Mutually Speaking?


This morning has been spent in the strange world of car purchase. Those who have followed my tweets or Facebook profile in the last couple of days will realise how daunting a prospect for me.  However, quite to my surprise, the experience was less painful than I imagined. I put my wallet on the dealers desk and he refused to even look in it – that’s how good it went.  As MrsAB has just said to me, it was tiring, but we’ve come away with a car.

Next thing is the insurance. Currently we have our insurance with the Co-operative.  Many of you know how I’ve been a supporter of co-ops and mutuals. Unfortunately our experience today has confirmed my worst fears about the growing giant which is the Co-operative Group.  As this group has grown it has subsumed smaller co-operative societies in the name of efficiency and economy.  In doing so it has grown to proportions which make member engagement increasingly detached if not nigh on impossible.  That is something that most people can live. They do their business with the Co-operative as an ethical company rather than a member based institution. But as part of this, customer care is an important component.  Sadly, our experience this morning shows this is somewhat lacking.  MrsAB has spent the best part of an hour on the phone to the Co-operative Financial Services to be told our premium has increased by over 40%, to not be offered any deal as continued customers and, following a second phone call, to find the first operator has gone ahead and adjusted the policy instead of cancelling it.  With slight regret we have cancelled the policy. Luckily for the Co-op we still have other business with them but the AB household is putting this under review.

I’ve felt for sometime that mutual organisations offer a way forward against the business-as-usual approach that got us in the current economic mess.  It looks like the Co-operative likes to trade on that image but in reality try to be more like the others they compete against.  It’s a real shame. Not that I’m giving up hope but it reinforces to me that size and origins matter.  For mutualism to be effective it needs to build from the bottom-up, recognise that people make the business and recognising them (owner, customer and employee) in their trading.  Somewhere the Co-operative Group went wrong. Maybe the Co-op would like to speak with me about that mutual vision and prove me wrong?

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