Rob Wesseling is president and CEO of Co-operators, a Canadian financial services co-operative, and chair of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF). He was elected chair at ICMIF’s General Meeting in October, which took place during the ICMIF Centenary Conference in Rome. We caught up with him to find out more about his priorities and ICMIF’s plans for the future.
How did you get involved in the co-operative and mutual insurance sector? Had you been involved in co-ops or mutuals prior to joining Co-operators in 1997?
In all honesty, it was serendipity that led me to become involved in the co-operative and mutual sector. Early in my career, I was commuting two hours by bus each way to work. The bus station was right across the street from Co-operators’ head office. At the time, I really didn’t know anything about Co-operators or co-operatives in general. When a colleague shared a job posting at Co-operators I applied, mainly so I could work at a local company and eliminate my commute. In retrospect, this was perhaps the luckiest decision in my life. Very soon after joining, I realised that Co-operators is a purpose-driven organisation that works in service of members, clients, and community, and that really resonated with me.
What do you perceive as the biggest challenges and opportunities for the sector? Are there specific areas in which co-ops and mutual insurers are ahead of their competitors?
The co-op and mutual sector has been challenged to tell our story in a way that resonates at the consumer level; this also presents our greatest opportunity. I strongly believe that people want to do business with organisations that are values-driven and purpose-led and we need to make that connection for them. In fact, being misunderstood is one of the biggest overall challenges our sector faces as it is difficult to explain the co-op difference to government regulators, financial institutions, and even the media, in a way that is valued and understood. As with most challenges, this also presents an enormous opportunity.
Co-ops and mutual insurers are ahead of our competition in so many ways but the one that comes immediately to mind is in regards to sustainability and resilience. Because we are purpose-built, focusing on long-term benefit over short-term profits and considering resilience over indemnity alone, we are designed to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow as a function of our existence. Our competitors are in the business of returning value to share-holders, we are in the business of creating value for our member-owners and their communities. This core purpose differentiation sets the stage for us to continue to have a growing role to play in the betterment of our planet, our communities and our economies.
Can mutual and co-operative insurers benefit from working with the wider co-operative sector? Does Co-operators do this in Canada?
One of the universal co-op principles is ‘Co-operation Among Co-operatives’ and it is essential to our core purpose as a co-operative. We are called to support one another through business opportunities and involvement in representative co-operative associations at the local, national and international levels. This engagement creates networks for advocacy, for incubating and supporting new and growing co-operative organisations, and helps us innovate as a sector. We are stronger together. In Canada, Co-operators is an active participant at all levels of co-operative associations including paying dues, participating in governance and events, and knowledge sharing. We also fund co-operative development directly through Co-operators Community Funds, and through participation in the Canadian Co-operative Investment Fund.
What do you think the future will bring for co-operative and mutual insurers? Can the sector continue to grow at a rate that is exceeding the total worldwide insurance market growth?
I believe the future will bring continued growth for co-operative and mutual insurers provided we continue to focus on our co-operative identity and meeting the needs of our members, and their communities. The insurance industry as a whole has a significant role in steering our global economy in a new, more sustainable direction, and we are uniquely positioned to lead the way. As we get better at sharing our story and as people become increasingly aware of the imperative of swift action to address our common challenges, I am confident that consumers will continue choosing the co-operative and mutual way.
What will be your priorities as the new chair of ICMIF?
ICMIF exists to inspire and assist our members to lead with purpose, driving progress in sustainability, mutuality, and business transformation. This is my priority as the incoming chair.