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Mental models of customer ownership in the executive board: A case study in the pension insurance sector
Journal of Co-operative Organization and Management  (IF),  Pub Date : 2018-06-01, DOI: 10.1016/j.jcom.2018.02.001
Antti Talonen, Maria Holmlund-Rytkönen, Tore Strandvik

Abstract Mutuals can be seen as expressing the utmost in customer orientation, by merging the roles of customer and owner. Nonetheless, the literature indicates that emphasis on these two roles is not evident among mutual companies in practice. Accordingly, there is a gap in knowledge pertaining to how the idea of customer ownership is understood and present in mutuals. To increase understanding of this gap, a study explored the mental models of customer ownership held by executive-board-level managers. This entailed collecting and analysing empirical interview data from executive-board-level managers of a large Finnish mutual pension insurance company. These mental models are distinguished along two dimensions: the role of a customer–owner, which may be passive or active, and managerial scope, which can be operative or strategic. A matrix constructed from these dimensions shows how customer ownership can have a limited, applied, strategic, or extensive function in the mental models of the executives. The findings should aid managers in evaluating their views of customer ownership, thereby facilitating diagnosis of the approach being applied. Furthermore, they may assist legislators, public authorities, and reporters in understanding the nature of a customer-owned insurance company and how the associated ideas may have been implemented in practice.