they have to provide a submission form. Then the submission request to join that panel is reviewed by the existing panel to approve the addition of that individual onto the panel itself. So they are selected, but it has to be a unanimous decision from the panel to bring the new members on to that process.

Why it went from geographic regions of three down to one national, I don’t know. That was a bit of news for me. I always thought they were still regional until I got this, but I’ll find out. I’ll get back to you on that answer. I think it’s probably, if anything, it’s probably just about economies of scale and the efficiency we can do this now over technologies, such as the tools we’re using here today, or things like WebEx and whatnot that we’re able to facilitate that same conversation remotely.

Ben Telfer: 

Thank you, Ken. Chad, a question for you here. Just asking about your definition of impact investing? It assumes you include green investments and green bonds, but what other categories do you include in your impact investing criteria?

Chad Park: 

Yeah, thank you. So our investment manager, Addenda Capital, has a whole team dedicated to this and in our integrated report, you can see quite a bit of detail on the kinds of things we invest in. About 75% of our impact investments are in the theme of related to climate change, so that’d be some of the topics you just mentioned, green bonds, renewable energy and so on, and more efficient buildings.

But others address, I guess, we could say more social issues. They include things in health, in housing and in education, as well. And, like I said, you can have a look at our integrated report for a lot more detail on that.

Ben Telfer: 

Thank you, Chad. Another question that’s come in, again about your impact investing and just commending you on the 20% that you have at the moment. Just wanted to know a bit about the growth that’s happened in the last two or three years and perhaps in the last five years and also what goals you’ve got for the end of this year and then the next 10 years as well?

Chad Park: 

Yeah, I think the growth is happening in the market beyond us, of course. I guess we’ve had the advantage of having a team that’s been focused on this and dedicated on this for several years, so it’s developed a lot of competency, maybe just a little bit ahead of the broader market. So have been able to build relationships and spot opportunities and in some ways been known as a go-to organization in Canada on impact investing.

I think that’s been a big advantage and in terms of where we go next, I think the organization has set the goal of 20% impact investing by 2022, so we’ve actually achieved that goal ahead of schedule. Ken’s in charge of strategy and metrics and so on, so he can say more about the process. But I do think there’s an appetite to set move beyond that, having achieve that goal, to go further.

That may look like setting a higher bar for impact investing and because I think there’s always a willingness to do a little bit more, especially when we have shown to ourselves and others that the financial returns on these investments have been good. And in some ways have even been more resilient through the pandemic, for example.

But it’s also more than impact investing. So some of our future goals include developing some products and some investment strategies that support in Canada, the concept is emerging around transition finance. And so this is a little bit different than impact investing, but would be more around supporting existing sectors to transition towards more sustainable practices, and I think we’ll see that we’ll be developing goals around that in the future, as well.

Ben Telfer: 

Ken, do you have anything to add on that.

Ken Kolstad:

I think Chad’s done a great job covering it. I’d just add from a retail wealth management investment practice now that we’re building out, extending that investment opportunity to our clients is also part of our plan, in terms of ethical investment and whatnot. So it’s not just leading the way, but we’re extending that offer and capability out to our clients as well.

Ben Telfer: 

Thank you, Ken. Chad actually touched on this next question, but perhaps Ken, you could elaborate on it a bit more. Does The Co-operators emphasize its co-operative structure in its marketing or do you focus on your community works, sustainability efforts and member benefits programs?

Ken Kolstad: 

I think it’s more the latter. As Chad pointed out, it’s in our name, but people don’t get it. And leading with the co-operative model and difference, it’s just not widely understood. At least in Canada, generally speaking. Again, I refer to when I talk to our provincial co-op associations, they run into the same challenge constantly, having to explain what this is all about and hwy we’re different and why we’re of value.

So we tend not to lead with that but to go more with the actions that really walk the talk, sort of thing.

Ben Telfer: 

Do you think that would change if The Co-operators and other mutuals were “less humble”, using the term that you used earlier, and promoted their difference more? Do you think that would change and consumers would understand it?

Ken Kolstad:

I think so. I think again, I’m really taken by this and I’m sorry to elaborate on it again, but the work that the Federated Co-op has done in Western Canada with some of their messaging, I think is just fantastic. Maybe I just bleed co-operative blood, but it gets me tingly when I watch that commercial, for crying out loud. I’m quite proud of that. At any rate, I think yeah, the more people understand the more they would resonate in terms of that we are more of a for purpose type of organization or business model and that people would glom onto them.

I think you’re seeing more of that client movement towards more for purpose type organizations, generally. Like I said, we talked about the millennials doing it, but I think it’s becoming more popular. So it’s an opportunity for us, I think we could probably capitalize on.

Ben Telfer:

Definitely. And that’s a call to everybody listening. “Be less humble”. I do like that.

Chad Park: 

If I could just elaborate on that, Ben, just to say that I think in the context of the pandemic, there’s more and more people that are open to or seeking even alternatives, in terms of models and so on. So I do think that might create a little bit more of an opportunity, but the other thing is that some of the sustainability work that we do and others, I’m sure on this call, do as well, of course being taken up by organizations of all different stripes, including regular mainstream financial institutions and so on. So I think that means, of course, we’ve got to stick and try to stay on the leading edge of all that, but also it means that we’re going to have to find other ways to differentiate ourselves. I think the co-op values are an important one that will always be a distinguishing thing.

Ben Telfer: 

Thank you, Chad. I think we’ve got time for just one more question. Chad, I’ll come to you first for this one. It talks about you saying that The Co-operators are carbon neutral by the end of this year; has that been helped by COVID and do you assume that you still will be carbon neutral once travel resumes in 2021, 2022? Will that continue?

Chad Park: 

Thank you for the question. Yes, we would have been carbon neutral anyways by the end of this year. That was our goal and our commitment. But what has been helped by COVID is that it’s cost us less. And by that I mean, obviously, travel would be one of our big missionaries, in terms of operations and that’s been brought to almost nothing, so the costs both in terms of the expense on that travel, but also to offset the amounts that we haven’t reduced, means we’re able to do it, actually without purchasing additional assets, which we had in our plans and our budget to cover the remaining amount with offsets, but we haven’t had to use that.

And so yes, we plan to stay committed to this benchmark going forward and hopefully still further reduce our omissions as well and therefore reduce the cost of offsetting them.

Ben Telfer:

Perfect, thank you very much. I’m afraid I’m going to have to end the webinar there. Ken, Chad, thank you so much for joining today and sharing the example from The Co-operators.

As I mentioned before, this is a series of webinars and today was episode four. If you’re interested in seeing the recordings of any of the past episodes, you can access them via the new ICMIF Knowledge Hub. Many of you would have seen this launched a couple of weeks ago.

Today is actually the 48th webinar that ICMIF has hosted this year, and the recordings and transcriptions of all these webinars are available on the Knowledge Hub.


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