The thrills and spills of awards night

by Maryvonne Gray 06 Nov 2015

The thrills and spills of awards night

There were whoops of joy, there were high fives and there were lots of bad insurance jokes courtesy of MC Jon Bridges, but despite the groans the mood was high and full of fun at the fourth annual NZ Insurance Industry Awards last night.

The crowd was also buoyed by mentions of the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup win against Australia, which happened a lot, despite Bridges’ claims to try and avoid the subject!

Particularly amusing was his reference to the 17 years since Australia and New Zealand joined forces to form awards organisers ANZIIF and the 34 years since the idea began, being a clever dig at the score.

Nevertheless there were a few Australians accepting awards on stage, with one of the big winners of the night being Suncorp Group’s AA Insurance securing their title of Direct General Insurance Company of the Year for the fourth consecutive year.

CEO Chris Curtin said it was ‘incredibly humbling’ and ‘an absolute honour’ to be recognised by the industry which had made great leaps and bounds to improve over the past few years.

With fellow Suncorp company Asteron Life winning the new category of Women’s Employer of the Year for their strong gender diversity activities including supporting women into senior leadership and pay equality, Curtin said he hoped Vero would make it the trifecta – which it did.

Vero’s new CEO Paul Smeaton, who has only been in the job for six weeks, praised the company for its good brand, good culture and good people which he said is what attracted him to it in the first place.

He also acknowledged his predecessor Gary Dransfield for his incredible leadership and recent promotion who had also attracted such a good team around him.

To them he said: “You’ve worked very hard, it has paid off and I want you to celebrate and be really proud of this achievement.”

The life insurance sector was particularly dominant at this year’s awards. The first time winner of the Life Insurance Company of the Year award, Partners Life, also made an appearance in the Lifetime Achievement category.

Partners Life founder Naomi Ballantyne was jointly recognised for her success in the industry over 27 years alongside Vero’s Burke Butler who recently retired after a 40 year career which brought him recognition for being an innovator and industry leader.

Life insurance also brought success for the Young Insurance Professional of the Year for Adam Rudland of Cigna Life Insurance.

There were big cheers for the broker wins of the evening too.

Runacres & Associates took the prize for Small/Medium Broker of the Year while Rothbury Insurance Brokers made it two years in a row for winning the Large Broker of the Year award.

Managing director Roger Abel said he was thrilled to return to the stage again and cited the company’s success once more in using Net Promoter Scores. He said in the last year the company had reached a score of 50.

“I’m very very proud of our team. I’d like to thank NZI for putting in the effort and recognising this award, and mostly I’d like to thank our clients and the 220 troublemakers that I work with,” he said.

Another repeat winner was DLA Piper New Zealand who have won Professional Services Firm of the Year four times now.

One of the final awards of the night went to one of the judging panel, much to his amazement.

The CEO of the Insurance Council of New Zealand, Tim Grafton, was commended for his outstanding leadership and for being a highly influential member of the industry by DLA Piper NZ partner Grant Macdonald who presented him with the Insurance Leader of the Year award.

Grafton was chosen for ‘representing the industry during challenging times, providing strong advocacy and thought leadership as well as displaying an ongoing commitment to the ongoing improvement of the industry’.

Grafton said it was a ‘very humbling moment’ for him, adding quickly that he didn’t regard it as an individual award however.

“It’s an award for the industry. An industry that’s shown resource and met the challenges it’s been thrown over the years, and that’s persevered to do its very best for its customers despite the most trying times and circumstances beyond its control.

“It’s also an industry that’s taken it upon itself to improve for its customers by revising the Fair Insurance Code.”

He went on to praise the standing committees of ICNZ; the working groups, particularly the group working on what he described as a ‘first class submission’ on EQC legislation; a dozen industry figures who he named by their first names for their hard work and support in the last five years on Canterbury related issues; the ICNZ board and particularly presidents Jacki Johnson, Gary Dransfield and Chris Black for providing him with ‘guidance, mentoring and support throughout’.

He said his proudest moment was seeing the Board take themselves to ‘a place where they feel uncomfortable’ to arrive at the right place with the FIC so customers would feel comfortable.

Lastly he praised the small ICNZ team who he asked to stand up and be applauded before thanking ANZIIF and CEO Prue Willsford for their support to the industry.

“Thank you one and all, this is as much yours as it is mine,” he said.