The aim of this paper is to shed light on the practices adopted by Swedish mutual insurance companies when nominating and recruiting board members, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of whether and how these practices embody the concept of mutuality. This topic was seen as particularly interesting when considering the complexity of the institutional environment surrounding mutual insurance companies. An environment characterized, among other things, by a skinny and at the same time hybrid legal framework, that at a first glance appeared too dry and confusing to infuse mutuals’ practices with a broader social meaning.

Theoretically, the ambition is to complement the relevant body of literature on the various organizational aspects related to the nomination and recruitment practices targeting board members, by studying this process as a sense-making activity. The focus is then on how nominating actors, through their practices and in light of the surrounding institutional environment, engage in interpretations and meaning constructions of the concept of mutuality.

The interviews conducted with twenty key actors in four Swedish mutual insurance companies Alecta, Länsförsäkringar, Folksam and Skandia, show that limited sense-making work is performed during the nomination process. The interpretation of mutuality can therefore be said to be “stripped to the bone” of the law, i.e. performed in purely legal terms, as a synonymous of customer-owner influence. Attempts to give mutuality a broader social meaning, that goes beyond the legal one, are made through argumentations that involve history-telling – i.e. the looking back at the social purpose that these companies once fulfilled in society – and the delegation of work of meaning construction to actors outside the company – such as supervising authorities, search firms, professional associations and last but not least the legislator.

Nevertheless, the responsibility for the apparent failure to give mutuality a renewed meaning that goes beyond the legal one, cannot entirely rely on boards of mutual insurance companies. Despite some moderate criticism expressed by actors located in the normative sphere of the surrounding institutional environment, it seems that in Sweden mutuality, at a cultural-cognitive level, has become a forgotten topic. A topic that has lost its relevance once other new concepts, such as those of sustainability or the sharing economy, have entered the stage.

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