The Co-operators is a wholly Canadian-owned insurance co-operative. It is one of Canada’s largest insurers and offers farm, life, travel, car and business insurance. The beginnings of the Co-operators can be found in Saskatchewan and Ontario in the mid-1940s when struggling wheat farmers came together to try to improve their livelihoods following the Great Depression and World War II. At that time, co-operatives became appealing as a way to pool community resources to help rebuild lives. In 1975 the Saskatchewan and Ontario co-operatives merged and in 1978 took the name The Co-operators. Today, The Co-operators’ master brand includes Addenda Capital, Co-operators General Insurance Company, The Sovereign General Insurance Company, COSECO Insurance Company, Co-operators Life Insurance Company, TIC Travel Insurance Coordinators The CUMIS Group and HB Group Insurance. It has $35.1 billion in assets under administration.
The Co-operators 2012 Sustainability Report, titled “Take a closer look” is a 44 page document. It adheres to GRI Application Level B.
The ethical values of co-operatives include honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. Readers interested in this report from a co-operative perspective will find that these values are reflected in that it is balanced, credible and well-communicated. The majority of this report is focused on staff, clients, and governance and this is in-line with these values. While readers interested in this report from an insurance sector perspective will find content on products and investments, challenges and opportunities facing the industry (e.g. climate change) and governance, and again these are well covered.
One function of sustainability reporting is to be a tool through which a company can both engage with its stakeholders and respond to important events and issues that have arisen throughout the reporting period. The content should therefore be a reflection of those issues most relevant to stakeholders, as identified through a comprehensive materiality process and stakeholder engagement. This report does not explicitly outline the materiality process undertaken. There is a brief comment on page 39 but this needs to be expanded further to demonstrate why these issues are material, and to whom.
This report does an effective job of addressing the challenges faced both by the company and the insurance industry. Climate change is highlighted as a specific risk for insurance companies as Canadian Property & Casualty insurers as a whole have paid out more than $4 billion in claims for extreme weather events over the last four years.
“As an insurer, employer, investor, community partner and a co-operative, The Co-operators believes that we can and must lead the way in ensuring a sustainable future.” Through this report The Co-Operators is showing itself to be a real leader not only through its admirable actions in its own industry to provide sustainable choices, engage with peers on sustainability and reduce its environmental impacts but also in its reporting. This report is clear, concise, informative and well-referenced, with hotlinks, to allow interested readers to easily learn more through the company’s website or other documents.
The company succeeds in communicating in a balanced and honest way with stakeholders on its performance. A number of performance metrics are benchmarked against industry averages. Benchmarking is an effective way of helping readers understand industry norms with regard to the data presented and provides a yardstick for engaging with The Co-operators’ own performance. This report compares turnover and retention rates, client satisfaction scores, investment in employee education and sick leave days with industry averages. Where these compare favourably with the industry average the report includes comments on management practices and goals that have helped achieve positive results, but in cases where The Co-operators performs worse than the industry average (e.g. number of sick leave days) there is a recognition of this fact and a commitment to improve.
The responsiveness of the organization is also evident when it reports that it has changed some of its services based on client feedback. They are now seeing the benefits with better customer satisfaction rankings.
The credibility of a report also relies on the credibility of the reporting organization. The Co-Operators is a founding member of the Corporate Knights Council for Clean Capitalism — “a group of influential CEOs with the potential to make a strong impact on sustainability issues in Canada.” It participates on the Board of the Canadian Co-operative Association’s Sustainability Environment Committee, is co-chair of the North American Task Force of the UNEP FI and sits on the Board for the Principles for Sustainable Insurance. In 2012 The Co-Operators was awarded the “Spirit of IYC award from the Ontario Co-operative Association in recognition of our organization’s collective efforts to showcase the co-operative difference” and the Corporate Social Responsibility Award at the 2012 Corporate and Community Social Responsibility Conference. These actions demonstrate strong and clear commitment. They also provide some weight to the information provided, especially in the absence of assurance.
- Elaborate on the materiality process undertaken.
- Seek external assurance. Assurance increases confidence in a company’s performance data and reporting processes and ensures disclosures reflect actual performance. In doing so it builds trust with its stakeholders, a core value of a co-operative.