Change and Transformation at Fidelity Life: Introducing Melissa Cantell


The recent arrival of Melissa Cantell at Fidelity Life heralds a new era at the insurer in more ways than one…

Cantell’s appointment as the firm’s new CEO in itself serves as a portent of change because her career background doesn’t reflect a typical pedigree for a life company CEO.

Rather than appointing an experienced industry practitioner, the Fidelity Life Board has instead taken what some may consider to be a bold step in opting to recruit a self-confessed transformation leader from outside the life insurance industry.

New Fidelity Life CEO, Melissa Cantell …self-confessed transformation leader

At a time when the NZ life insurance sector is undergoing a significant transformation, especially with the new Financial Services Legislation Amendment Act coming into effect last month, Cantell’s appointment to oversee Fidelity Life’s role in this new landscape appears certain to deliver a fresh approach to an evolving sector which seeks – as it always has – to add value for its customers.

She arrives at Fidelity Life immediately following five-and-a-half years spent with general insurer, IAG. While new to the life insurance industry, then, Cantell possesses senior executive experience within the broader insurance sector.

Among other roles prior to joining IAG, Cantell spent time as a senior manager within the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector – firstly with Fonterra Brands New Zealand, including as the GM of its specialty cheese business, followed by two years as GM of Coca Cola Amatil NZ’s vending and coffee & alcohol divisions.


During her time working at senior levels within the FMCG sector, Cantell was charged with responsibility for planning and overseeing customer-driven business transformations which placed the consumer’s needs at the centre of all decision-making. Importantly, this involved supporting the organisations’ commitment to remain true to those goals and decisions, rather than just paying lip service to the ‘customer first’ mantra trumpeted by most organisations.

Cantell …arrives at Fidelity Life with an agenda – a mandate – for change

While her hands-on experience in company transformations appears to be a key reason why she has been recruited by Fidelity Life, Cantell identifies her time spent at IAG as a period during which she developed her passion for insurance. So, she arrives at Fidelity Life with an agenda – a mandate – for change, supported by the Fidelity Life Board and her colleagues, which is underpinned by a passion for the importance of life insurance and the critical role it plays within NZ society.

From this perspective, Cantell firmly believes the New Zealand life insurance industry is a sector which has exactly the same opportunity ahead of it as has presented to other firms with which she has worked – that is, the opportunity to undertake a customer-led transformation which, in the case of Fidelity Life, commences with conducting research to understand exactly what consumers need and want, examining the products and services it currently offers and how those products and services are delivered to the consumer.

Cantell is also working with the business to ensure the way it operates on the inside supports its aspirations on the outside: “A great customer experience is always underpinned by a great people experience, so having engaged, high performing teams who are set up for success is critical to any transformation,” she said.

In other words, Cantell is looking at whether Fidelity Life is currently ‘walking the talk’: How does the business engage with its partners? How does it engage with its customers? Has it got the recipe right – especially because what customers and partners may have needed in the past may not be what they need today.

There is only one customer

Asked to reflect on what can often be considered two sets of customers which exist for life companies, namely the policy holder and the adviser who delivers the product solution to their client, Cantell was very clear: “There is only one customer – and that is the policy holder. They are our customer as the life insurer and they are also the adviser’s customer,” she said. “That means we are joined at the hip with our advisers and that we have a collective job to do the best for that customer.”

Cantell added: “When you have an intermediary – the role the adviser plays – there is still only one customer – the consumer. This means the adviser becomes the insurer’s partner as we work together to help more New Zealanders get the benefits of financial advice and insurance protection.” She reiterated that Fidelity Life’s role is to partner with advisers “…so we can collectively do the best for [our] mutual customers. We’re in this together.”

Technology transformation

In addition to legislative transformations and the arrival of a new CEO, the impending roll-out of new technology is another critical transformation the insurer is about to embrace (see: Fidelity Life Completes Phase One…).

Cantell says some existing policy management systems within the sector are not fit for today’s world and do not serve the expectations of consumers in 2021 and beyond. She says these systems, including some operating within Fidelity Life, lack sufficient agility to build and distribute products in a way that is now demanded by the consumer and to which the insurer now aspires as a service provider to deliver.

the firm’s new technology platform …will host its entire on-sale suite of products

She says the firm’s new technology platform, which underpins its broader ‘whole-of-business’ transformation, will host its entire on-sale suite of products. While cautioning that the development and implementation of the new platform is not a simple piece of work, Cantell says the challenge has been embraced by her colleagues and the rollout is set to commence around July 2021.

According to Cantell: “Everything from here on will be on a clean, modern, bespoke system fit for purpose and for the future.”

She adds that the new platform’s agility will give the insurer options that it simply does not have at the moment – options which will make Fidelity Life staff’s jobs easier because there will be fewer manual processes. Importantly, Cantell says the new platform will also make advisers’ lives easier because of a new online portal to which advisers and their support teams will have access.

Asked to share a closing message with advisers, Cantell reiterated: “There’s only one customer – and we share that customer, and we have a job to do to stay true to that commitment around great customer outcomes.”

She added that Fidelity Life and advisers each have their own different but highly connected roles to play “…and I’m genuinely looking forward to the opportunity to connect with our advisers on how we might best do that”.

Melissa Cantell commenced her role as Chief Executive Officer at Fidelity Life on 25 January 2021 (see: Fidelity Life Appoints New CEO).