“As an industry, we’ve endured some tough times”

CEO shares reflections and 2024 expectations

“As an industry, we’ve endured some tough times”

Life & Health

By Terry Gangcuangco

No other insurance market is perhaps as ‘changed’ as that in Aotearoa in recent years. Here, AIA New Zealand chief executive Nick Stanhope (pictured) shares his reflections and what he believes lies ahead for the insurer and the wider sector.

Speaking with Insurance Business, Stanhope said: “The financial services sector has undergone significant change in our operating and regulatory landscape over the past couple of years, and with the extreme weather events of this time last year, the rising cost-of-living, and inflation pressures, as an industry, we’ve endured some tough times.

“So, I see our role, and the role of the broader industry, as more important than ever in supporting New Zealanders to live healthier, longer, better lives. In 2024, with a new government in place and inflation starting to trend down, I am hoping we will see some easing of these pressures on New Zealanders and their families.”

Challenge-wise, the CEO thinks underinsurance remains a major hurdle in New Zealand.

“As an industry, we know that insurance is such an important part of the financial wellbeing puzzle, but New Zealand is still underinsured,” he said. “This was brought into sharp focus by Cyclone Gabrielle this time last year, and the issue extends to life and health insurance as well as property.

“Low levels of financial literacy and the cost-of-living challenges we’ve seen over the past couple of years have no doubt contributed to the protection gap, as people try to balance their family budgets. Although we expect some easing of financial pressures in 2024, with inflation and mortgage interest rates sitting where they are now, it’s likely to have a flow-on effect for some time.”

“Real opportunities” and priorities

Amid the challenges, Stanhope is looking forward to exploring the prospects and possibilities. In his view, there are “real opportunities” for the insurance industry to work closely with the government on encouraging insurance uptake, which, in turn, helps relieve the burden on the public system while helping more New Zealanders protect themselves and their families.

“AIA is part of one of the largest life insurers in the world, with a presence in 18 markets across Asia-Pacific, which means we are well-placed to explore what works well in other markets, and leverage ideas here,” Stanhope told Insurance Business. “A good example is the Australian market and how they have used tax benefits to incentivise the uptake of health insurance. There are many things we can learn from that approach.

“We will continue to explore these opportunities and how they can help us achieve our dream of being one of the healthiest and best-protected countries in the world.”

Meanwhile, at AIA NZ, there has been an ongoing focus on leveraging technology and nurturing the company’s roster – a priority that Stanhope said will continue to be at the top of his agenda this year “as we work to create a simpler, more connected organisation, through modernising our technology and processes, and investing in our people”.

Another priority for the CEO is the continued enhancement of the AIA Vitality programme.

He said: “We’re proud to have over 55,000 members, and we’ve seen significant improvements to our members’ health across BMI (body mass index), blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels over the last four years.

“We know from our 5590+ research that the five main health conditions affecting New Zealanders – cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease, diabetes, and mental ill health – can be positively influenced through lifestyle improvements and a preventative approach to managing health. That’s why AIA Vitality is such an important part of our approach at AIA NZ.”

Stanhope, whose camp paid out over $600 million in claims in 2022, went on to say: “I really love being a part of this industry. Despite our challenges, as an industry, we still provide peace of mind and deliver significant value to thousands of people… We’ve weathered more than a few storms over the past few years, but I am very excited as we look forward to the future and the opportunities it holds.”

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