ANZIIF industry awards celebrate stars of pivotal year

The tough got going in the insurance industry in 2023, as weather events and the economy took a toll

ANZIIF industry awards celebrate stars of pivotal year

Insurance News

By Bennett Richardson

At the tail end of a challenging year for the insurance industry, the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance (ANZIIF) celebrated the remarkable work done and talents that shone over the last 12 months at the 11th New Zealand Insurance Industry Awards.

“This year is about recognizing excellence. And it’s also about celebrating the resilience and adaptability of the New Zealand insurance industry in the face of some fairly significant challenges over the past 18 months,” said outgoing ANZIIF chief executive Prue Willsford (pictured left).

New Zealand suffered its second and third largest ever catastrophes as measured by insurance claim value during the space of a few weeks in early 2023, which stretched the resources of the sector to the limit and helped move the national dialogue around insurance towards improving long-term mitigation in the face of future wild weather events.

The twin disasters of the Auckland Anniversary floods and Cyclone Gabrielle are now estimated to have generated 112,812 claims worth $3.5 billion combined. As of September, around 64% of claims by volume and 59% by value had been paid.

Willsford emphasised that the industry rose to the challenges while continuing to serve its regular customer base and maintaining the standards that underscore a professional response.

“Certification to a body of knowledge, a commitment to ethics, and a commitment to lifelong learning: this defines professional,” she said.

Willsford also introduced her successor, Katrina Shanks (pictured right), who will officially begin her role in January. Shanks emphasised the important economic role that insurance plays, a theme that will be important as the cost-of-living and higher interest rates continue to pinch.

“I truly believe in increasing New Zealanders financial health and well-being and part of that is building financial resilience,” she said.

Award winners

Winners on the night epitomised some of the themes that dominated the year, from an improving technological aptitude to the outsize impact on and industry support for the rural community in the aftermath of the twin disasters.

Insurtech Start-up of the Year award winner Simfuni credited its success to its technical prowess in supplying the firm’s cloud-based digital payment solution.

“Our team of awesome software engineers have been the main reason we’ve been able to deliver so quickly and great outcomes for customers [and] our belief in creating great customer experiences with payments,” said chief executive Shaun Quincey.

“Delivering insurance is becoming more and more expensive, so optimization of the various workflows involved in that is critical – that’s where technology plays a key part,” he said.

Major insurer to the rural sector, FMG, walked away with the General Insurance Company of the Year award. While housing grabbed many of the headlines, much of the impact from the year’s weather events fell on rural areas and its resources. Stock and other primary produce were wiped out in parts of the country, such as Hawke’s Bay, and FMG continues to play a successful role in the restoration effort.

Chief executive Adam Heath said the reason was simple.

“[It’s] the people and the culture,” he said.

The large number of land damage claims from the weather events is one of the reasons why some claims are taking so long to complete. Heath said the worse economic situation added to the mix.

“It’s going to be a tough year looking at the economic environment… our clients are doing it tough and we’ll just continue to be there and support them and provide great advice and great insurance and just continue to do what we do well, which is really be there for rural New Zealand,” he said.

McLarens New Zealand nabbed the award for Professional Services Firm of the Year.

General manager Kristen Harris said the award reflected an amazing team of people who had successfully implemented a number of changes in process at the firm during the year.

“That’s been very challenging for us, but we knew we had to do it to get through,” she said.

She added that 2023 had been very focused on events and the “panic” surrounding them.

“We need to get back to BAU – that’s going to be our challenge this year, to settle down, get back to what we know, and look after the core business, which is general claims not catastrophe claims,” she said.

She added that one positive to have come out of the past year was that the industry was starting to realise that it needed to work together more collaboratively to face the larger issues.

“It’s become very obvious with event work that not one company can deal with any of this,” she said. “We have to work together. So I actually think we managed to start that process a little bit this year, but I think we need to work on that.”

Small company enjoys success

One small company to win top honours, meanwhile, was RedBook, which provides specification, identification and pricing for cars and motorbikes to insurers and other parties. The eight-person firm won the Service Provider to the Insurance Industry Award with the entire team attending the evening.

General manager Nick Auld said the main reason was because the firm was responsive to customers and listened to what they were saying. He also said the small size of the team meant everybody had a stake in succeeding.

“For an eight-person business, we’re really highly engaged. Everyone’s really happy with what we’re doing, and everybody in the team has a role within our function [that sometimes straddle roles that would be performed by separate people in a larger firm].”

Auld himself worked as the chief marketer and as a business development manager and also took on the duties a commercial team would normally perform, something that was typical across the firm.

“We all work really hard on being a fantastic [service].”

Life Insurance Company of the Year went to Asteron. Executive manager for the life portfolio and new business Claire Sutton also spoke to the economic issue as a major theme.

“The big issue that we’re facing at the minute is continuing to promote the value of insurance, life insurance in particular,” said Sutton.

The cost-of-living crisis was having a direct impact with people choosing to allocate their dwindling spending power on other areas.

“I’m really encouraging New Zealanders not to let go of their living insurances when their dollars are stressed – that’s the thing we worry about right now, seeing customers maybe cancel or not return calls - we can help them, we just want them to talk to us and find ways for them to retain their cover,” she said.

The awards were held at the Cordis in Auckland with just over 300 people estimated to have attended the sit-down event. A number of expected attendees got stuck in Wellington due to persistent fog at the airport over several days.

ANZIIF partners with companies, government and non-profit organisations to provide a range of services that support professional excellence to enhance the standards, reputation and success of the industry and improve community understanding of insurance and finance.

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