The insurance sector is facing tremendous change, and with that change comes opportunity, says Suncorp New Zealand’s Executive General Manager Distribution, Cris Knell

There’s opportunity for Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister, Kris Faafoi, to shape a new regulatory regime as we all work to lift confidence in the insurance sector in New Zealand. There’s opportunity for insurers to play their part in shaping a better managed, better governed life insurance industry that can drive even greater value for our customers and advisers. And there’s opportunity for the adviser networks to help more New Zealanders access sound insurance solutions that help protect the things that matter to them.

What unites all of us – the Government, the insurance industry and our customers – is that we all want to see an absolutely fair deal delivered to customers. We’re clear on our destination and it’s important that the road we take to get there doesn’t include unexpected diversions.

My insurance career began back in the United Kingdom as an insurance broker before spending the next 30 years working as an insurer with AIG and then Suncorp.

When similar regulation was introduced in the UK, the changes were broad, and many felt that the transition window for change was too challenging.

We saw good experienced people leaving the sector and longstanding customer relationships ended. As a result, in my view, some customers did not get as good a service as before regulation, which was counter to the intent of the new landscape.

New Zealand’s timelines are fortunately more realistic. Applications for transitional licences open this month, and advisers have until June 2020 to decide if they will apply and the type of licence that is best for their business.

We are facing into a significant period of change, and this can bring pressure. Putting wellbeing first is one of the most important things that advisers can do in the months ahead. Take the time each day to connect with people who matter to you, get out for a walk or whatever you need to do for your own fitness and if you need support while studying, reach out.

“Putting wellbeing first is one of the most important things that advisers can do in the months ahead.”

Asteron Life has developed Advisery,an online portal for advisers to use as they work toward Level Five accreditation. The site holds video and written resources, provides an overview of workshops available to help and puts advisers in touch with insurance experts at Asteron Life through its Q&A form.

We’re working closely with our intermediary network to ensure a successful transition. Together, with putting the right learning support in place for those that want it, we’re also actively considering the opportunities the new regime brings.

For a company like Asteron Life, the changes will bring greater bandwidth for innovation. Our role is to develop a pipeline of products and services that add value by helping New Zealanders protect and grow their assets. And while we can create outstanding products, we need advisers to help give our customers the confidence that the covers they are choosing will give them the protection they need at the level they need.

While the market is changing, sound advice has never been more important. In many ways, this is what the regulations are trying to achieve – ensuring that all customers have access to the level of advice and support top advisers can offer. Making a claim, particularly a life or trauma claim, means that customer is likely to be experiencing vulnerability and stress. I’m incredibly proud of the work I see being done by the advisers to help make their customers’ situations as manageable as possible.

While regulatory change facing our sector does present some immediate challenges around licensing and adapting business models, advisers that navigate this period successfully are likely to benefit from potential longer-term growth opportunities.

The winners are likely to be those who can demonstrate expertise, manage well governed businesses and add value to their customers. Those who can show business clients how to effectively manage insurable risk will benefit. Change brings opportunity if you’re willing to embrace it.

Cris Knell is Executive General Manager Distribution at Suncorp New Zealand. He leads Suncorp New Zealand’s distribution business, managing Vero and Asteron Life’s  relationships with intermediated partners. Prior to Suncorp, Cris held senior global executive positions at AIG. Cris is a board member of the FSC and has served as a board member and Vice President of the Insurance Council of New Zealand.