Five minutes with… Karen Stevens, Insurance & Financial Services Ombudsman

Five minutes with… Karen Stevens, Insurance & Financial Services Ombudsman | Insurance Business New Zealand

Five minutes with… Karen Stevens, Insurance & Financial Services Ombudsman

Insurance & Financial Services Ombudsman Karen Stevens (pictured), a born and bred Kiwi from Wellington, was appointed as the Insurance & Savings Ombudsman in 1998 as a result of her background and experience in law and alternative dispute resolution.

Together with her deputy Ombudsman Louise Peters, Stevens leads a team of case managers with expertise in dispute resolution, law and the financial services industry. The team responds to around 3,000 complaint enquiries each year across a diverse range of insurance and financial service issues.

Stevens says her professional life fulfils her on a daily basis as she is able to make a difference in the lives of people by improving the financial sector’s business practice. A highlight of her work, she says, is engaging with the media to tell people’s stories in the interest of facilitating more optimal outcomes for insurers and consumers.

“Consumers need to know we exist and how to access our free service if they need assistance. Getting information out there influences brokers and consumers positively as they become more aware of red flags when transacting business,” she underscores.

“We draw on our complaints experience to help inform and educate consumers and the industry so they can effectively become more aware of what questions need attention and what pitfalls and miscommunication can be avoided.”

Stevens has been a strong advocate for entrenching an Insurance Contracts Act to replace all the other piecemeal statutory law relating to insurance.

“One of the important changes would be to make the common law duty of disclosure statutory and bring changes into line with Australia and the UK where an insurer can only avoid a policy where it can show non-disclosure is deliberate,” she explains.

“We’d see far fewer consumers getting themselves into situations where they are uninsured and, in many cases, uninsurable in the future.”

In addition to her serious academic achievements, with her most recent being a Masters in Law from LaTrobe University in Melbourne majoring in conflict resolution, Stevens is a lover of learning languages, specifically French, Italian and German, in her spare time.

“After studying law and English at Victoria University, I lived in the UK and enjoyed spending some time visiting new places, trying out new things and attempting to practise foreign languages,” she says. “However, I discovered that the moment native speakers of the language realised I spoke English they just wanted to speak English to me!”

Outside her Ombudsman work, her focus is on family, especially her two sons, and taking obedience classes with her dog.

To relax, she seeks out music, including firm favourite Sting, recently seeing Carmen and, when he visited New Zealand, Andrea Bocelli.

She adds she is a keen foodie, enjoying fresh produce that is well-cooked and accompanied by white wine, preferably Chardonnay.

As to people that she admires, ex-Prime Minister John Key springs to mind for his governance of the country and his ability to hold his own on the local and global stage. “It looks easy watching him, but you can be sure there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye,” she remarks.

Finally, with regard to the future, Stevens emphasises that she will continue to endeavour to get consumers and insurers on to the same page. She says she has no plans to retire in the near future as she loves her job.

She concludes by pointing out that New Zealand insurance is in a positive place on the whole.

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