Belfast Telegraph

How to stay in Credit even in tough economic climate

CUNA's Paul Walsh is confident about the future

How long has CUNA Mutual been operating in Northern Ireland?

We've been serving Credit Unions in Northern Ireland since their establishment in the early 1960s.

We provided design and protection around the core Credit Union life and credit protection programmes. After almost 40 years we transferred our operation to one of the representative bodies.

Since 2008 we've been providing credit insurance to building societies in Northern Ireland and increased life support to Credit Unions and funeral planning through the Co-Op and directly to people in Northern Ireland.

Do you have any plans for expansion?

In coming weeks we're introducing FuneralProtect+ a low-cost, end-of-life insurance, linked to funeral arrangements .

This is an easy way to pay a small monthly sum to help pay for funeral costs. In addition, through many of the leading funeral care homes across Northern Ireland, customers can indicate how they would like their funeral to happen.

How has the economic downturn impacted business?

Our business is growing because more Credit Union, Building Societies and customers overall want better value, and insurance that pays out on time and without hassle when bad things happen.

When business is slow, some of our competitors offer gimmicks, discounts in the first year and lots of funny stuff. More customers are seeing through the initial 'welcome' offer to the real cost.

Have you launched any initiatives to combat the current challenges?

Our new Income (Lifestyle) Protection insurance has proved very attractive with unemployment rising and people worried about how to pay their bills in the future.

Traditional mortgage protection is also growing fast. Our big initiative has been to keep prices low at this time of increased claims, to attract more people who will like the service so much they'll be long-term customers.

In a competitive marketplace with plenty of choice, how do you win business?

People are dissatisfied with traditional insurers with too many funny terms and conditions, prices that only seem to rise and make life difficult when it's time to claim. Our customers do our marketing; after 75 years of business we don't need a marketing team.

How will the local insurance sector fare in the coming years?

We see three basic trends;

1. Consolidation. As more customers move to value-based reliable providers like CUNA Mutual and aggregates like Moneysupermarket, traditional high street brokers will be under increased pressure.

2. Competition. The insurance industry is undergoing a substantial change in how it's governed and capitalised. This will filter out the weak operators. Those not capable of meeting the benchmark will exit.

3. Better Consumer Protection. We've seen several areas of personal insurances where the Financial Ombudsman and FSA have deemed that consumers weren't sufficiently protected by their insurer. Greater consumer lobbying will ensure poor insurers suffer 'naming and shaming' while reliable and honourable insurers will benefit.

What is your outlook for the local economy?

Not good in the short term. We see the strong likelihood of increased unemployment and related contract sectors. However, fundamentals for growth are present mid-term. We have a young, well educated population and a strong service and work ethos in demand globally. Northern Ireland has many core elements needed to grow a strong indigenous service and 'smart' business economy.


Personal CV

Name: Paul Walsh

Title: CEO, CUNA Mutual Europe

Age: 46

Qualifications: Masters in Science and a Degree in Business Studies

Company CV

Name: CUNA Mutual Europe

Location: Dublin and Birmingham

Sector: Insurance

Trading since: In Ireland since 1963, in the UK since 1976 and worldwide since 1935

Workforce: Globally circa 5,000

Turnover: Assets globally in excess of $13bn