Why transparency is a good thing

In recent years we’ve seen a spate of high-profile privacy incidents hit the media. Notorious examples abound: organisations passing on personal information to police and government agencies without reasonable grounds for doing so, huge data breaches (think Ashley Madison or Yahoo!), and instances of employees inappropriately accessing customer records. Intuitively we recognise that if an organisation is unable to assure its customers that their information is safe, people’s trust in it will be eroded.

But where does transparency fit in and what does it mean? If you ever hear a person described as being “transparent”, chances are it isn’t a compliment. When it comes to privacy however, being transparent is definitely a good thing. It’s about being upfront, open and honest regarding what you’re doing with personal information, and being accountable for keeping it secure. For Sovereign, it means ensuring we are responsible custodians of customer data for the duration of the time we hold it.

When I began working here, I quickly came to understand just how sensitive some of the information we hold is – medical records being just one example. Thankfully, I’m happy to report that Sovereign takes its’ obligations to protect your privacy seriously. We know that the relationship we have with you is built on a foundation of trust, so let’s put our cards on the table and be transparent about a few things:

  • Our Privacy Policy outlines how we collect, use, disclose and protect your information;
  • You have the right to request access to a copy of all the information we hold about you;
  • Sovereign has a team which specialises in responding to Privacy Act requests made by individuals, as well as requests for personal information made by the police and other government agencies;
  • We won’t release your personal information to the police or a government agency without your consent unless required by court order or legislation, or we believe there are reasonable grounds for doing so (such as where there is a serious threat to your safety or the safety of others); and
  • If we consider a government agency is asking for more information than necessary, we’ll push back and ask them to explain why before making a decision on the request.

So next time you wonder what we’re doing with the information we hold about you – just ask. We’ll be happy to tell you.

Let us know if there are more privacy and data issues you would like our Privacy Specialist Tony Collins to cover in future blogs.

Making your claims experience easier

The claims process for life and health insurance is quite different to general insurance and it’s important to have realistic expectations about how long things will take.

Our claims team is set up to ensure that customers are supported and fully informed throughout the process with clear case management and accountability. We understand that our customers are contacting us at a difficult time in their lives and we want to do everything we can to make things easier for them.

We also want to pay claims as quickly as possible, in fact it’s easier for us to pay a claim than decline it. But the process can be complicated and there is essential documentation that we need to gather, which can take time.

Where we are most likely to experience delays is in getting medical information from third parties. You can help to speed up the process by keeping detailed medical and specialist notes, including referrals, together so you have access to them when you need them.

Early notification is key to helping the process along. The earlier you make contact with your insurer, the quicker things can get started. Disability Income claims are a good example. We can start providing proactive rehabilitation that allows clients to return to work sooner than expected. This can occur before a benefit payment is made.

If you have an adviser they can make the process much easier for you at claim time. If you give full consent when you lodge your claim, your adviser can manage the process on your behalf. Their understanding of the process can make a huge difference during a difficult time. They can also regularly review your insurance with you and help you understand exactly what you are covered for.

Here are my top tips to improve your claims process:

  • Notify us as quickly as possible so we can get started.
  • Talk to your adviser about the benefits of joint ownership on your life policy.
  • Keep copies of your medical notes and referrals.
  • Regularly review your policies and understand what you are covered for.
  • Build a relationship with an adviser to set up and manage your policies.
  • Understand that information gathering at time of claim can take time and we’re working as hard as we can to pay your claim.

Be bold for change

International Women’s Day is about acknowledging the progress we have made toward achieving equality as well as focusing on the future.

In the spirit of this year’s theme we invited five inspiring female leaders to share with us what ‘Being Bold for Change’ means to them.

Cherise Barrie, Sovereign Chief Financial Officer

“I encourage every woman to believe they can have it all – and have it all at the same time. It’s hard but I’m doing it myself. We all make different choices about our destination, there is no right or wrong as to where the destination is.”

 Sharron-Moana Botica, Sovereign Chief Customer Officer

“In 2009, I was the only woman on Sovereign’s leadership team and there was a significant pay gap. I was the noise at the table who would consistently say – that’s not good enough. It didn’t always make me popular but that’s ok, it needed to be done. My war wounds made me stronger. I’m proud to say that Sovereign has now achieved gender balance across all levels of the organisation and closed the gender pay gap. In fact last year we were recognised as a gold finalist at the YWCA Pay awards.”

Brianna Hill, Youthline Marketing and Information Services Manager

“Being bold is making lots of little decisions every day that add up.”

“It is important the young men and women I work with understand and hear that I am comfortable and confident in my own skin, that visibility might help them be comfortable in theirs.”

 Nicola Smith, healthy living expert and director of Foreverfit.tv

“We have a lot of information thrown at us all of the time and we can get paralysed. You’ve got to come back to basics. Being bold could be putting yourself first. You will boost your confidence when you balance your wellbeing – make small changes that build overall wellness.”

Clare O’Higgins, Look Good Feel Better CEO

“Look Good Feel Better exists to provide a wonderful, non-medical day for women who are undergoing treatment for cancer. These are women who just want to feel normal and it’s our job to make it the best day ever. So, for me it is simple – I need to be bold for them.”

“The charity sector is heavily female orientated – so we actively seek diversity of voices from husbands, brothers and other family members. If you only ever hear one voice you could miss an opportunity. You need to be bold and face your fear of what others might say.”

Are you making good financial choices?

In 2015, US insurer Prudential ran a series of ad campaigns highlighting the biases that lead people to make poor financial decisions. These biases, known as “heuristics”, are mental shortcuts that enable us to make quick decisions that are practical but not necessarily optimal.

Heuristics served our Neanderthal ancestors well back when decision making was simple. For example, if Ancestor Joe wrongly assumed that a strange red fruit was poisonous, he would have missed the opportunity to enjoy a delicious snack. In modern times, decision making is far more complex and the stakes are higher, particularly in financial matters.

I was recently reflecting on decision making in the context of insurance. Consider these facts: about 90% of Kiwi motorists have car insurance, whilst just 25% of income earners hold income protection cover. Why the gap? The Financial Services Council offers some possible explanations:

  • Kiwis are more familiar with car insurance than income protection insurance;
  • Reliance on ACC for income support; and
  • Perception that income protection cover is too expensive.

Another possible explanation is the concept of “loss aversion”. Studies have shown that the pain of a loss is twice as great as the pleasure of a gain. In other words, people are more worried about paying for damage to their car after an accident than the risk of losing income if they are unable to work due to injury or illness.

Don’t believe me? Imagine how much more likely you would be to purchase income protection cover if you received your annual salary at the start of each year and you were required to pay it back if you were unable to work.

Another heuristic that leads us to make poor insurance choices is “availability bias”. We tend to worry about things right in front of us. A famous study by the founders of Behavioural Economics, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, showed that people assessed the risk of an earthquake in California to be greater than the risk of an earthquake in the United States. The study exploited the fact that earthquakes commonly occur in California and are often reported on by the media. Therefore, it’s not surprising that we tend to be more concerned about car accidents, which most of us are regularly exposed to, than disablement.

You can check out the Prudential ads here. And to avoid potentially costly financial mistakes, it pays to get some good advice.

How to help someone who is dying

We asked Sweet Louise support coordinator Sarah Thomson to provide some tips that could assist anyone who is supporting a terminally ill person, whether it’s a family member, friend or customer. This is what she said.

People living with a terminal illness are often at very different places on the health spectrum. At one end are those who can still look after themselves, get out and enjoy experiences. However, at the other end of the scale, termed as “end of life”, the person may be unable to carry out any activities of daily living and need full nursing care.

It is always really good to remember people who have a terminal illness often have a changed perspective of what is important to them. They will let you know their concerns because it is really important that they try to fix things in the time they have left.

They will most likely have regular hospital and other health appointments. This means they can be difficult to get hold of and are not as available as they used to be.

They may be feeling a range of emotions. It can be quite common that they are angry about being ill and if this comes across do not take it personally.

These are some of the ways you can assist a terminally ill person.  

  • Ask them what it is that is causing their main concern right now and how can you help?
  • Offer to take them to appointments or errands as it can be hard to concentrate on simple things like driving when you have so much going on in your mind.
  • A common issue for those living with a terminal illness is the extreme ongoing tiredness that may either be constant or come in waves throughout the day. Providing a meal or baking is a great way of reaching out or just a bit of housework can make a huge difference to someone who is exhausted.
  • Just being present. You don’t necessarily have to talk or do anything, just be there to share a cuppa, talk about the weather and sit in the sun.

A Guide for Carers  provides a single resource on the range of government support available  in a caring role including information on topics such as financial help, help at home, respite care, needs assessment, transport and travel, and what your rights are.

Tips for people in customer service:

  • Actively listen to what they have to say. Ask them what their understanding of the situation is, it will give you the best overall picture and give you phrases that they are comfortable with you using back to them.
  • Use the client’s first name to confirm that personal touch and reinforce that you have been listening.
  • Listen to the cue the person is giving you. If it sounds like they do not want to talk right now ask if you can talk to them at a time when it is OK for them.
  • It is not easy having emotionally charged conversations but remain professional, this is a business call. Use your normal tone of voice and try not to be overly sympathetic.
  • Be efficient and clear with your questioning. Know your policies well. Confirm what you can and cannot do for them.
  • Do not be afraid of the silence in a conversation. Try saying something like: “Take your time, it’s OK, let me know when you are ready to continue or we can pick this up again when you’re ready”.
  • Try and leave the conversation on a positive note that is suitable for the situation. Summarize what you have discussed and confirm what you are going to do for them with clear time frames. It is not your job to refer or counsel a distressed person.

The Cancer Society has a very comprehensive range of services that you can access on line or call The Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237).

Remember this is not your illness. You may need to talk to a friend of colleague after the call to debrief and that’s OK but don’t hold on to someone else’s grief.

Sovereign is proud to partner with Sweet Louise, a nationwide charity supports people with incurable breast cancer and their families.

To my future self…

jake-baileyJake Bailey is currently in remission from Burkitts non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a condition he was diagnosed with in 2015 – his final year of high school. Based on his experience, we asked him to write a letter to his future self and share what he learned during this journey. Here’s what he said.

To my future self, I hope you remember…

  • Always remember how lucky you are for every day you receive.
  • Live every day with passion and pride, simply because you are able to.
  • Understand that your life could change beyond recognition in a day. Live accordingly.
  • Never have regrets. Do what you want to do, tell people what they mean to you, achieve as much as you can in the time that you have because you don’t know how long that is.
  • Don’t feel sorry for other people in situations you cannot change, it will achieve nothing. Instead, be grateful for the people in your life and your ability to live a normal life. It seems impossible, but next week you might be fighting to cling onto that life.
  • Take great pleasure in the journey of life instead of fixating on the destination.
  • Treat your body well. Just because other people thrash themselves and are fine doesn’t mean that it’s okay or healthy, or that you’ll be fine as well. If something’s wrong, then don’t take a “she’ll be right” attitude – being tough is about taking care of yourself so you can be strong, not just ignoring your body.
  • Appreciate hospital staff; the doctors, nurses, cleaners, kitchen staff, and the orderlies. These people dedicate their lives to saving others, and that’s an incredibly powerful thing. They go underappreciated so often, and they are the last people who deserve that.
  • Suffering is a building block. Those who go through life without suffering are worse, not better for it, because the blade never gets sharpened.
  • What separates those who succeed from those who fail is not the number of times they get knocked down, but how many times they’re willing to get back up and start again.
  • Some people are broken by misfortune, whilst others choose to grow from it.
  • Happiness is not an objective we seek, it’s a talent we develop.


What is your spirit of death?

Lisa Gunnery, NZ CEO The Hunger Project.

africa-1Imagine a village in one of the most remote areas in Malawi. People in this village have very little and struggle to feed themselves. Most live in mud huts and have no education. History is passed down through word of mouth and is often built around a belief in powerful spirits which can both give and take away in equal measure.

Part of the work in ending hunger is addressing the surrounding and complicating issues that are happening in a community. This can be infrastructure related, like access to fresh water and sanitation, and it can be health related – as in the case of HIV education in Africa which is incredibly important given the remote nature of the rural villages where The Hunger Project works.

A few years ago, when an educator from The Hunger Project was teaching people about HIV in this village he came across a potential stumbling block called “The Spirit of Death”. This spirit came into play whenever a husband died suddenly in the village. The wife had to appease the spirit by performing a ritual which was out of line with the practices for HIV prevention. If the spirit was not appeased, the belief was that a member of the woman’s family would die each day until it was.

For the first time these people understood the impact of HIV and how to prevent it, but they found themselves in a difficult position – they remained afraid of the Spirit. In order to get more information the trainer gently questioned the story behind the Spirit. Was theirs the only village the Spirit came to? Yes. Were there other ways to appease the Spirit? No.

After the questioning process, the villagers met and discussed the situation and much to the surprise and delight of the trainer, came up with a solution which both continued to honour the Spirit but also invoked sense in terms of safe sex practices.

It’s easy to scoff at the idea but the truth is that we let our own “Spirits of Death” stop us from doing what we want to do every day. Whether it’s a cultural or a personal limitation our “Spirits of Death” are always present. We can learn a lesson from the villagers in Malawi. They found a way to honour their tradition but in a way that supported the group rather than hindered them.

Take time to explore your Spirits of Death – what are the self-limiting beliefs that you have and which stop you from achieving what you want? Are they real – or are they a story you have conformed to? Can you rethink the limitation and come up with a way to remove the block? If you aren’t able to let go of the belief – is there another way of honouring it that will bring about a similar outcome but in a more positive way?

We need to talk about suicide

Statistics show 579 people have died by suicide in New Zealand in the 2015/16 year – the highest number of suicides since the Coroner’s Office began keeping records in 2007/08.

Suicide is extremely complex and an area that I certainly don’t profess to understand. But, as a New Zealander who wants our country to thrive, it’s clear that the current situation needs to change.

Although the statistics are overwhelming it’s important to remember that suicide is preventable and as a starting point we must focus on boosting our mental wellbeing, shedding the stigma around mental illness, building supportive communities and providing education.

Youthline CEO Stephen Bell describes the need for communities to be safe and secure for our young people. Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson has called for better education where individuals can have courageous conversations and their friends and family are guided on how to respond appropriately.

Many organisations and people are working incredibly hard, often with very limited resources, to reduce suicide levels in New Zealand. In addition to these groups and government, we each have a role to play in changing the current situation.

I talked to Youthline and the Mental Health Foundation to find out what we can do (as individuals) right now to make a difference:

  1. Build the Five Ways of Wellbeing into your day so that you are taking care of yourself and the people around you. This helps to improve resilience when things get tough.
  2. Check in with friends, family, and workmates regularly – support your community.
  3. Encourage your workplace to consider educating employees so they can deal with suicide-threat situations appropriately. Training offered by Youthline helps ensure staff can direct people to trained services.

As a country, we’ve managed to turn around some terrible statistics before. In 1987, our road toll was 795. In 2014, it was 293.  Serious injuries have fallen by 40% over the last 30 years despite growing car use and population growth.

In 30 years I hope we look back and see a similar change for our suicide statistics. I’m not saying suicide is an easy thing to solve but change is driven by an acceptance and awareness that things can’t continue the way they are.

There is also an opportunity for the government to play a greater role in providing access to treatment options. According to a report by the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the economic cost to New Zealand of mental illness is about $12b annually – about 20% greater than the cost of injury claims to ACC ($10b).

Equally, an opportunity exists for insurers to better understand and manage mental health claims. At Sovereign, we recognise that claimants on disability income claims need more than just financial support. That’s why we spend considerable effort supporting customers with their recovery.  For example, we offer claimants access to a dedicated case manager to help co-ordinate private psychological support, occupational therapy, vocational re-training and return to work support.  However, we recognise more must be done to help Kiwis before they need to claim.

Let’s start talking about what role we can all play in turning these statistics around.

Note: This article was prepared in collaboration with The Mental Health Foundation and Youthline.

For more information about suicide prevention see www.mentalhealth.org.nz/suicideprevention

If you or someone you know is in need of support phone:

Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 to talk to a trained counsellor
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Youthline – 0800 376 633. Text 234 free between 8am and midnight, or email: talk@youthline.co.nz
Healthline – 0800 611 116

Guys, we need to talk.

The mental and physical health of men needs to improve. At present the life expectancy of New Zealand men is four years lower than females (Statistics NZ) and last year 70% of New Zealanders who took their own lives were male (Coroner’s Report).

I’ve built my career taking care of New Zealand’s top athletes including the All Blacks and the Warriors. I’m also the Chief Medical Officer at Sovereign. People often ask me what I think every man should do to take charge of his health. Here’s what I tell them:

  • Invest in a cardio risk assessment with your doctor. This should include blood pressure, BMI measure, cholesterol, and a discussion on diet and exercise. If aged over 50 have a chat about bowel and prostate cancer screening (more New Zealanders die of bowel cancer than prostate or breast cancer).
  • Get a skin check. We’re heading into summer now so it’s time to visit a clinic and get checked out. Remember to load up on sun screen and wear a hat and sunglasses when you are outside. If you are getting into the water a rash shirt helps to protect your body from the sun’s rays.
  • Regular exercise including some form of resistance exercise (body weight). Try to do something five times a week.
  • Moderation on alcohol, especially over the festive season.
  • Eat well – lots of vegetables and fruit and steer clear of too many sweet treats.
  • Be honest about mental health – if something isn’t feeling right talk to a professional who can provide guidance.
  • Don’t smoke.



It’s time to focus on our future

Stephen Bell has been there for young people for over 40 years.  As CEO of Youthline he’s in a unique position to share the biggest challenges facing young people in New Zealand today. I sat down with him to find out what he thought were the biggest challenges for New Zealand’s future.

Lack of future-orientation

When people feel secure about the future, they invest in the future.

“With so many people (not just young people) living day to day we’re seeing more and more people disenfranchised by society.”

Financial debt

It’s too easy for people to get credit, which is causing a massive credit burden amongst young people.

“It’s hard to buy a house, hard to rent even with a decent salary so what sort of future can people build? We are seeing more children staying at home (not necessarily good for the child or the parents) and, on the flip side, sleeping rough in crowded flats/on the couch.


Even with a degree, graduates are struggling to find meaningful work

“We have 21st century learners being taught by 20th century teachers, in 19th century institutions. Too many people leave school without serious qualifications. We need to create more flexibility and alternative education pathways.”


The elephant in the room that no-one is talking about.

“We have come a long way as a society to accept and celebrate sexual diversity. There is still a lot to do. Young people are being exposed to pornography in a way they never have before in another era. We don’t know what all of the potential consequences will be but we’re already seeing addiction, confused reality and shame.  We need to talk about this issue.”

Lack of community

We need to shift away from treating the problem to building our communities.

“We need to create more opportunities for young people to engage in citizenship. We can do this by creating places where they have meaningful involvement in community, making it easier to travel around, giving them opportunities to lead and influence policy and provide relevant resources and information.”

So what can we do to help the young people in our community?

“It’s not rocket science. It’s about doing the fundamentals well and consistently. Find ways to get young people involved in different activities whether it’s sport, volunteering, gaming, part-time work, dance or music. Show them where to go for help. Give them the tools to help their friends. Let’s create opportunities for young people to become leaders in their own way. We all benefit if we make this happen.”