ICMIF celebrates its centenary with global gathering in Rome

The co-operative and mutual insurance sector has grown by 39% since 2007 but challenges remain in an increasingly complex world

Over 400 delegates met in Rome last week to celebrate the centenary of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (Icmif).

The conference was the largest global gathering of mutual and co-operative insurance leaders, featuring delegates from more than 139 organisations across 41 countries.

Set up in 1922 in Rome, Icmif is the apex for co-operative and mutual insurers. The event was hosted by the Unipol Group, one of the Federation’s founding members, now one of the biggest insurance groups in Europe, with total premiums of €13.3bn.

Mutual and co-operative insurers have a long history in Italy, where freedom of association granted in 1848 led to a growth in mutual and co-operatives between 1860 and 1880.

Hilde Vernaillen, chair of Icmif and of the Management Committee at P&V Group (Belgium), said: “Joseph Lemaire, the then CEO of la Prévoyance Sociale (now known as P&V) in Belgium, had a vision to create a platform where purpose-driven insurers – co-operatives and mutuals – could share their strategies and ideas in a non-competitive environment. He brought together five organisations including those now known as Folksam (Sweden), Unipol (Italy), Achmea (Netherlands) and together they agreed to share knowledge, ideas and become a support for one another as inspirational leaders who wanted to use insurance to do good for the communities they served.

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“Fast forward 100 years, and that vision and purpose remains as true today. Icmif’s members have collectively achieved so much for the insurance sector through their willingness to share strategies and support each other and by focusing on the long-term needs of the people they serve, whether they are employees, communities or strategic partners and this is what we will see and benefit from this week.”

The celebration comes at a time of progress for the sector, which has grown by 39% since 2007, exceeding the total worldwide insurance market growth (27.1%) by 11.9 percentage points, and has seen the share it holds of the total insurance market increase from 24% to 26.3% within the same period. Furthermore, according to Icmif’s latest Global Mutual Market Share 2022 report, over 70% of its members last year outperformed their local market’s annual growth. Icmif includes 197 organisations across 60 countries, serves over 350 million members/policyholders and employs over 226 thousand people.

Rob Wesseling of Co-operators appointed chair

On 27 October the Icmif boards elected Rob Wesseling, president and CEO, Co-operators (Canada) as be tits new chair for a four-year term.

He said: “I’m delighted to take on this role at what is an important time in our sector. Through our work at Icmif we’ve demonstrated that the co-operative and mutual insurance sector is critical to building a better future. Together, we’re actively working towards a resilient, sustainable, and equitable future and I believe that, by working towards ambitious and aggressive targets in areas such as disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, and responsible investing, we will have a catalytic impact on the global insurance industry and, eventually, the economy as a whole.”

CEO Shaun Tarbuck said: “I am delighted that Rob has accepted the position of Icmif chair, and I am looking forward to working closely with him over the next four years. This is a very exciting time for the Federation and its members. Under the leadership of our retiring chair Hilde Vernaillen, we have transformed Icmif into an organisation focused on helping our member companies achieve their strategic goals and sustainably grow in their local markets. We are very grateful to Hilde for her great support and commitment to Icmif and its members over the last four years.

“Focusing on the key areas of mutuality, sustainability and business transformation, Icmif’s networking and business intelligence activities leverage the knowledge, competencies and experience of its global network of 197 member-owned and purpose-led insurance companies across 60 countries. Through its influence work, Icmif represents the interests of global mutual/co-operative sector – accounting for approximately 26% of the global insurance market – to key stakeholders around the themes of resilience, disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and responsible investing. Under Rob’s leadership we look forward to continuing this work and further growing our sector’s market share.”

Focusing on research

The conference was preceded by the Mutual Insurance Conference (MIC), organised by the Mutual Research Network, which brought together academics, students and mutual and co-operative insurance leaders. Under the theme Leading with purpose in times of crises, the event explored the meanings of mutuality in a post-Covid world and the role of locally owned insurers and financial companies in today’s international economy.

Participants also looked at some of the issues affecting the sector. Luciano Dragonetti, president of Mutua MBA, talked about the values of mutuals in Italy. Their ethos hasn’t changed over the decades, he said; anyone can join and members are at the heart of the organisation, which focuses on helping members and their families.

Roberto Anzanello, president of Health Italia, argued that a key challenge for mutual and co-op insurers will be to find the right balance between being mutual values and focusing on capital, investment, professionalism and management, areas in which some for-profit insurers excel at.

Jacupo Cirio, welfare development manager at Hiwelfare, agreed that the complexity of modern needs requires co-operative and mutual insurers to create a stronger link with for-profit enterprises. He added that co-operative and mutual insurers must not only choose the best of both worlds, but also use the experience of different organisations to drive innovation.

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Luca Gaburro, president of Osservatorio Enbic, a trade union body, described the challenges faced by freelance workers in Italy, the majority under the age of 35. Around 13.8% of the population does freelance work in Italy and co-operative and mutual insurers have to consider how to best serve them, said Gaburro.

Meanwhile in Africa, poverty and ill health are increasing the vulnerability of workers and affecting productivity. Nelson Kuria, chair of the CIC insurance group in Kenya, said co-ops and mutual needed to do more to harness the power of co-operation is addressing challenges in health area.

During the final session of the research conference, participants learnt the findings of the official student survey of the MIC conference, which was conducted by students and sought to find out how Millennials and Gen Z see the mutual and co-operative sector. The survey revealed that younger generations are not familiar with mutual and co-op insurers but they are digitally oriented, which means there is potential for mutual and co-ops to work with the insurtech industry.

The main conference, which began on 27 October, featured keynote addresses by Ulrika Modéer, UN Assistant secretary-general and director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Mami Mizutori, special representative of the secretary-general at the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (Undrr), who will discuss the role of co-op and mutual insurers in addressing global challenges.

UNDP and the Icmif Foundation announce new Innovation Challenge Fund

Ulrika Modéer and Rob Wesseling signing the agreement in Rome (credit: Icmif)

Ahead of the main conference UNDP and the Icmif Foundation, a charitable organisation, announced the launch of a new mechanism to promote innovative mutual insurance schemes to better protect the most vulnerable in the economically-developing countries.

The US$600,000 Innovation Challenge Fund will be overseen by UNDP’s Insurance and Risk Finance Facility and administered by the ICMIF Foundation, and will support a minimum of four organisations over two to three years to scale their existing microinsurance programmes to reach new customers and markets in developing countries, with plans to significantly scale up the work into the future.

“Expanding access to affordable insurance solutions specifically tailored to the needs of the poorest in developing countries is a priority to strengthen how they manage to cope through compounding crisis,” said Ulrika Modéer, UN assistant secretary-general and director of UNDP’s Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy. “When the worst happens, these communities are often the most affected and the least able to recover. Insurance is one of the key tools to avoid a downward spiral of debt and poverty.”

Rob Wesseling added: “Icmif is excited about this new joint endeavour with UNDP to support the world’s poorest communities and build resilience in the face of climate, health and other shocks. Mutual and cooperative insurers work with grassroots communities to co-create risk models and build education programmes that support risk mitigation and adaption. This partnership will help scale access to affordable insurance for the people who need it most, building on the ICMIF Foundation’s 5-5-5 Mutual Microinsurance Strategy which has reached 15 million people over the last five years.”