Small company, big story

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The 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Mennonite Mutual Insurance Co. (Alberta) Ltd. passed in understated Mennonite fashion, with cake and fellowship at the company’s annual meeting. The quietness belies the significance of this uniquely Albertan success story that has fingers in the past and present, while pointing into the future.

Begun as a mutual aid endeavour among farmers in southern Alberta, for many years the company was run by church volunteers.

Ken Ritchie, general manager at MMI, says, “I think that everywhere Mennonites have settled in North America, they have done mutual aid in some shape or form. There were pockets of it around Alberta. . . . We have documented records going back almost 100 years.”

In 1960, incorporation allowed the company to be recognized by Canadian banks, and larger farm purchases could be insured. The first full-time employee, Larry Jantzi, was hired in 1982 as secretary/bookkeeper. Currently, the company has 15 staff at the head office in Calgary, three at the La Crete branch, three exclusive agents and approximately 170 volunteers in the member churches.

MMI’s purpose—to “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you shall fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians  6:2)—remains at the core of operations, even though the market niche has changed. Policy-holder demographics have moved from mainly rural to urban, and there are now many other insurance options available. Expectations for increased professionalism and services have spurred changes, such as the hiring of licensed staff, addressing issues of market standards, and expansion into products such as auto insurance.

Ritchie has overseen many of the changes and acknowledges that some policyholders worried that the company would become just another big insurance agency. “When I started four years ago, and we started making some of these changes, there was some pushback at first,” he says. “I started meeting with people one on one . . . and started explaining what we were doing, trying to keep the faith component, and that we exclusively insure people who attend our member churches. So we’ve kept the faith component very real and important, but we’ve added some professionalism.”

Ed Janzen, a member of Springridge Mennonite Church, Pincher Creek, has volunteered at MMI for 37 years as a church representative. He greatly values the continued importance volunteers have within the organization. “It’s a company run by people that particularly care about the policyholders that they serve,” he says.

That personal connection; the fact that money stays in Alberta, with 20 percent of profits donated to the Mennonite Central Committee; a compassion fund for member churches to access for local needs; and investment in ethically selected organizations are all reasons MMI remains a relevant part of the Alberta Mennonite landscape.

This coming January, the MMI board of directors will meet for a time of review and strategic planning. The future holds both challenges and opportunities.

From his perspective of 28 years on staff, Jantzi sees one challenge as the changing understanding of church membership, as more people fall into the adherent—rather than member—category at their places of worship. This presents insurance eligibility questions that need to be addressed.

He says an understanding of the philosophy of mutual aid should not be assumed. “We need to be accountable to each other and not just thinking what’s in it for me,” Jantzi says. “Churches aren’t just full of people with Mennonite heritage anymore. We need to continually educate our people.”

Jantzi has a positive outlook for the future of MMI, though. “I have been amazed at God’s ongoing provision with young people joining and supporting our program,” he says. “It certainly has a promising future.”

The Mennonite Mutual Insurance Co. (Alberta) Ltd. celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer with fellowship—and cake.

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