Suncorp New Zealand CEO says business "in great shape"

Suncorp New Zealand CEO says business "in great shape" | Insurance Business New Zealand

Suncorp New Zealand CEO says business "in great shape"

“While our earnings have been impacted by weather events and investment markets, our underlying performance is strong and we are growing our market share.”

That was the assertion made by Jimmy Higgins (pictured) when the Suncorp New Zealand chief executive spoke with Insurance Business following this week’s release of the company’s interim financial results, which showed a nearly 35% decline in the NZ unit’s profit for the half-year ended December 31, 2021.

Suncorp New Zealand’s $84 million profit after tax in the period – $78 million of which came from the firm’s general insurance business – was largely hit by adverse investment market impacts and increased frequency and severity of weather events. The latter includes the flooding in west Auckland in August and the storm that affected Westport and central New Zealand in July.

It was noted that total weather-related claims in the six-month span amounted to $72 million. This figure represents a jump of more than 41%. Of that claims sum, $52 million originated from just three weather events in July, August, and September. 

As a result of the beating from natural hazards, the general insurance operations saw a 22% drop in profit after tax – prompting Higgins to call on New Zealanders to collectively take steps in building resilient communities and being mindful of people’s contribution to global warming.

Read more: Suncorp outlines plans for future growth despite hefty natural disaster costs

“We’re looking at ways we can work with communities and their support systems to build resilience,” the CEO told Insurance Business. “Building resilient communities is a complex issue that needs broader discussion and engagement across private industry and governments.

“We believe this includes improving public infrastructure, addressing inadequate planning, and considering subsidies to improve the resilience of private dwellings. Collective action is required, and we’re working with the ICNZ (Insurance Council of New Zealand) and other parties in addition to progressing our own work through our Natural Hazard Resilience Programme.”

According to Suncorp New Zealand – whose parent group posted AU$388 million in profit after tax in the first half – it progressed work on the Natural Hazard Resilience Programme in the period through its connection with three non-profit organisations that support flood and social resilience work in Whakatāne.

“The New Zealand business is in great shape and we have the strategy and resources in place to focus on growth, as well as investing in technology and processes that will make our business more efficient so that we are easier to transact with,” Higgins went on to highlight.

“While our earnings have been impacted by weather events and investment markets, our underlying performance is strong and we are growing our market share. We will continue to service and support our customers.”

Read more: Suncorp NZ leader on inclusivity and making insurance products fit for purpose

The NZ boss previously noted that the business had provided almost $1 million in support in the past six months to customers faced with financial hardship.

He said, in an earlier pronouncement: “We’ve been there supporting our customers following major weather events and also donated $150,000 to community organisations in Auckland and Northland to support communities affected by the Delta lockdown.”

Meanwhile, Higgins shared with Insurance Business what he looks forward to in 2022.

“I’m excited about the time when all our employees can safely return to the office, as well as the border reopening to allow more fluid, unrestricted travel to Australia and other countries,” stated the chief executive, who is hopeful that New Zealand’s planned border easing will help with labour supply pressures.

“I am also relentlessly focussed on the progress we’re making on the simplification and digitisation of our products, which will make it quicker and easier for our intermediated partners to do business with us and easier for our people to deliver high-quality, customer-centred service which, when delivered quickly, is also cost-effective. We have a strong business, and it’s great to be able to help our customers in the moments that matter to them.”

Suncorp is the name behind brands like Vero Insurance, AA Insurance, and Asteron Life in New Zealand. The Kiwi segment is part of the Brisbane-headquartered Suncorp Group Limited, principal businesses of which also include banking, wealth, and Australian insurance.