9th May 2022

A mutual is a company, typically an insurer or building society, which is owned by their members, and operated for their benefit. They compete head-on with the more complex shareholder owned financial services organisations; so why deal with a mutual? How can a business idea from 150+ years ago stay relevant in the modern financial world?

Not having to pay profits away to shareholders has historically given mutuals a powerful weapon: profits can be retained and recycled for the benefit of all members. Originally founded as self-help organisations, sometimes with a simple objective in mind, supporting each-other in their time of need.

Graham Singleton, CEO of Bristol-based National Friendly explains, “Having no shareholders, being owned by our members and working for their benefit, whether through innovative products or our community programmes, is at the heart of our ethos. We are a community and people-centred organisation with a long and proud history.”

Health, protect and to serve

This focus on the individual member means that service in all its many shapes and forms is a core value for a mutual and it is no accident that over the years, customer services surveys have often shown mutuals as performing more strongly than some shareholder-owned organisations.

As the industry has developed, this advantage has narrowed, but caring remains a core principle for many. Now, organisations such as National Friendly are finding new, innovative ways to demonstrate their mutual credentials and their focus on care and service.

Oliver Jones, Head of Sales & Marketing notes: “As a mutual, we focus on our members and their needs. That thinking expands beyond the traditional client to also include our intermediaries, service providers, the environment, community partners and anyone else involved within the work we do. That is the key to why mutuality matters to us.”

Jones continues “We look after all our members to ensure that service, products, claims, and support are all provided to the highest standards. For intermediaries, this may mean someone well qualified to speak to quickly, something I firmly believe we and many other mutual providers do better. We offer the personal touch.”

Modern mutuality

Mutuals such as National Friendly now recognise not just the importance of caring for customers, but also supporting their staff and the communities they live in. Increasingly, the modern mutual realises that a healthy local community also plays a vital part for any business. Where a mutual like National Friendly is seen to be doing good for the community it lives in, supports and serves, this promotes the idea of working together for mutual benefit.

A company that works with people for their wellbeing has more appeal than one aiming to satisfy shareholders.

In today's world, National Friendly’s work translates into wide ranging support for charities and local community initiatives. The company has an active policy not only to support its local cancer research branch, but it is also helping to fund research into Long-Covid through local NHS hospitals and related bodies. Other initiatives touch on the need to support older, more vulnerable members of society and protect them from loneliness, where National Friendly now actively runs award winning programmes with The Bristol Hippodrome. At the other end of the age scale, National Friendly supports the development of children’s social skills through important initiatives in local schools and in business. It is supporting local business clubs to help small businesses to network and survive in a tough, post pandemic world.

Jones ends “We have an extensive and long running community support programme which staff and the business both embrace. Monies raised by staff are often matched by company contributions. At its heart, our charitable and community work has a simple objective, to make a fundamental difference to local lives, both today and tomorrow.”

Mutuality matters

Whilst profit may be the sign of a healthy and well-run company, it is how those surplus funds are used that determines the true face and culture of a business. Mutuals recycle profit to make sure they survive long into the future, but they also realise that without their customers, a healthy local community and their business partners, this can all disappear quickly. So, a hallmark of the modern mutual is now not only a focus on customers and service, but also on community.

We want people who join us to feel not just that they have a policy, but that they are a part of a company which cares about how they, and the wider society they live in, are treated.

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