When the P&V cooperative insurance group decided to double in size through the purchase of the brokers channel of ING’s Belgium operations, it didn’’t realise the Global Financial Crisis was about to descend upon it.

If anything demonstrates the resilience of the cooperative insurance model, that moment was it.

“It took place on the eve of the financial crisis, which was of course not foreseen,” says Hilde Vernaillen, Chief Executive Officer of P&V, from its headquarters in Brussels. “The Group succeeded for the stress test that followed, and came through the crisis relatively unharmed.”

Vernaillen, who has headed the insurance group since 2011 and is known for amongst other things, her ability to motivate staff, particularly in hard times, says it has a strong belief in the cooperative business model.

“We have been able to get through the tough and unexpected crisis from the past years thanks to our long term focus and careful investment policy,” she says. “This is a consequence of the fact that we need to be self-sufficient to finance our development.”

And, even though cooperatives have a more difficult path to access capital markets, P&V has been able to count on external capital when needed.

P&V – and its predecessor the Prévoyance Sociale – in spite of its scale including its presence on the top 300 list of cooperatives – has not forgotten its role within the greater global insurance community.

“The first involvements of the Prévoyance Sociale on an international level, in the early 1920’s were jump started by the need to look for reinsurance partners within the cooperative movement,” explains Vernaillen.

“Joseph Lemaire, president of the Prévoyance Sociale at the time and exponent of the social democratic movement, was not happy that up until then he had no choice but to reinsure large risks with Belgian PLC companies, while there were enough cooperative (and mutual) insurers in other countries that would be able to do it.”

So, in 1922 Lemaire began to contact foreign cooperative insurers which led to the beginnings of an insurance committee within the International Co-operative Alliance, later to become ICMIF.

“From the start, this committee was also a platform for the exchange of information and best practices and the spreading of the cooperative and mutual message,” says Vernaillen. “Still today the P&V Group attaches importance to the international dimension of the cooperative movement.”

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: https://ica.coop/en/iycbook