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'Manitobans see the value': MPI here to stay: exiting CEO

Says permanence a part of Crown insurer these days

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Considering the amount of controversy Manitoba Public Insurance has generated over the last 30 years, you might have had a hard time recognizing the old MPI in a speech Marilyn McLaren gave Friday at one of her last public appearances before her retirement as CEO next Friday.

MPI has become a more effective, more responsive organization over the years, and McLaren says Manitobans actually understand and appreciate it.

One of the fundamental things that has changed when it comes to the public's perception of the government-owned local monopoly for auto insurance is there is a sense it is here to stay.

"We're no longer having a discussion about whether this make sense," she said. "MPI is pretty much an institution now in this province and we work hard to make sure Manitobans see the value."

Another major change in operating philosophy at MPI is it no longer functions with the understanding low cost is the most important factor for its customers' appreciation.

"Several years ago, we came to terms with the fact that people expect far more from us than really low-cost insurance," she said. "We used to think it mattered far and away more than anything else. That's not true. People really want good coverage. Service is imperative."

While the haters are still out there -- McLaren said it is a highly sensitive matter dealing with people who have been injured and whose lives may never be the same -- the corporation goes out of its way to crunch the relevant data that show how well it does compared to its peers and how well it does on the customer-satisfaction front.

Meanwhile, its most recent quarterly financial report features a graphic showing how low insurance rates are in Manitoba compared to the rest of the country.

She said the corporation spends more per claimant on information technology than its peers, has the most stable consumer price index for auto insurance in the industry and provides more comprehensive coverage. More than 80 per cent of Manitobans buy coverage that includes a $200 deductible: In other areas of the country, a $1,000 deductible is the norm.

Fittingly, the audience for her farewell public speech as CEO was members of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. McLaren said one of the things she most enjoyed in the last few years has been playing a more active role in community development, including as the representative of the owner of a large piece of downtown real estate.

(MPI's headquarters is in the old Eaton's Warehouse building directly south of the MTS Centre.)

"There was a time it would have been a major controversy, for instance, for us to support the Canadian Museum for Human Rights," she said. "But people would expect no less of any business in this city and we are seen as part of that community."

McLaren cracked a couple of jokes about the driverless Google cars and how people might not need MPI because those cars will never crash into each other. She then pointed out these things may very well be reality in the years to come.

"That's part of our world," she said. "Things are changing in ways we don't fully understand today. There is lots of learning to be done."

She said collaboration and co-operation -- with the auto repair and motor dealers associations as well as others -- is the best way to approach the challenges, something MPI has been working hard at.

She also believes the organization will be in good hands with incoming CEO Dan Guimond.

He may not have to deal with many of the controversial issues of the last few decades but McLaren pointed out MPI's business model would be extremely hard to start from scratch today and she's not sure if any ones like it have ever been dismantled.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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