Most recently, Atkinson joined Insurance Advisernet New Zealand as general manager, operations. The newly created role reflects the broker network’s plan to further grow its New Zealand operation.
Insurance Business spoke to Atkinson to find out more about his new position at Insurance Advisernet. As someone with a wealth of experience working with leading broker businesses, Atkinson talks about the challenges that brokers are facing today. In this Q&A, he shares more of his insights and his hopes for the insurance industry.
Insurance Business: Who or what has inspired you to be involved in the insurance industry?
Travis Atkinson: It wasn’t so much inspiration, more like motivation. I was driven more from the need for a job and to appease my parents’ angst at me leaving school at 16. State Insurance Greymouth Branch had a vacancy and it was straight to work.
IB: You previously worked with IAG and held senior roles in its New Zealand and Malaysian businesses. What have you learned from these experiences and how do these lessons help you now?
TA: I had a wonderful time and will always be grateful for the opportunities that IAG gave me. I was fortunate enough to be supported with studies and I graduated from both Auckland and Melbourne Universities. Studying later in life was a milestone for me. I enjoyed the challenges and academic insights that I received, balanced against real-life experiences. It’s hard to overlook the relationships that I’ve built up over the years. I’ve met and worked with so many fantastic people, many of whom are still in the industry today. Working in Asia and then my final role with NZI gave me new perspectives on our industry, in particular as to the future, with the onset of changes to technology, regulation and customer expectations. These will be key themes for us all over the coming years.
IB: Tell us briefly about your role at Insurance Advisernet and in the industry as a whole.
TA: I’ve joined in a newly created role as general manager, operations. This role has been created to complement the existing team and accelerate our New Zealand plans. IANZ has been extremely successful in New Zealand, helping our member brokers successfully grow and our agenda is to continue to facilitate opportunities both within our existing group and for new brokers starting up.
IB: What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work in the insurance space?
TA: Working for many years with brokers and seeing first-hand what insurance does to support business success, has always inspired me to be proud of our industry. When it comes to helping a business start-up or expand, or providing advice at claims time, we are an integral and often under-appreciated component. Our industry makes such a positive contribution to the New Zealand economy as well.
IB: What are the main challenges facing brokers today?
TA: I’ve always been a strong advocate of great service and in my view there has never been a better time for customers to work with professional brokers that provide them with quality advice. The world is getting more complex with increasing risks and customers need help now more than ever. At the same time, brokers are faced with legislative changes which will both challenge them as well as bring opportunities. Technology will be an integral part of that future.
There is clearly a step change required, particularly in the SME space where brokers are valued for the independent advice they provide clients not only at the purchase of their policies, but more importantly at claim time. Great brokers have always prospered by building strong customer relationships and giving the right advice. I think these things will continue.
IB: What are your hopes for the insurance industry moving forward?
TA: We have to embrace change and I’d like to see more innovation coming into the industry, specifically in how we work with customers and how insurers and brokers interact. Product wise, there is also a great opportunity to better meet the needs of changing customer expectations. Increased professionalism will lift our image and I would like to see the day when we hear more about the positive things that our industry brings to New Zealand. I hope that in this changing environment we don’t lose the focus on personal relationships, which I think still have a critical part to play in how we work together.
IB: What advice can you give to those wanting to join the insurance industry?
TA: Attracting talent to our industry has always been a challenge, yet I do see a new group of young and ambitious individuals who have joined and are loving it. My advice to those joining, is to try and get as much experience as you can across all facets of the business – broking, claims and underwriting. It’s good to understand all aspects of the industry. Travelling also brings another perspective, so any chance you get to go overseas, take it. There are big upsides and great opportunities; it also helps you appreciate how great NZ is as well!
IB: Outside the insurance business, what do you enjoy doing?
TA: Outside of work revolves around family and talking any opportunities to experience New Zealand outdoors. I’m currently trying to knock off all of our Great Walks.
IB: Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t in insurance, I would be…
TA: Full-time surfer.