• SEAchange

Utilizing Impact Assessment as a Growth Benchmark

On today’s episode of The Stream of Conscience Podcast, co-hosts Graham Pansing Brooks and Kyle Cartwright, speak with Assurity Life Insurance Company’s B Corp Lead and Vice President of Human Resources, Susan Becker!

In 2015, Assurity became Nebraska’s 2nd certified B Corp, which has introduced new growth opportunities for the company’s business, social, and environmental outcomes. Throughout the certification and recertification process, Susan pioneers and implements Assurity’s purpose-driven practices into the heart of the company. For Assurity, being a part of the B Corp Movement is more than just a certification of their positive impact. The assessment and overall process have contributed to the 132-year-old company’s growth and evolution.

For more information, visit Assurity’s website. Also, Assurity conducts a podcast of their own, which you can find here! Assurity’s Good Business Podcast highlights leaders who are working to make business better for everyone.



Listen to this episode here!


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Transcript:


Introduction

If you haven't noticed the world is changing. Consumer and talent demands are evolving and businesses are being held accountable to a broader purpose. It's no longer enough to simply give. Purpose is more than a line item. It takes shape in every action and decision a business makes.


This is The Stream of Conscience Podcast. And if you're looking for powerful ways to cultivate purpose and achieve measurable business and social outcomes, then you're in the right place. I'm your co-host, Kyle Cartwright. And I'm joined as always by my partner in purpose Graham Pansing Brooks.


We are also co-founders of SEAchange.


A purpose and philanthropy consultant to businesses and nonprofits and the company that brings you the stream of conscience podcast. Our guests are business leaders finding success at the forefront of a new, more sustainable capitalism. Their stories highlight business as a force for good and good as a force for business.


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[Kyle] Hey there. It's your co-host Kyle Cartwright. Today we are visiting with a great example of business impact. One that calls Lincoln home, Assurity Life Insurance.


[Graham] That's right.


Assurity provides a wide range of insurance options to individuals as well as businesses they're widely recognized and celebrated as a business and community leader in 2015, Assurity became Nebraska's second certified B Corp.


While we acknowledge that assures impact has stretched long before certification. We are excited to learn how the certification has introduced new growth opportunities for the company's business and social and environmental outcomes. We're excited to visit with Assurity's B Corp lead and Vice President of Human Resources, Susan Becker.


Susan is a pioneer and implementer of Assurity's purpose driven practices, and she dedicates her time and talent to making the company more purposeful every day. Welcome Susan.


[Susan] Thank you, Graham. Thank you, Kyle. Glad to be here today.


[Kyle] Yeah, it's great to have you. So, Susan as Assurity is a business, as we will mention, with over 130 years of history, which is exceptional.


Tell us a bit about the company, how its core values and ideals have developed, sustained, and maybe even evolved since 1890.


[Susan] Yes. Thank you. Well, first of all I should mention as Assurity is a mutual organization and what that means is we're owned by our customers instead of stockholders or a private owner, for example.


And we've been organized as a mutual company or organization from the beginning. So since 1890 and our mission, our values, those all stem from the belief that we're in this. And that's why our mission helping through difficult times really stems from that. We have such, I think about our mission statement.


It's so simple, but it's very elegant and I think it resonates with a lot of individuals. It's really powerful for our associates. When you're free from answering to shareholders, you can focus on doing. The right thing for the people that depend on you. And that means that we really take a holistic approach at Assurity on how we can help our policy holders, our owners, as well as our associates, of course.


And we look at when we look at people and how we can help them, there's a. So much more we can do beyond just being here to pay benefits, to pay claims. We really work to preserve the environment that we all share. Rich, the communities that we live in, we like to champion the voices of those who may have historically been marginalized and our efforts to leave the world better than we have found it.


It's really a driving force behind. Our values. It's really the inspiration behind our corporate values. And I wanna just name a few of them. For everyone today, I'm gonna start with sustainability. That really reflects our focus on specific bus business practices that enrich rather than degrade the planet.


We have inclusion and connectedness best and acknowledgement again, that we all depend on one another and we're stronger together than divided. And integrity, accountability. Those are really the core. They're at the core of our insurance business, and it's a commitment that we're gonna be responsible.


We're gonna have transparent practices throughout our business. Agility, ingenuity. Those are fairly in common in the insurance industry, but we're considered a smaller carrier, smaller insurance carrier. And we pride ourselves in being able to adapt change our circumstances based on the market. We can be innovative.


We can do new things, new ways to bring insurance protection, to more people, other values that we have include wellness, vibrancy, generosity. And I think all of those values coming together as they were formally adopted by the company, they really help us. And we, as we make decisions, we're always keeping those core values in mind and.


I think that, you know, one of the specific things that we look to with our associates is how are we living those values every day and how are we inhibiting them? And one of the things we started about three years ago is every quarter we recognize associates that are living those values every day and they're nominated by their peers by other leaders.


So just another way that we reinforce the importance of those.


[Graham] It's really amazing to get to hear about all those values. Clearly they have been embedded in a part of as Assurity for a very long time and, and core to the, to the mission. And so, you know, as we're thinking about, and, and have mentioned that, that as Assurity back in 2015, became the second B Corp, you know, I'm, I'm curious how you first came across the B Corp certification and, and what, what ultimately led you to decide to apply, to become certified.


[Susan] Oh, great question. Thank you. Well, before I will say before, the ESG movement was popular. So the environmental, social and governance movement, our previous president CEO, Tom Henning, along with our executive team, they really championed that assure to become a, a certified B Corp. And I think what was happening at that time.


There was a lot of different articles and information, you know, gosh, you name it. Wall street, journal, economist, fortune. And so that triggered a lot of interest. And we also talked to Firespring, the first certified B Corp in Nebraska. And the more we learned about the certification process, the more we saw that that designation really was very much in line with what we were already doing as a, as a company.


And we took the assessment. Just to see where we stood. And that was a real learning opportunity with the assessment. It's very thorough and we scored an 82.4, to be exact, and we could do that without really changing any of our current policies and practices. And I think that's fairly in common.


[Kyle] Yes, that is, yeah, we can, we can absolutely confirm that.


[Susan] But just as a side note, I mean, it requires. Minimum of 80 to become certified. But from there it really was a simple decision for us to, to formally get certified because it really brought together and formalized the commitments we already had around mission and around our values. And one of the best parts about earning that designation is that it's that public acknowledgement that your values, your mission, it really helps bring visibility.


Two companies that are doing the right thing. And that was a big factor for us when we committed to the certification. And I really think it's great for any. Business to explore. If you're interested in becoming a B Corp, take the assessment. I think it's a great benchmark. Just to see where you're at, you might be surprised where you actually stand, even if you decide not to pursue the certification, there's so much that you can learn and it helps you set goals for the future.


So I think it's helpful.


[Kyle] Thank you for sharing that, Susan, I think we need to make that the, the tagline of the episode, cuz we, we absolutely believe that and agree with that. The, the benefit of the B Corp movement is not just B Corp certification. It is the understanding and the benchmarking and the, as you know, the ability to assess where your company's at in, in the, in the broad strokes of what, what is good business practice, right?


So thank you for highlighting that. And, and I'll make a quick callback, you know, as you talked about your values and the customers being the shareholders and the stakeholders and your associates being stakeholders, you know, we, we can see that there is a significant focus on the stakeholder in, in a surety's model.


I'm curious as you went through that, that assessment process, can you talk maybe a little bit about the growth and evolution of the B Corp assessment over. Over the last seven years. I, we, you know, they're on, I think stage six or version six of it right now, obviously seven years ago. It was a different if a different process.


I wonder if you might walk us through kind of how, how that has evolved over the last seven years.


[Susan] Yeah. No, very good. It's a good question. And it absolutely has changed since we first certified in 2015. In fact, every assessment that we've, we've completed from the initial to the re-certified process.


There's always new questions. There's always things that have been improved. And I think that's great. I think things do need to evolve. You know, as an example, when we first completed the assessment, there wasn't anything to account for the fact that we were a mutual organization.


There was an entire section about customers, but for us, what their customers being our owners policy holders, That section didn't apply to us as it would for another type of business. But now, and this is really a testament to the responsiveness of B Lab. So B Lab is the non for profit portion. They reacted to that for companies like ours, it also applies for cooperatives like a, B Corp, such as REI.


They've taken that all into account and the assessment now is more on equal footing. With other businesses, our structures included we can answer and respond to more elements of the assessment. And I mentioned before this assessment is very rigorous and it really causes you to reevaluate a lot of different things with your business.


But I like that because again, we've gotta evolve, things need to change, but it also pushes you to have have more goals and more things to work towards. And I would say this most recent reer recertification, we just completed it. It was pretty. It was pretty rigorous. I mean, we spent over a year, I would say average, we probably have spent about a year on each of these cycles because it's not only assessment, but you're also providing documentation.


They wanna make sure that there is. Evidence behind what you're answering in, in the assessment. And they're very thorough. They spend a lot of time with you. They ask a lot of questions and so it's, it's a really good process.


It really makes you evaluate a lot as you, as you go through it. I can give you a couple more examples if you'd like of things I've seen specifically in the assessment that have changed besides the mutual, would that be helpful or?


[Graham] Yeah.


[Kyle] Absolutely. That'd be helpful.


[Susan] One area that I saw really grow from last time is around diversity, equity and inclusion.


There's a lot more specific, very detailed questions like around inclusive workplace environments and practices. They have a new new question or goal focusing on what they call customer stewardship. So how are we managing the value and the impact for our customers that could. Things from how you handle complaints, how you make sure your customers are satisfied to what products you're offering.


They've provided more distinct distinction around services, like your culture, your engagement within your organization and how you're providing a great workplace for your associates. We answered some questions around how many jobs have we created for our community in the last 12 months and living wages that's become a broader category.


Are we paying our, our associates for living wage? Bonuses are included in that. So I could go on. That's just a few things I thought I would highlight that have evolved from, from the last version of the assessment.


[Graham] Yeah, it's interesting to see how the, the assessment has progressed over time and certainly has required organizations going through certification and re-certification to evolve as well.


And so, Susan, I'm wondering if you can help elaborate a little bit on how the B Corp certification has increased your overall impact company culture and, and general business success at Assurity.


[Susan] It's really helped us grow in a few different areas. And I'll comment on a couple of these next it's helped us first to dis distinguish ourselves, excuse me.


In the industry specifically, the insurance industry it's helped us recruiting retention. It's helped us focus in on who we are, who we wanna be as a company. You know, first when we, I say set it. It's apart in the industry insurance industry, along with financial services, you know, we can suffer from an industry that lacks some trust has a trust problem, and consumers are likely to distrust their insurer. And that's something that being a certified B Corp has helped us address. We can point to our certification. It's proof. It's evidence that we're more about, more than just about making money. We're here for the long term. Good for everyone. If you put your trust in us. And I think that goes hand in hand back to our values of accountability, integrity.


It's where we can show that what we do has absolute transparency, reassuring our customers of that responsibility. And additionally, it set us apart in industry. That's very commoditized and we were the first major life. Specialty health insurer to become certified. And that's something we're really proud of.


It also shows how we're different from our competition. So we see this as a differentiator for us. When it comes to recruiting and retaining associates, I think that's also an advantage for us. I think having a B Corp certification really resonates with individuals and people wanna work for something that's more than just that bottom line and they want their work to mean something.


They want that purpose. And we've heard a lot of times from our associates. Our efforts, our certification with B Corp is an important part of why they enjoy working for as Assurity. And it gives them again, that sense of purpose in what they're doing and, and that it matters younger generations in particular.


They really wanna work for companies that make a difference. Certification helps us attract that talent. And again, it's that focus on purpose. People wanna be part of something bigger than themselves. They, they want something they can believe in. And I think that's really powerful. The last thing I would mention there is being a B Corp has really helped us refine our identity as a company.


Assurity was formed, we have three predecessor companies that all came together to form as Assurity today. And one of the things that we all had in common is we were all mutual organizations or mutual companies. And from that we've developed our mission of helping people through difficult times, but it wasn't until we became B Corp certified and going through that process, we really crystallized what that meant to us and how we could.


[Kyle] That's great. So I think it's fair to say that B Corp certification and that that process of leaning into purpose has made Assurity more profit.


[Susan] Yes.


[Kyle] Fair statement?


[Susan] Yeah, absolutely.


[Kyle] I love it. So some something I wanna ask you about with, you know, what's, it's kind of the what's next question, right?


[Susan] Mm-hmm.


[Kyle] So we know that the, the assessment itself is a free and confidential tool. Once a company certifies. Their scoring is made public. We get to see how great a community is, or rather a business is for the community, for the environment, for their customers, for their people, you know, all these different sort of aggregated benchmarks of success.


So, people can go out and look up Assurity they can look up SEAchange, they can look up any number of B Corps. And you know, a lot of times that'll drive purchasing decisions or business partnership decisions things like that. So, these things are, are out there. I wonder if as Assurity has any areas that it is planning to lean into more or areas that it would like to see increase or, you know, just what, what, what might be next as far as in the scope of those kind of five areas of the, the B impact assessment and the B Corp certification.


What areas do you see Assurity heading towards next?


[Susan] We do have a few things that we're already focusing on. I was gonna mention too, you mentioned the, this is a side note, the the ability to look up a business and it's, it's fully transparent. I, I love that. It, something we, we really believe into being transparent with information and how we communicate and share with our own associates.


And so I love that aspect, that it's all public information. But back to your question, Kyle, One of the things that we've learned when you go through the assessment is there's always plenty of room to improve and grow to go up from. And that's another advantage of such a rigorous assessment. And I, I don't know.


I think we have like maybe three or four areas that we've identified for growth next. We wanna improve our diversity equity and inclusion focus. That's a priority. We're evaluating, we want more flexible working arrangements. Wanting to further increase our volunteer participation in the community.


I think that's an area that honestly, we struggled a little bit during the pandemic. And so we want to only get back to where we were pre pandemic, but take it even further. And we wanna push ourselves even further around the environment and environmental management. That's a real passion for us as a company.


You know, specifically around diversity, equity and inclusion, we serve a diverse range of customers and we want our business to reflect the communities we serve. We're specifically exploring inclusive leadership training right now for our senior team, as well as other leaders shared language, additional diversity training topics as part of our overall learning and, and growth plan.


Like so many companies, you know, the pandemic really forced us to reevaluate working arrangements. And our company right now is split between remote work and in person work, since we returned to the office after those initial COVID waves. And we're right now determining, you know, what should be our future practice for associates in the organization.


And so that's one of our. Immediate focuses. And I should say, just as an aside when I say in person work, I would be really remiss if I didn't comment on the Assurity center, we have just a tremendous work space to come to every day. And one thing that stands out are all of the great sustainability features that we have.


And that's a big part of the B Corp certification. And. We have a gold lead certified building for those that may not be familiar with that leadership and energy, and environmental design. If you don't mind, I might just mention a couple of the key features.


[Kyle] Yeah, we were gonna ask you about that.


[Susan] Oh, good. Good. Well, I'll just take a moment here to, to highlight a few. We have energy efficient heating, cooling, and electrical systems. That includes a, we have a very innovative ice storage system, and that helps with youth off peak energy to provide air conditioning at a lower cost. We have low flow water, conserving plumbing.


It saves us about 33% over a typical office building. We have green or what we call living roofs. At the Assurity center, it helps reduce heating and cooling. Provide storm water benefits mentioning storm water benefits. We have a great management program around that. So we have a sister on site, underground cistern.


So we capture runoff water. We use that for irrigation, for all of the landscaping. We have pervious paving services. We have bioswells. So again, the goal is that we're capturing any runoff to use with the soil. Lots of naturalized plantings that again, reduce irrigation needs. So I could go on and on just a few things that are highlights for me, but a big part of the, the B Corp sustainability effort, but back to working arrangements, you know, we have a commitment this year as an, a company to look at working arrangements.


And right now we're conducting. What we call input sessions or feedback sessions with associates, small groups, all levels across all departments. So that's a current current priority. And then another area again, around environment. We're really passionate about that as you can probably tell. But there's always room for improvement and we're always trying to use fewer resources, less paper, less water, less energy, and we're always making changes to that end.


We're also making physical changes. So we recently just finished a transition to all LED lighting or lamping across our building, the parking garage and that's gonna save us 15% annually. And most recently we just went to a hundred percent renewable energy. We've been working with LES and their renewable energy certificates.


[Kyle] And that's the Lincoln Electric System.


[Susan] Yes. Thank you. And we were of course taking advantage of the ice storage. So we were reducing cold fire electricity, but now we're moving to the hundred percent renewable as well. Our recycling program is another important component.


We actually would just recognized as a leader in Lincoln. With the diversion rate of about 66%. So our associates are very committed. I'm really proud of what we do here around recycling. And if you ever get an opportunity to visit the Assurity Center, our garbage cans are so tiny compared to our recycling, but that's how it should be.


[Graham] Susan it's clear that you know, it maintaining the B Corp certification and all of the different things that you're doing requires a lot of work, but also has a lot of payoff and, and a lot of benefits to it. And so, you know, for, I know you touched on it a little bit earlier, but you know, for, for organizations that are, that are thinking about taking a, a leap, either be to become a, a certified B Corp or are just thinking about ways that they can be purpose oriented. You know, what, what would you say to those organizations that are that are maybe on the fence or, you know, trying to think through ways to be a little bit more values oriented?


[Susan] Mm-hmm. Well, you know, I mentioned before the assessment, that that's one great place to start. The other thing I should mention is just reading up on it.


That's how it started for us. I know there was a book that we all read. There's a lot of great information there's even more now than there was in 2015. And I think everyone's very willing to share. There's so many great B Corps that are, I think, very open to it's a great community network.


[Kyle] Yeah.


[Susan] Ask questions, but I think it's important not to get overwhelmed with it. Just pick one area starts small cause any incremental thing that you do is going to have an impact. And so I think it's just starting getting started with one thing and building from there, that'd be my best.


[Graham] The rising tide lifts, all ships.


That's one of the things we love to talk about and say here, and it is really true, you know, I think we'd also talk about we're on a lifelong journey of personal development and it's important that our businesses are on a lifelong journey of corporate development. And and so we're really grateful for the work that Assurity does day in day out to, to serve that mantra and, and to be a, a community leader community advocate.


And we're, we're grateful for our, all that you're doing.


[Susan] Thank you.


[Kyle] So here's a little curve ball: B Corp or lead, which is tougher?


[Susan] Well, that is a hard question. I will be honest. I was not involved in the lead certification portion. So by my off the cuff reaction would be, I believe B Corp is probably tougher because it encompasses more elements.


But I'm sure lead is very strenuous as well.


[Graham] Challenging.


[Kyle] Yeah. And I would anticipate that, I mean, the, the work that is done through the process of, you know, either there's so much intersection and overlap in how you're, you know, able to track and, and document, and really measure the, the effectiveness of certain certain strategies and initiatives that, that they, they just build on each other.


So regardless of which is, is harder, they are, they are both extremely valuable. As you said.


[Susan] Well, and that goes back to Graham's question two, you know where to start, and maybe it is with lead. That's one very important area.


[Kyle] Yeah, I'll be honest. I'm very impressed that, you know, an insurance company is, is so an enormously focused on the environmental aspect.


I wish more companies took such a, a strong and intentional focus on, on that component. And, you know, the building is, is an exceptional example of that, but you've outlined obviously a number of other ways that, that the company can, can lean into that and really develop itself in that space. So thanks for, thanks for sharing.


[Susan] Yes, you're welcome.


[Graham] So Susan, as we're closing up for today, you know, where, where can people find out more information about Assurity, about you, about the values and, and great work you all are doing?


[Susan] Probably the best place would be our website, assurity.com. Lot of great information, including our B Corp.


So I would, I would direct everyone there.


[Kyle] And I hear that as Assurity also has a podcast. Is that still true?


[Susan] Yeah, that is true. We have our do more good podcast. Really good topics, really great companies that have been participating.


[Kyle] Awesome. We will link those in the show notes and make sure folks know where to find.


[Susan] Very good. Thank you. I really appreciate you inviting me today.


[Kyle] It was good to speak with you, Susan. Thanks for your time.


[Susan] You're welcome.


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Closing

If you want to take the next step, SEAchange helps companies navigate this evolving economy. Our clients have happy people, loyal customers and engaged communities.


That sounds good to you. Reach out to us at hello@seachangeltd.com. That's SEA change LTD.com.

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