Tower’s new sustainability manager “super excited” to drive further change
Internal addition to advance company strategy developed in 2021
Corporate headquarters: Level 5, 136 Fanshawe Street, PO Box 90347, Auckland 1142
Gross written premium (2021): $350 million
Underlying profits after tax (2021): $20.8 million
Size (employees): 775
Underwriting expertise: House, car, contents, landlord, boat, business, travel, pet, renters’, electric vehicle, motorbikes, lifestyle block and farm, caravan or trailer, and motorhome insurance
Key people: Blair Turnbull (chief executive officer), Jonathan Beale (managing director – partnerships), Andrew Hambleton (chief people & transformation officer), Michelle James (managing director – Tower Direct & digital), Paul Johnston (chief financial officer), Ron Mudaliar (chief underwriting officer), Paula ter Brake (managing director – Pacific & chief risk officer), Steve Wilson (chief claims officer)
One of New Zealand’s largest general insurers, Tower originated as a life insurer in 1869 when it was created by the Government Life Insurance Office, better known as Government Life. The New Zealand Government initially provided the capital for its creation, and it became TOWER Corporation in 1987.
In 1989, Tower purchased the National Insurance Company of New Zealand, which had previously bought the Standard Insurance Company in 1961. The acquisition of these businesses kick-started Tower’s general insurance offering, making it a fully diversified business.
In 1990, Tower’s ownership was conferred to its policyholders with the passing of the Tower Corporation Act, allowing the insurer to be owned as a mutual association. The firm undertook a demutualisation process in 1999 and was subsequently listed on the Australian and New Zealand stock exchanges. In 2006, the insurer’s New Zealand and Australian businesses were separated with the approval of its shareholders and the High Court.
Tower sold its medical insurance and investment divisions in 2012 and its life insurance business in 2013. Today Tower is exclusively a general insurance company, offering policies for house, car, contents, rural and travel.
Tower’s broad product range encompasses all aspects of general insurance, with a number of specialised policies across the different categories. Its key product offerings are house and contents cover, which includes specialised policies for landlords, car insurance, business insurance, including cover for assets, liability and business interruption, and pet and travel.
The insurer also offers specialised motorbike, boat, lifestyle block & farm and caravan policies, which cover clients for anything from natural disaster damage to fire replacement and loss of income.
Blair Turnbull was appointed CEO in August 2020, succeeding Richard Harding. Turnbull boasts more than two decades of experience in the financial services industry, largely focusing on insurance in New Zealand, the Asia-Pacific region, and the UK. Prior to joining Tower, he served as managing director of UK Digital, UK & International with Aviva Group. Turnbull also held the role of executive general manager of wealth and insurance at ASB Bank.
Jonathan Beale serves as managing director partnerships. He has over 25 years of financial services experience in leading sales teams, with a specialist knowledge on advice and customer experience. Beale has held leadership roles across a number of high performing businesses in New Zealand and the UK. In New Zealand, he had stints with AMP, Westpac, and ASB, where he led the wealth and insurance business and was responsible for the advice, service, and distribution of multiple product lines, including the ASB KiwiSaver Scheme. Beale has been instrumental in many transformation projects and regulatory change programmes focused on providing wonderful customer experiences.
Andrew Hambleton currently serves as Tower’s chief people and transformation officer. He has more than 20 years of human resources and financial services experience, both in New Zealand and globally. Prior to joining Tower, Hambleton held several senior HR and business roles with Blackrock in New York and Hong Kong. As chief operating officer of Blackrock Asia Pacific, he provided executive leadership across all operations, technology, major projects, business continuity and transformation. He also played a key role in helping to embed and develop Blackrock’s culture and values, with a strong focus on diversity and inclusion. Before this, Hambleton was regional head of human resources for ANZ Asia – a key HR leadership role covering 14 countries – and ANZ’s Asia operations.
Michelle James, who joined the company in March 2016 from Spark Digital, currently serves as managing director of Tower Direct & digital, where she is responsible for the P&L of Tower’s flagship direct to consumer business, including its digital, customer experience, brand, marketing, sales, and retention agendas. She was appointed to the role in September 2020 after an almost three-year stint as chief customer officer. James She also held product leadership roles at Telstra Corporation.
Paul Johnston was appointed chief financial officer in January 2022. He has 25 years’ experience across multiple industries, particularly in the insurance and financial services sectors. Johnston has brought his extensive international, strategic, and operational finance expertise to Tower. Before joining the company, Johnston was based in Tokyo as chief financial officer and director of Far East Region for Chubb, one of the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance companies. Prior to this, he spent almost 16 years in the UK with Chubb, AIG, Nomura Investment Bank, and Deloitte.
Appointed in August 2019, Ron Mudaliar serves as Tower’s chief underwriting officer. He joined the company as head of underwriting in October 2016, bringing more than 30 years of experience in the insurance industry in New Zealand, London and India. His previous roles include executive management of large operational teams (150+), risk and compliance overview of operational and sales teams, NZ integration lead for the merger of two large Australian general insurers, and managing large portfolios of intermediated and partner businesses.
Paula ter Brake serves as Tower’s chief risk officer, a role she has held since June 2019. She is also the managing director of Tower Pacific. ter Brake has over 20 years of experience in the financial services and consulting industries. She has worked globally in retail banking, consumer lending and advisory, with a focus on strategy, distribution and turnaround, including several years as global distribution leader for GE Money.
Steve Wilson is Tower’s chief claims officer. He has more than 20 years of insurance experience, specifically in large operations throughout Australia and Asia. He joined the company in early 2022, after five years at QBE Insurance, where he served as regional head of claims for Asia, covering Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Macau, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands. Prior to working at QBE, Wilson worked for IAG for over 17 years, in both the Australian and Asian markets.
Despite the challenges in the past year, Tower has experienced growth in the market, particularly in New Zealand, where gross written premium (GWP) rose by 7.9% to $350 million.
According to the company, this was achieved through “a combined effort of offering a well-balanced mix of market premium ratings and attracting new Tower customers.” The firm’s client base grew 5% to 304,000, increasing its market share to 9.2%. This rise also reflects improvements in customer satisfaction, which is reflected in the firm’s improved net promoter score (NPS) of 43%, up from 27% last year.
Tower Direct also leapt from strength to strength, recording 132,000 My Tower registrations in 2021, up substantially on 45,000 from the year prior. The portfolio grew to $273 million, and now includes the ANZ legacy portfolio, which is still migrating customers over to Tower.
Prioritising business partnerships also delivered growth for the company as its partnerships business began “to transform from a more traditional model to usher in a portfolio of new technology-led organisations.”
Tower’s Pacific business also remained resilient, despite GWP declining by 10%, primarily because of COVID-19-induced economic challenges. “We were proud to become the first insurer with a digital presence in the Pacific, after launching our cloud-based platform in Fiji,” Tower said in its 2021 annual report. “This online offering will expand across the Pacific to bring more alignment between the New Zealand and Pacific business units moving forward.”
In 2021, Tower announced a major partnership with Coastguard New Zealand. Across the country’s coastlines, major rivers, and lakes, Coastguard’s 2,000 trained and skilled volunteers, consisting of ordinary Kiwis with extraordinary courage, are committed to helping others.
Tower and Coastguard share a long history of supporting New Zealanders, which extends beyond the country’s waters.
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