Can a manager who, according to his critics, led an insurance company into a serious crisis with his eyes wide open, become chairman of the supervisory board of this very company? There is a dispute in Dortmund about this question.
At first glance, this is a completely normal change at the top of the supervisory board. Rainer Isringhaus, 74, left the medium-sized insurer Volkswohl-Bund, a year before the end of his term of office. The new chairman is Joachim Maas, 66 years old and head of the company until 2017.
Secret and not-so-secret papers
But behind the dry report is a heated argument that was conducted with secret and not so secret papers, special meetings of the committees and numerous personal conversations. Intriguer barn at a high level.
The dispute reveals a problem faced by many insurers: they are not public limited companies, but mutual insurance associations, i.e. cooperatives. However, the members have comparatively little to say. In reality, the board chooses the members’ representatives, who are then supposed to control it. There can be no talk of real supervision.
Isringhaus, who is leaving the supervisory board, does not think much of his successor and his work as a former boss. In a letter to the member representatives, dated April 7, 2022, he accuses the current company management under Dietmar Bläsing of not looking for the best among top staff, but always insisting on internal solutions. “In Cologne we talk about cliques,” he writes.
He speaks of a disaster in the management of the group by Maas. It came to light with the introduction of the new Solvency II supervisory and equity rules, which came into force in 2016 and had already determined company policy years before. “In 2015, the Volkswohl-Bund found itself in a crisis that threatened its very existence,” writes Isringhaus. “My goal was and is to introduce standards that are completely normal in the economy, including the Volkswohl-Bund, in order to prevent the structures that led to the crisis from reoccurring.”
Isringhaus knows what he is writing about. From 1992 to 2007, the mathematician was a member of the board of directors of Cologne Reinsurance, now Gen Re, and was responsible for life insurance there. In 2008 he became a member of the supervisory board of the Volkswohl-Bund, in 2014 its chairman. Regarding the crisis in Dortmund, he writes: “In 2015, there was a lack of more than two billion euros in solvency capital, which meant that the company fell under intensified supervision by the Bafin, which meant that the board of directors had to submit half-yearly status reports to the authority.”
The group has sales of around EUR 1.7 billion, of which EUR 1.6 billion is in life insurance. There are two billion euros of capital that are missing, a tidy sum. No wonder Bafin was worried about customer funds.
At that time, the board of directors had decided to set up a new subsidiary, Dortmunder Leben. “This step seemed necessary because there was a justified concern that the parent company’s approval for writing new business could be withdrawn at any time,” Isringhaus interprets the decision.
Isringhaus claims that CEO Maas was responsible for the unfortunate situation. He not only led the company into the crisis with open eyes, but also managed it clumsily as a result. “Therefore, I cannot deny that I do not consider Dr. Maas suitable to succeed me as Chairman of the Supervisory Board due to his background.” In the letter, Isringhaus advocates a selection process that also includes external candidates.
Neither the Volkswohl-Bund nor Isringhaus want to talk about the events. But in a web conference on April 8, 2022, company boss Bläsing was able to convince the member representatives that there was nothing to the allegations or that they were at least not decisive. The minutes of the web conference note that, according to Bläsing, there was no crisis that threatened the company’s existence six years ago.
So everything is fine in Dortmund. On Thursday of this week, Joachim Maas was elected Chairman of the Supervisory Board.