The role that insurance has to play in shaping economies, societies and, particularly, communities is perhaps never under more scrutiny than during times of social or economic upheaval. And between the ongoing fallout from COVID and the escalating financial crisis sweeping the UK amid soaring inflation and energy prices, this current period is clearly one of those times.
Discussing the need for insurance businesses to get involved with community sponsorship opportunities, Thomas Upton (pictured), co-lead of the Community Network at Markel International emphasised that “insurance is involved in every aspect of our lives, whether apparent or not”. As a result, he said, this industry is deeply engrained within its community and so it would be incredibly short-sighted not to get involved wherever possible.
Looking at the roots of Markel International’s community work, Upton revealed that it makes up one of its five commitment pillars, which represent the values outlined in the ‘Markel Style’.
“The Markel Style embodies the culture of Markel, and community is a fundamental part of this culture,” he said. “Markel has always had this ‘Style’ in its DNA. In fact, our organisation’s existence can be traced back to a community need. Jitney Buses – which was a popular method of transport in Norfolk, VA, in the 1930s – were fast becoming uninsurable, due to fires. Recognising the importance of them to the community, Sam Markel set up his mutual insurance business to ensure that they could still operate effectively.”
Before Markel was ready to “go public” in the 1980s, he said, Alan Kirshner, with the support of Stanley Markel, authored the Markel Style – a statement of values that communicated to investors and the public the principles that have guided the company since its inception in 1917. According to Kirshner, the Markel Style “honours what Sam and his four sons brought to the table… treat people fairly, provide upward potential and the opportunity to grow, keep a sense of humour, value teamwork,” while nurturing the organisation’s colleagues, customers, and communities.
“In recent times, Markel International continues to live up to those values by providing high levels of support to the communities in which it serves,” Upton said. “Last year, our organisation entered a three-year partnership deal to sponsor the Goodwood festival’s Magnolia Cup – an all-female race which was conceived to overcome boundaries within sport and more specifically horseracing, to create an inclusive community in support of women, their ability and wellbeing.
“It’s no secret that the insurance industry has experienced similar challenges, and so it made perfect sense for us to partner with Goodwood when this fantastic opportunity presented itself to us.”
Now in its second year of sponsorship, he said, the Markel Magnolia Cup has been a great platform to promote Markel as a great place to work and attract new talent by accessing audiences that it might not reach otherwise. As the company continues raising awareness of its ambitions through this sponsorship, the hope is that it can create more opportunities for women not just within Markel, but also across the wider insurance industry.
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Examining the work that Markel International does to support its community, Upton stated that for the team, community is all about how it can interact with its work colleagues, business partners, service providers and the wider world.
“Coming to work and enjoying our jobs should just be one part of life at Markel International,” he said. “And so, it’s important that as a business we’re doing as much as we can to provide everyone with opportunities to have a wider and positive impact on the people we work with and the communities that we serve.
“We want to be a platform that allows people to be something more than just their role at Markel International. That’s why we set up the Community Network, which has allowed colleagues to get involved in a range of initiatives, focusing on four core areas – charity, people, sustainability, and sports and social.”
Looking at the impact each of these initiatives has seen over time, Upton noted that each core area within the Community Network has organised a number of different initiatives and campaigns to embody Markel’s community vision.
The Charity group, for example, he said, wanted to ensure that Markel International supported a charity endorsed by its employees. Children and youth came out on top as a theme of choice, and after researching several charities, the company decided to partner with one aimed at improving the health, welfare, and education of children, and giving them the future they deserve.
“Earlier this year, we launched our first fundraising campaign to support their work arising from the Russia-Ukraine war,” he said, “and raised over £75,000 (and counting) through employee donations and our corporate charity match programme.
“Since the network’s inception, it has improved Markel’s charitable benefits by allowing each of our employees to take up to three volunteer days per year. In addition, the network has improved what we call: ‘Markel Match’, meaning that Markel International will now treble any donation, or amount raised, up to a cap of £3,000 (for Markel’s donation) per employee.”
People are the building blocks of a company, Upton said. And that’s not just those who work for Markel International, but also the communities of which it is part. The company’s People group is the cornerstone of the Community Network with regards to engaging with colleagues globally. He added that the group has recently launched a fantastic campaign called: ‘Where in the World are We?’.
“As part of this campaign, each month, a different Markel office puts together a short video showcasing the local culture; highlighting what the office does and how the team winds down,” he said. “So far, we have heard from Singapore and Munich, and the campaign has already started to drive healthy competition as to who can provide the best content.”
Meanwhile, the Sustainability sub-group has run two ‘Big Clean Up’ campaigns to help the company give back to the environment, Upton said. Both of these coincided with World Ocean Day, and Markel International pledged to donate money to Seven Clean Seas for every bag of rubbish collected.
“During 2021, we encouraged employees to go out and collect litter in their local areas, whether it was at a park, riverbank, or beach,” he said. “In 2022, we ran employee-led groups in London, Essex, Brighton, and Leeds to clean up their local areas, and then provided some time for each group to socialise afterwards. Across both these campaigns, we donated a total of £25,000 to Seven Clean Seas (£15,000 in 2021 and £10,000 for 2022).”
Sports and social activities are a key part of many companies, Upton said. And while these types of events have been tricky to put on in recent years, Markel International’s Sports and Social sub-group has run a number of initiatives, including the ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop’ charity race, where people could walk, run, or cycle as part of a team. The business covered over 39,650km in April last year in addition to running run poker and curry nights, park and golf days, as well as an ongoing five-a-side football league in London and Manchester.
Upton highlighted that the time is right for this change to take place on a wider basis. The office environment is changing and has been for some time, he said. More employees are pushing for a better work-life balance and a deeper desire to be part of something good. Businesses that pride themselves on trying to improve the world around them are often seen as more attractive companies to work for. Some insurance firms have become wise to this and have set up groups akin to the Community Network at Markel.
“These employee resource groups provide a platform for change at a grassroots level, which is often more impactful as there’s usually much more buy-in from the entire company in question,” he said. “Whether this constitutes a need will be up to the management at these businesses, but there is certainly a ground up desire within the insurance market.”
For smaller businesses looking to get involved with community support efforts, knowing where to begin is half the battle and Upton shared some advice on how to get started.
“Community involvement isn’t dependent on the size of business,” he said. “At Markel International, these initiatives are all employee groups, and, therefore, just by providing people within a company, who are passionate about the community, a platform to get involved in is often all you need to do. From there, the group can decide which way they want to contribute and what works for their company.
“Smaller businesses may not have the finances to make large donations, but there are usually incentives for philanthropic endeavours, so even the smallest company should be able to find a way to give back to their local communities.”