Come December 17, Samoa-headquartered National Pacific Insurance (NPI) will become wholly owned by New Zealand insurer Tower, in “an important final step” in the group’s ongoing standardisation and digitisation.
“Tower had done a very significant digital transformation project in New Zealand over the last number of years,” the group’s managing director for the Pacific, Paula ter Brake (pictured), told Insurance Business. “One of the final steps on that journey was to make a decision about whether we would extend that technology – and all the advantages that come with that technology rollout – to the Pacific Islands, and that decision was made last year.
“When you’re making a material investment like that, it does make sense to then really consider the brand of Tower across the nine geographies that we operate in. It would have felt a little bit odd to have rolled out our very important platform ‘My Tower’ to a number of geographies and then to have a ‘My NPI’. So, branding was an important consideration, but also what the digital platform will enable us to do.”
As previously announced, the subsidiary will be rebranded to take on its parent’s identity. The shift will be simultaneous with the launch of Tower’s digital insurance solution in the markets where NPI is present – Samoa, Tonga, and American Samoa. The wider group, meanwhile, also has Tower-branded operations in Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, as well as the Cook Islands and the Solomon Islands.
The MD, who last month took on the additional role of Tower chief risk officer, noted: “We’re linking the rebranding of our three NPI territories to the rollout of the new digital platform, which is probably the most exciting thing we’ve ever done. Despite having been in these territories for many, many decades, this has, by far, been the most exciting and transformative change that we have made.
“We rolled out our digital platform in Fiji at the end of last year, and we’re just about to conclude that. Vanuatu goes next. And then next on the list is Tonga, which is one of our NPI territories. We have Samoa following that, and then American Samoa. As we roll out the digital platform, we coincide that with the rebranding – so, that will be the launch of ‘My Tower’ in that market, and also the physical rebranding of our premises in each of those locations.”
According to ter Brake, Tower will be changing the look and feel of its branches over the next 12 to 18 months. She also pointed to a complete digitisation of all of Tower’s products.
Describing the whole process as an involved undertaking, the chief risk officer stated: “We’re re-platforming on to our new modern operating platform, and we’re also launching the fully optimised sales and service solution for our customers. And we’ll be the first insurer to have done that across the Pacific Islands.”
Of Tower’s headcount of more than 700 people, ter Brake said over 60 colleagues are working full-time on the multi-territory, multi-currency, and multi-timezone digital transformation project for the Pacific. Additionally, Tower’s takeover of NPI will have no negative impact on the latter’s staff.
“Longer-term for our NPI team members, one of the benefits that come through as a result of Tower being on one platform with one product set and one way of serving customers is that – since we did our digital workplace upgrade last year – we’ve essentially been able to move to being location-agnostic,” the managing director told Insurance Business.
“Previously, we used to run all of our operations out of each individual retail office, which meant the entire life cycle of that insurance business came out of that office,” continued ter Brake. “Since we’ve centralised, we’ve been able to free up the customer-facing teams to really invest in customer service, building customer relationships. And since we’ve done our digital workplace upgrade, we’ve also realised that we can actually now deploy virtually any role into any location.
“So, if we have team members in American Samoa, for instance, who want to develop themselves professionally and perhaps learn more about underwriting or learn more about claims, they can actually now transition to any team in Tower while remaining being physically located in their hometown, which is a massive benefit in terms of both personal and professional development.”
A great example is former NPI regional general manager and now Tower’s Pacific head of retail distribution Joanne Rasmussen, who is based in the Samoan capital Apia.
The CRO added: “I’m very fortunate in that over the last two years we’ve spent a lot in developing an extraordinarily strong leadership team in the Pacific. Our model in the Pacific is to have local leaders – leaders who understand the communities and are from within the communities in which we operate.
“And that’s an incredibly important ingredient in our recipe for success, because it helps us just counteract the fact that we are in New Zealand, ensuring that we don’t then always overlay the New Zealand lens on everything that we do.”
Meanwhile, in attaining operational efficiency, Tower seeks to make insurance more accessible – not just by passing on savings to existing customers but also by reaching more potential insureds, as well as introducing new needs-targeted products.
“We have been looking to remove complexity literally in everything that we do,” said ter Brake, “so we’ve been standardising and centralising. And when you operate across eight different territories across the Pacific Islands, excluding New Zealand, that does come with a little bit of complexity in terms of corporate structuring.
“We need to have independently regulated and incorporated entities in all of those territories. That makes for a bit of complexity – additional cost, additional administration – so everything that we can do to simplify that is quite important to us. And it made sense for us to look at that final shareholding [in NPI] to have complete control. We will now own 100% of everything that we have across the Pacific, which was sort of an important final step in that process.”