What are we to make of yesterday’s announcement that the Co-op Group is no longer looking to offload its remaining insurance operation?
Well, given that Britain has had a cooperative insurance business for 147 years, it’s hard not to welcome its continuation (even if the Co-op’s life and pension operation has already been sold, so we’re talking now only of general insurance). Internationally, insurance is one of the strongest – arguably the strongest – business sector in the cooperative family, and if France, Germany, Japan, the US, Canada and most of Latin America (to give just a few examples) can have successful coop insurers, why not Britain?
But I also have to add that I don’t think yesterday’s announcement necessarily represents a change of heart by the Co-op Group, so much as a pragmatic response to the fact that they couldn’t find a buyer offering as much money as they wanted. The Group was adamant under the previous management regime that insurance was no longer part of its long-term strategy, and I’m not convinced that it has suddenly been seen as a core business area after all. And without the bank and life business, the remaining part of Co-operative Insurance is at risk of being seen as something of a poor waif.
So ultimately the Group may well be looking to sell this business. Here’s a thought to ponder: could the capital be found from within the coop movement to relaunch it as a stand-alone cooperative insurer, fully mutual and there to service its customer-members’ needs?