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Insurance Industry Insights from One of Canada’s Best Employers: The Co-operators

The Co-operators is a Canadian owned and operated company with $42.9 billion in assets under administration. They now insure well over two million people across Canada, and have been ranked among the country’s 50 Best Corporate Citizens by Corporate Knights, Top 50 Socially Responsible Corporations by Sustainalytics, and 50 Best Employers by Aon Hewitt.

Despite the success, the organization still has a desire to grow faster in New Brunswick, expanding their presence in areas like Greater Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton. The company is committed to investing in technology to further improve the services they offer clients and, in this area, they’re exceeding expectations at every opportunity.

With the company having such a huge New Brunswick presence and a rich history in Atlantic Canada dating as far back as the 1950s, Opportunities NB (ONB) had to learn more. To help shine a spotlight on this important player in the province’s insurance sector we sat down with Bill Mitchell, Human Resources Manager for Atlantic Canada.

ONB: Let’s start with an overview of who The Co-operators is and what you do.

Bill Mitchell - The Co-operatorsMitchell: The Co-operators is a Canadian-owned insurance co-operative offering insurance and financial security to Canadians right across the country. Through our group of companies we offer home, auto, life, group, travel, commercial, and farm insurance as well as investment products.

Across New Brunswick, we have 22 agency locations actively supporting local businesses with advice, protection, and financial solutions that cater to startups, co-ops, non-profits, and established businesses.

We also operate our Agency Contact Centre (ACC) in Moncton which opened back in 2013.

Our approach to business in Atlantic Canada is focused on client engagement and putting client needs at the center of decision making. Whether people want to stop by an agency to speak in person, pick up the phone after hours or do research online, they’re going to get the quality service they deserve.

ONB: Your team has grown fairly significantly over the last few years. What is your head count at now?

Mitchell: In Atlantic Canada we’re now at 530 employees, and in the Moncton area alone we’re now around the 330 mark.

ONB: On top of major recognition we’ve already noted you’ve also been recognized locally for your contributions to the Moncton area economy. Tell us about that.

Mitchell: Yes, this past October we won the Employer Appreciation Award for Moncton given out by the New Brunswick Multicultural Council; it was presented to us by the Deputy Premier. The award is based on significant contributions to helping newcomers to the province find employment. We’ve been working closely with Moncton area employment strategists and the Multicultural Centre; participating in career fairs and working to be in places where newcomers will visit as they seek out career opportunities. We want to make sure they know who we are and what we do.

This type of focus on helping new arrivals helps they city, the province, newcomers, and us. It’s the definition of win-win-win-win.

ONB: The company has plans to continue growing in New Brunswick, isn’t that right?

Mitchell: Absolutely. We have ambitious plans to continue growth well into 2016. Our ACC should be the recipient of much of that; we’re targeting around 84 new hires to be added here over the next year. That’s the contact centre, but also in our main office in Moncton as well. In addition to all that, there’s going to be numerous opportunities in our 22 sales office locations.

ONB: Let’s touch a bit on ONB’s role with the company. What can you tell us about that relationship?

Mitchell: ONB has really supported us in our growth, with the ACC as the most obvious example. When it opened in May 2013, we had 10 Licensed Insurance Representatives (LIR). As of this fall that’s blossomed to 68 LIRs with a projected growth of over 100 by the end of next year. There’s been great financial support from your organization, all of it based on us creating 78.5 new positions. We’ve successfully met those targets now and we continue to be tenacious in our expansion goals.

ONB: Why has New Brunswick turned out to be such a good fit for the company?

Mitchell: I think one thing that has to be recognized is that New Brunswick has a terrific workforce, hence our expansion ambitions. We know we’ll find the talented people we’ll need. We have a great bilingual workforce which is a unique benefit of New Brunswick and has been a tremendous asset for our organization. Our goal is to put our clients at the centre of everything we do, and the ability to effectively service all of our clients in both official languages is something that New Brunswick’s talent pool has made easy for us.

ONB: What do you see as notable challenges facing the insurance industry at the moment?

Mitchell: One of our areas of focus right now is making sure we’re in position to meet our clients’ needs across a variety of convenient, seamless and simple channels. We are committed to having the right processes in place for clients to do business with us whatever way they choose; whether it’s through an advisor office, our Contact Centre, web-based communications or otherwise.

The industry needs to be focused on making sure we’re able to be adaptable in that we can do business where clients choose to do business; meet them on the channels they want to be met on.

As we move forward, people are getting more comfortable with a variety of technologies, and it’s important to keep up with them. We need to be vigilant in terms of eliminating any points of pain clients have in terms of doing business with us efficiently.

ONB: Are there any trends the company sees that will be a focus for 2016?

Mitchell: Our focus is very much on people and creating an environment of sustainability for generations to come. We have been very involved with finding solutions to the flooding issues that we continue to see. Climate change is real and it’s causing significant challenges, sometimes life-threatening. The solution is not to continually increase premiums. We want to help find a solution that will help people manage the risks they face, both by helping them take measures to protect their property, and by offering insurance coverages that protects them financially.

ONB: More specifically on the HR side, what do you look for in an applicant?

Mitchell: We’re looking for applicants that display a great education and work experience obviously, but we’re not looking for a particular employment background so much as someone showing us that they’re consistently bettering themselves. We look for a pattern in terms of what they’ve done to keep improving. We even consider things like community involvement and volunteerism as well. Tech skills and work experience are important of course, but we look carefully at how people will fit within our organization. Being a co-operative, we look for a certain type of culture fit.

ONB: Let’s talk about that co-operative model, it’s a bit different than a shareholder based model, can you go into more detail on that?

Mitchell: It is very different because we are a Canadian-owned co-operative. Instead of having shareholders who invest in the business in order to make a profit, and who may never use the company’s products or services, we have members. The members are not only the owners, but they also purchase the products we have.

Being owned and controlled by members who are your customers ensures that clients are truly at the centre of our decision making. This model gives us the opportunity to have a broader vision and purpose. With this type of ownership the difference is a more balanced approach, we balance need for profitability with the needs of our member-owners and their communities in the long germ. An example of placing clients at the centre of our business decisions is our choice to maintain our Agency offices in rural communities. We know our clients and their communities continue to require our professional service and advice during both good and difficult economic times.

ONB: The Co-operators is featured in our #NBProud/#FiertéNB campaign video. We think there’s plenty of reason to be proud of New Brunswick, what would you say on that topic?

Mitchell: We certainly agree New Brunswickers should be proud of their home, so we were happy to be part of that video and campaign. I’m proud to say we’ve had such tremendous support from the people of New Brunswick, helping us with various initiatives and growing our business and work force with quality people. The individuals that we are bringing in to the organization are so dedicated it’s incredible.

We have such great support from so many organizations, like the Multicultural Centre we’ve mentioned, 3Plus Corporation locally, and ONB at the provincial level. All those groups are so dedicated to supporting each other, supporting businesses, creating opportunities and momentum, and remaining determined in efforts to improve our economy. We can continue to make this an exciting place to live and work. There really is a great network of support here without a doubt, and that’s something we should all be proud of.

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Cover image via The Co-operators