They may seem worlds apart but Nikki Howell, AA Insurance’s head of people and capability, finds career highlights in both her insurance and military careers.
Why did you get into insurance?
Like a lot of other people, you don’t necessarily set out to be in insurance, you find yourself there and then you really get into it and can’t imagine any other industry. I had the opportunity to move into insurance from the health sector and took it. I’ve now been in insurance for more than 14 years and I love it. It’s different and at AA Insurance
we pride ourselves on being different. Yes, we sell insurance and manage claims, but we are here to provide a service that helps our customers.
How would you change the industry?
As mentioned above, you don’t wake up wanting to join the
ndustry – you seem to fall into it! However, I want people to want to join us. It’s an amazing place, where we get to help people, our customers. To make it a place someone wants to work in, and be proud of, is an area of focus for me at AA Insurance
. We not only provide a supportive environment where our people can develop, but we are also encouraging them to work more flexibly. This is to combat the issues of transport, and retain a better work life balance. Work to live, not live to work!
What’s the most important thing insurers can do to improve their relationship with their customers?
Find out what they need and respond to them. I appreciate you can’t cater to every single piece of feedback from your customers, but there will be patterns of behaviour or a process that is getting in the way of a great customer experience. Identify it and then sort it out.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“There is no such thing as a free meal” – advice given by my father years ago. It was meant to
encourage me to not take things at face value. Not to be cynical, but to avoid getting my fingers burnt by being too trusting. He was right. Sadly not everyone acts in a genuine manner and you need to be able to identify this.
If you were Prime Minister for one day, what would you do?
It would have to be something about homes in New Zealand; homes for the homeless and affordable homes for first-time buyers. Something has to change!
What has been the highlight of your career?
I’ve been lucky enough to have several! Prior to being in insurance I served with the British Royal Navy for 10 years. Not a lifestyle for everyone, however I had a blast. I was fortunate to serve not only with the Navy, but worked alongside the Army in Hong Kong, down the Falklands with the RAF and twice with the Royal Marines. So a highlight would be my entire service.
My insurance highlight would have to be how everyone came together to help our customers and colleagues affected by the Canterbury earthquakes in September 2010 and again in February 2011. We didn’t need to initiate the Major Event Plan. Staff came in wanting to help, even if only to help colleagues working flat out to help our customers. It got to the point we had to send some home. It was incredibly humbling then, and again during the February 2011 event, seeing our people volunteer to go down to Christchurch to help others while, working out of mobile vans to get to our customers. Our people were lining up to help.
What’s your favoured style of coffee?
Trim latte – I indulge twice-a-day in the morning. I love it!
Union, league, soccer or other?
Union. I am Scottish and, although I love Scotland dearly, I have no illusions that my alternative team, the All Blacks (now I am a Kiwi citizen), have a better track record and can play 80+ minutes!
If you could invite three people to dinner, dead or alive, and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Queen Elizabeth I – she lived in such an interesting time where religion and politics meant you may not live (some things don’t seem to have changed much). Living in such a male dominated world how did she not only survive but seemingly thrive and manage to reign for so long? I would want to ask her “Who could you truly turn to for advice or support?”, “What were you most proud of and why?” and “If you had any regrets, what would they be and why?“
Nelson Mandela – how do you mentally survive such a long incarceration and retain the mental and physical strength to then bring a fractured country together? I would love to be able to ask him if he had an ultimate objective and end-game in mind when he started. How did he even begin to work out how to tackle the huge issue of ingrained racial division?
Leonardo da Vinci – what an incredible person. He was the
Renaissance man, an all-rounder. He was academic, he painted, did the odd bit of sculpting, and had incredible vision with some of his designs. Where did his inspiration come from? How did he manage to get his vision of things to come, out there against the authorities who feared individuals like Leonardo and typically would do anything to keep them quiet?
I guess I will never know but it is interesting to speculate!
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t in insurance, I would be…
Probably back in the Royal Navy!
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