The biennial global conference for co-operative and mutual insurance professionals opened, with a focus on leadership, one hundred Chief Executives and a South African Rugby team captain.
The conference, organised by the International Co-operative and Mutual Insurers Federation (ICMIF) and taking place in Cape Town, is being attended by 280 delegates from 47 countries, one third of whom are Chief Executives or Chairs.
The keynote speech came from Francois Pienaar, who was the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Springbok, in 1985. He recounted the story of meeting with Nelson Mandela, and how together they used the team as a way to ‘heal the nation’. The team went on to win the Rugby World Cup.
The Springboks at that time were closely associated with the apartheid. Nelson Mandela’s controversial decision to publicly support the team and use it to bring together black and white South Africans was a major moment in the country’s history. The story is told in the 2009 film Invictus, in which Francois Pienaar is played by Matt Damon. ‘"I saw a nation change in the course of six weeks," said Mr Pienaar.
It was also a lesson in leadership. "It is courageous leadership that is going to set you part," said Mr Pienaar.
The keynote was followed by a panel debate with leaders and chief executives of large co-operative and mutual insurers from around the world: Capricorn in Australia, Desjardin in Canada, Unimed in Brazil and P&V Group in Belgium.
The panelists distinguished between leaders of co-operative and mutual insurers and leaders of their competitors in the industry.
They agreed that a crisis of trust in business leaders has developed since the financial crisis took hold in 2008, but point to a difference for co-operative and mutual leaders.
"Shareholder pressure led, ultimately, to a trust issue," said Denis Berthaiume, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Desjardins Financial Security.
Whereas CEOs of listed companies are required to respond to ‘shareholder pressure’ for short-term returns, their counterparts in mutual insurers are able to take a more long-term and strategic approach to leadership.
This difference was emphasised during the launch of a new report, Chief Executive Insights, which has been produced by ICMIF for its members following in-depth interviews with 34 CEOs of mutual insurers.
The report, available to ICMIF members, highlights the characteristics and concerns of CEOs in the sector. Many are similar to those of CEOs in other areas. However, the report also demonstrates that leaders of mutuals are better able to think long-term and take a more customer-focused approach than are their competitors.
Echoing Fancois Pienaar earlier, Shaun Tarbuck, Chief Executive of ICMIF, said: "Running a successful insurer requires leadership: a person with the commitment and courage to drive an entire organisation towards its goals."