Pay it forward: West Bend Mutual doubled down on community investment during pandemic

Kevin Steiner, CEO of West Bend Mutual Insurance
Kevin Steiner, CEO of West Bend Mutual Insurance Credit: Andrew Feller

West Bend Mutual Insurance employees – like employees across the state – had just roughly 24 hours to transition from reporting to the office to working from home at the onset of Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order in March to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While the insurance company was deemed an essential business under Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order, company leaders decided having employees work from home was the best way to keep them safe.

“That was a big change to absorb in a short amount of time,” said Kevin Steiner, president and chief executive officer.

To recognize their flexibility during the transition, the company gifted each of its 1,300 employees with a $150 bonus for them to reinvest in the community – as a donation to their favorite nonprofit organization, to purchase a carryout meal at a local restaurant or to patronize a local retail store affected by the statewide shutdown.

To West Bend Mutual, the bonuses signaled a doubling down of their investment in the community during uncertainty.

“When the federal government began offering stimulus packages to businesses, we thought it would be nice to offer the same to our associates,” Steiner said. “… Our associates responded exactly as we knew they would. Generously. Many of them used the stimulus money to support their local restaurants and nonprofit organizations serving those most affected by the pandemic.”

In addition, the West Bend Mutual Insurance Charitable Trust recently accelerated its grant cycle to expedite funds to organizations supporting those affected by COVID-19. The two largest donations were awarded to Feeding America and the Red Cross of Southeast Wisconsin, which each received $50,000 to provide food, shelter and blood to those in need.

“My predecessors had the foresight to establish a charitable trust many years ago,” Steiner said. “The trust has allowed us to give back to the communities in which our associates and our agents live. This pandemic is like nothing anyone has ever seen before, at least not in our lifetimes. It just wasn’t feasible for West Bend not to support those organizations and workers who were on the frontline helping those most affected.”

The company’s COVID-19 relief efforts for associates, as well as charities, totaled nearly $750,000.

“I’m very proud, as I believe all of our associates are, of the support West Bend is able to provide in good times and in these tough times,” Steiner said.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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