Insurance for the greater good

New Zealanders often take pride in our notable rankings on the world stage, whether it be our privileged political freedom, our happiness, sporting achievements, low levels of corruption or topping the World Bank Group’s ‘ease of doing business index’ two years running.

While these rankings shine a positive light on our small and nimble country, we are not performing as well when it comes to insurance. In fact, according to OECD calculations, New Zealand is amongst the most underinsured countries in the world.

We have an aging population, and with more and more people relying on our public health system, the burden on hospital waiting lists and welfare services will continue to grow.

Insurance plays a critical role in reducing this burden, a societal contribution that I would really like better understood. Last year Sovereign paid out more than $350 million in claims, including more than $11.2 million in claims for mental health related conditions. While we’re proud of the role we play in our community, imagine if the number of our customers – and therefore, claims – could double, or even triple. That would take huge pressure off the public health system and free up waiting lists and medical resources for those who really need them.

So why are New Zealanders so reluctant to cover themselves and their families for the worst that might happen? There are a number of reasons, and various ways the industry and other business leaders can help move the dial.

For starters, many people don’t fully understand how insurance works or why they need it. Insurance products can be complex – that’s why we are doing everything we can to simplify the way we communicate our products, creating digital tools for our advisers and connect with new customers via social media. We’re challenging the way things have always been done.

Financial advisers also play an important role in providing advice and support to people as well as helping their clients through the claims process. This personal, tailored service helps to build consumer trust in the industry and ensures families have the right level of cover for their needs.

Cost can also be a barrier when considering insurance, which is why we have a range of products and options to make it affordable. The reality is that insurance can protect your greatest asset, the ability to earn, if you are unable to work due to illness or injury. It also gives you access to the latest proven medical technology quickly and makes sure your loved ones are cared for after you’re gone.

I recently visited several of our customers who have made a claim, and they all told me how important it’s been having their finances taken care of while they undergo treatment and recover from illness and injury. We come into our customer’s lives during the most stressful and traumatic events, and it makes me incredibly proud to hear about the difference we’ve made to them and their families.

I believe all businesses can have a positive influence on their employees’ financial wellbeing and assist them in planning for the unexpected, whether it’s through education or access to group insurance schemes. This is the challenge that lies before the whole of New Zealand and we are certainly going to play our part to see that this goal is realised. I encourage other businesses to do the same.

There is a peace of mind in knowing that your loved ones are taken care of no matter what. It’s a level of security that I wish for more Kiwi families.

Originally published in The National Business Review.

Author: Nick Stanhope

Nick Stanhope is the CEO of Sovereign, New Zealand’s largest life insurance company. Nick has 27 years of experience in the financial services sector, and has held a diverse range of senior leadership roles in New Zealand. Prior to joining Sovereign, he held the role of Executive General Manager of Wealth & Insurance at ASB Bank Limited. During his time at ASB he worked across a variety of key leadership roles within ASB including General Manager Corporate Banking and Working Capital Services, General Manager Business Banking and General Manager of Business Banking and Retail Specialist Services. Before this, he spent seven years at NCR of which the last three were with AT&T. Now, as the CEO of Sovereign, Nick leads a team providing more than 640,000 customers with life and health insurance.

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