An increasing number of New Zealanders are finding that financial troubles are impacting their mental and physical health, relationships and overall wellbeing, and insurers say that a more ‘holistic’ approach is needed when it comes to dealing with customers experiencing difficulty.
A recent FSC survey showed that 55.6% of New Zealanders feel that financial issues have impacted their overall wellbeing - up from 51.3% in March 2020. CEO Richard Klipin said that the survey results clearly show the link between finances and mental and physical health, relationships and stress, and he says the financial services sector has a significant role to play in supporting customer wellbeing by building up their support options and financial resilience.
“While our findings suggest that we’re making progress in some areas, they also highlight that there is more to be done to support the public in building knowledge and gaining confidence when it comes to their finances,” he said.
“What remains clear from the latest survey results is the connection between money and our wellbeing, with over 55% of New Zealanders saying that financial issues have adversely affected their wellbeing.”
“This highlights the continued impact that COVID-19 is having on the wellbeing of all New Zealanders,” he said.
“Particularly the younger generations, and we hope the survey results encourage people to prioritise their financial wellbeing, which clearly plays a direct role in health and happiness.”
When it comes to dealing with customers in difficulty, Suncorp New Zealand says insurers should now be looking at a ‘broader picture’ rather than just at the customer’s insurance policy. Customer advocacy manager Ryan Perica noted that Suncorp staff have all undergone training to recognise when a customer might be in difficulty, and to know how to respond - whether by offering advice around financial and insurance support, or by connecting them with a service to help with broader wellbeing issues.
“Vulnerability can mean a lot of things for a lot of people in different situations,” Perica said
“It can be a change in life stages - which could be a good thing, such as a new baby or a new house. It could be health-related, such as a disability or mental health issue, or it could be a more serious situation related to a bereavement, or domestic violence. Then of course you have to consider financial vulnerability, and things like natural disasters and PTSD.
“So, first and foremost, I think you really need to expand your staff’s knowledge around what ‘customers experiencing vulnerability’ means and how to listen out for that.”
“All of our frontline teams have undertaken a basic and advanced course around recognising and responding to vulnerability, and we’ve built that around what we call the ‘four Rs’,” he explained.
“The first is to recognise the vulnerability, and the second is to review it - that is, to not just try and work on it alone, but to speak to a leader or a non-profit partner if you need to get help for that customer. The third stage is ‘respond’, and that could be something as simple as slowing down your speech when talking to the customer, checking in, and making sure they have a support person if they need one.
“The last stage is ‘refer’, which thinks about how we can connect that customer with some more holistic support for the wider challenges that they’re experiencing.”
Suncorp New Zealand has also developed a training programme called ‘heart to heart,’ which focuses on emotional intelligence, and training staff to ask the right questions. Perica said these could be something as simple as “are you doing OK?” or “would you like to share more about what is happening?”
This then allows staff to develop a broader understanding of the customer’s situation, and to respond with the right kind of assistance.
“When our customers tell us more about their situation, that means we’re able to put support in place,” Perica said.
“But without having that conversation, we’re not going to be able to put forward that support, so we’re really training our frontline staff to have those meaningful conversations.”
“We have had customers that have been experiencing financial hardship, so of course we can look at some insurance and premium support,” he explained.
“We’ve also referred customers to organisations like Good Shepherd which can take a look at their wider finances, and offer some more help.”
“There are also scenarios that you can’t necessarily have a training manual for,” Perica said.
“During the lockdown, we had an elderly customer in a remote location who mentioned that they weren’t sure how they were going to get groceries. Rather than just passing that off, we did a review of their location and tried to find some delivery services, and connected them up with some phone numbers. That wasn’t part of our ‘framework’, but we were really looking to go above and beyond.”
“The main advice I’d give to anyone who is struggling is to disclose that, and to share their situation,” he concluded.
“There’s always the perspective of ‘other people are doing worse than me,’ but I encourage everyone to share their challenges, because there are often things that we can do to support you.”