The students’ research work gave Pohjola Insurance and OP Life Assurance companies an important overall insight to sustainable insurance business
Master’s student Ankita Nayak and bachelor’s student Vili Mustakallio from the School of Business produced an extensive report on sustainability trends in the European insurance industry for Pohjola Insurance and OP Life Assurance. The customized student business project aimed to understand what major insurers within Europe are doing along the aspects of commitments, actions and communication, when it comes to the three major verticals under corporate sustainability, i.e. ESG (environmental, social and governance) aspects.
The students analyzed major global guidelines on sustainability commitments, actions and communication, to get an understanding of the global standards against which they should benchmark companies’ performance on each indicator. They retrieved company information from corporate websites, annual financial and sustainability reports, company policy documents and social media pages. Additionally, they interviewed company representatives from company sustainability teams.
The research spanned the length of the concluding months of 2022 and culminated in a final presentation of the research findings in early 2023 to representatives of the ESG team at Pohjola Insurance and OP Life Assurance.
‘Ankita and Vili immediately took ownership of the project and worked very independently. They were able to quickly collect a large amount of information from scattered sources and to process it into useful insights, including through the various visualizations that they developed,’ says Leena Lankoski, Senior University Lecturer, Sustainability in Business at the Aalto University School of Business, who supervised the project.
New and valuable information for future development work by Pohjola Insurance and OP Life Assurance
During the research, the students came upon several important findings, such as how major insurers make various sustainability commitments that are purposeful. Nevertheless, standardization across the market and quantification of targets is missing, which makes it difficult for stakeholders to compare one commitment against another. There also seems to be some ambiguity in communicating the actions that companies have undertaken. Overall, when it comes to ESG, there are frontrunners and laggards in the industry, and the gap seems to be significant. It was discussed how sectoral collaboration and knowledge-sharing could help in bridging such gaps.
‘Sustainable insurance business has become more and more important over the past few years. Customers and investors are expecting insurers to undertake sustainability actions in all the business activities. The regulation around sustainability has expanded and for example the reporting requirements are remarkable. Sustainable insurance business is key part of our strategies and thus, it was a great opportunity for us to accomplish this project together with OP Lab and Aalto University,’ says Nella Korhonen, Head of ESG at Pohjola Insurance and OP Life Assurance.
‘Vili and Ankita were very competent, and the final research report is excellent. It was very satisfying to co-operate with the students as well as with Leena and the other personnel from Aalto University. The research gave us an important overall insight to sustainable insurance business which is very useful in developing further our sustainable business activities,’ says Korhonen.
A learning experience in the world of digital services and work skills
The student duo said that the project provided them with excellent research experience and practical understanding of sustainability and communication practices in the corporate realm.
Vili Mustakallio considered the project a good and challenging experience:
‘I have a background as a Master of Political Sciences from the University of Helsinki, and I did my master’s thesis about corporate social responsibility in the oil industry. Therefore, I was happy to get the opportunity to continue working with a familiar topic in the School of Business, too. The research question was very extensive and finding all the information felt hard at times. However, when the fact-finding part was over, I enjoyed doing the final report: putting pieces together, understanding the big picture, and even giving some recommendations.’
Ankita Nayak, on the other hand, emphasises how the research was very intensive and led her to balance very different, seemingly contrasting, skills.
‘It required a lot of work to dive deep into so many websites and sustainability reports. We had to read every sentence and analyse every graph carefully, simply because the scope of our project was so vast, and we could not risk missing out on anything important. At the same time, we had a finite report to deliver and present within a limited time, which is why we had to make sure to focus on only the very crucial insights. Thus, this project required immense attention to detail, while at the same time crystallising the tiniest details into a bigger picture and focusing just on that. Counterbalancing these skills has been a huge learning, and certainly something that is going to be useful in the future.’
The students are grateful to Pohjola Insurance and the School of Business for this excellent project and would strongly recommend similar customized business projects to other students as well.
Pohjola Insurance is Finland’s leading non-life insurer with a total of 2.5 million private and corporate customers. It provides an extensive range of non-life insurance services to private, corporate and institutional clients. Pohjola Insurance is part of OP Financial Group which is Finland's largest financial services group.
OP Life Assurance Ltd is owned by OP Co-operative. OP Life Assurance help customers in long-term savings and investment and prepare for severe financial risks. The three main business areas of the company are: Investment insurances, group pension policies and term life insurances.