November 2015

The Future of Mutual Insurance: 2015 Association of Financial Mutuals Conference and Annual General Meeting


Last month representatives of financial mutuals from all over the United Kingdom descended on the capital for the 2015 Association of Financial Mutuals (AFM) Conference and Annual General Meeting.  The venue was the centrally located Lancaster London Hotel, and delegates were greeted on arrival by the team from Trinity Events Management.

Around two hundred people attended the event, which was carefully choreographed to fit into a day, beginning with the AGM and ending with our gala dinner.  With the vibrant exhibitor area, with 20 stalls to visit, positioned immediately adjacent to the plenary hall, the pace was brisk and lively.

AFM’s new Chairman, Mike Rogers of LV= kicked off the Annual General Meeting, which looked at AFM’s progress over the last 12 months, and heard of a range of significant outputs, including the Mutual’s Deferred Shares Act and the ‘Manifesto for Financial Mutuals’.  Members heard that despite challenges to its income, AFM produced a financial surplus for the year of £9,000, but that for 2015/16 this was not likely to be sustained, and that therefore the robust assets would be used to maintain a similar level of activity.  The Board also used the meeting to describe how they had actively reviewed the trade body’s activities, and sought agreement of members to the need to change.

The 2015 conference took the theme of “the future of mutual insurance”.  Opening the event AFM chairman Mike Rogers highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities affecting mutuals today.  In particular he highlighted new research, produced in conjunction with ICMIF on the UK mutual sector: this showed that in the years since the financial crisis, AFM members had grown premium income by 40%, compared to a general contraction across UK insurance in the same period of 20%.  However, much of that growth has been centred on a few organisations, and for others the need to address issues of scale, relevance and the impact of technology are key to future success.

The first of three plenary sessions focused on “capital and governance”, chaired by Fiona McBain of Scottish Friendly.  The opening presentation was made by Andrew Bulley, PRA (likened by Fiona to Omar Sharif) who highlighted the work still needed to comply with Solvency 2. Peter Hunt of Mutuo then went on to describe how our work on Mutual Deferred Shares was gaining attention abroad and how it offered new and exciting prospects for mutual insurers to grow their business. Scott Eason of Barnet Waddingham focused on the range of investment performances his recent research had identified, whilst Robert Wharton of Keystone Law referred to his recent report on remuneration in a discussion of performance management.

Following lunch, Stephen Mann of Police Mutual chaired the second session on “the consumer perspective”.  Bob Martin of the FCA, a regular presenter at the conference, talked delegates through the revised Approved Persons Regime.  Following this James Daley of Fairer Finance drew on his wide experience of the financial services industry to pinpoint ways mutuals can and should be improving accountability to consumers.  In similar vein, David Jackman of Into The Clearing talked about the link between corporate maturity, ethics and good consumer outcomes.  Both these presentations have provoked interest from members of AFM and likely follow up.  The final presentation was provided by the first new retail mutual insurer in the UK for 20 years, the Military Mutual.  Major General Sir Sebastian Roberts, chairman, explained how the inspiration for the new mutual was a murder trial, and then Paul Koronka of Regis Mutual Management explained the work required to set up the business as a discretionary hybrid.

The final plenary session of the day focused on “big picture mutuality” and was chaired by Alan Goddard of Cornish Mutual. The first speaker was Daniel Tischer, who talked about the prospects for closer collaboration between mutuals to drive better performance, ahead of the launch of a new report on the subject by Kellogg College, Oxford.  Steve Barry then talked about work being undertaken by ICMIF to support leadership development in mutuals and cooperatives, and finally Roy Jubraj of Accenture described the growing impact of technology on the supply of insurance.

Mark Goodale, outgoing chairman of AFM, closed the conference.

The evening gala dinner was preceded by a drinks reception which was accompanied by a quartet from The Philharmonia Orchestra.  After the meal, excellently prepared by the team at Lancaster London, our after dinner speaker, Justin Webb, of Radio 4’s Today programme delivered an amusing speech and entertaining Q&A session to round of the evening.

Conference feedback

Delegates and exhibitors were invited to provide feedback on the conference after the event.  The comments received are reviewed carefully and to help shape future events.  This year’s event for example benefited from responses last year, which indicated that a one-day event in London was very popular.  As ever we were very conscious of keeping the event affordable to even our smallest members, who paid just £150 for the conference and dinner this year.

On the whole people were very positive about the quality of the event, including the venue and the catering, and enjoyed the conference presentations.  The opportunity to network: always an important component of the event was regularly referred to in feedback, and there was a lot of praise for our after-dinner speaker in particular.

One or two people would have liked more time for participation, or felt that the day was too full and would have liked more time for networking.  Having an external speaker like Sir Sebastian Roberts was well-received, and feedback indicates more contributions like this or from motivational speakers would be worthwhile.  Events with insight into strategy and new business ideas would also be welcomed.

Slides from the conference are available via the AFM website:

Minutes from the AGM have been circulated by email to CEOs of member companies.

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