When I became Chief Executive of the Communication Workers Friendly Society it was at a time of major change in the Financial Services sector which meant seismic change for many friendly societies in the long-term insurance business. I knew that to flourish we would need great service from our professional advisers; accountants, actuaries, fund-managers, solicitors and IT support. I also knew, from having been a professional adviser (accountant), that large clients gobble up advisers’ attention in times of need and the minnows are left at the end of a very long queue. I set about changing that by making my organisation look bigger than it was. I involved myself with the Association of Friendly Societies (eventually becoming President), various industry groups and represented friendly societies on the Small Business Panel of the Financial Services Authority, the industry regulator (now reformed and renamed). I was seen as having reach and influence and therefore someone to keep sweet and engage with; I could let the professional advisers know about the pressing issues facing their clients and prospective clients. I referred to this as my Puffer Fish project.
One of the association members was the Metropolitan Police Friendly Society (now rebranded Metfriendly) with a proud history since 1893. Members of the Met Police ‘family’ are very loyal to their friendly society, which I believe exhibits the original ethics of the friendly society movement in a modern manner. To continue the animal analogy, I would consider them a cuckoo when it comes to marketing. Cuckoos, dove size birds, lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and pass the hard work of raising chicks on to them. Metfriendly allow other, much larger organisations, to do their marketing for them, bringing the need and benefits of financial products to their members’ attention safe in the knowledge that police officers will buy from their friendly society. Metfriendy focus their attention on great customer service and promoting friendliness.
Cuckoos made me think of the birds and bees and reproduction. Plants want to get pollinated and some have managed to get bees involved in this process. Bees have absolutely no interest in plant reproduction; they are only interest in their own reproduction and food. Plants provide the bees with food, nectar, to get them into the process. To let them know it’s there they have brightly coloured flowers; they also have mechanisms to ensure the pollen gets carried away by the bee to fertilise a neighbour. We can learn some businesses lessons from this; stand out, let people know what you are offering, entice them in and make sure they do something that is of benefit. This might mean attracting them with a free offer and getting their interest and, ideally, their contact details. If you have a think about the concept, I am sure you will come up with some great ideas. Remember your nectar may not be what you are selling. With the birds and the bees both benefit.