Phil Ashby, general manager for National Credit Insurance (Brokers) NZ talks about the risks around exporting commodities, the joys of scuba diving and always getting it in writing.
Why did you get into insurance?
Originally I was with Westpac for 12 years looking after international trade and dealing with clients’ trade and foreign exchange solutions. It was just a natural progression when l left and went to QBE
to join the trade credit team and started looking after clients’ credit risk. After a few years I realised that being a broker gave me more options in assisting clients. We set up NCI NZ branch over 12 years ago now, starting from a small office with a little desk, laptop and a phone, and now we’ve got 6 staff in NZ, supported by a team of over 150 in the group.
How would you sum up insurance brokers in three words?
Partners, advisers, trusted.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever arranged cover for?
Because we are involved in exports there are all sorts of weird and wonderful commodities that New Zealanders sell around the world. One of the strangest ones was probably alcohol grade ethanol. It was for a NZ client but it was being shipped out of India into Africa so places like Ghana and Nigeria - that would have to be one of the weirdest risks I’ve ever had underwritten.
How would you change the industry?
I’d like there to be a more regulated educational process for specialist products like credit insurance and who can offer advice on them. What we tend to see is some advisors who think they understand credit insurance but like many lines of insurance it is a complex product and requires, in some cases, daily interaction with the client. I’d also like to see a scheme to encourage young people into the insurance broker market. One of the issues I see developing is a big gap between the more experienced brokers, a lot of whom are getting close to retirement, and then no one leaving school wanting to be an insurance broker.
What’s the most important thing a broker can do to develop their business?
It’s about building relationships and actually understanding your clients – this leads to retention and referrals. Anybody can offer advice on a vanilla product but it’s about asking those in-depth questions and understanding what their risk profile is and what’s available in the way of solutions for that, but it’s also asking the hard questions, the what if’s and then drilling in. Rather than being a supplier it’s about becoming their partner.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
If it’s not in writing, it hasn’t happened.
If you were Prime Minister for one day, what would you do?
Reduce the level of compliance for New Zealand business. Really one day wouldn’t be long enough so what I would look at is accountability and making politicians more accountable for delivering on their promises during their term. So KPI’s for politicians.
What has been the highlight of your career?
It would have to be setting up the NCI NZ operation. Having worked for large corporations in the past, it was a real eye opener to set up a business from ‘day one’, and all those little things you have to do yourself.
What’s your favoured style of coffee?
Long black – single or double depending on the time of day or how stressful the day has been.
Union, league, soccer or other?
Definitely a union boy, but obviously having an Australian parent company league has been pretty popular since the ANZAC test. There’s been a fair bit of banter between all the staff in our company and the cricket world cup was going really well until the final against Australia. The rugby world cup will be a great event and I look forward to having our MD wearing an All Blacks shirt and completing the ‘Aussie haka’ when we win again!
If you could invite three people to dinner, dead or alive, and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Jack Cousteau – as a child I was inspired by him and what he showed of the oceans, this ultimately got me into the water and into scuba diving.
Richard Branson – just from his whole thinking outside the box and how he’s thinking two or three horizons ahead of everybody else.
Billy T James – just to liven it up and I’ve always been a big fan of his.
And Richard Branson could pay because he’s got a bit more cash than me!
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t in insurance, I would be…
I would be running a dive charter somewhere up the coast of New Zealand or in the Pacific Islands (if I didn’t have a mortgage that is!) Otherwise it would be some sort of consultative industry helping clients and giving them advice and guidance on their path to growing their business.