Asteron Life Continues to Transform While Supporting Advisers


Since September 2020 Grant Willis (pictured) has been overseeing the sales, products, claims and client servicing at Suncorp New Zealand’s Life division – Asteron Life.

Not only is there the rolling digitisation of the company’s systems to implement, he’s helping financial advisers get across the line when it comes to full licensing.

“We are very conscious of advisers facing regulatory change,” says Willis, Suncorp’s Head of Life. “We’re continuing to support them through the full licensing process with the FMA.

“The whole licensing process is still distracting advisers from doing the things they enjoy most – helping customers meet their needs.

“But having said that, most advisers have transitioned to the new regime relatively quickly, and most of the people we work with are well down the track of getting themselves fully licensed. They’re running good, solid businesses. Good compliance is good business.”

The whole licensing process is still distracting advisers from doing the things they enjoy most…

Willis is not worried by the FMA’s ongoing focus on commission payments – raised again in its 2021 annual report – saying advisers work hard, spend lots of time advising prospective clients, and that most advisers are only rewarded when a client agrees to buy a policy.

“People don’t often wake up in the morning and decide to buy some life insurance,” says Willis – referring to what is often thought of as a ‘grudge purchase’.

“Customers need to be gently led to some extent, and that can be expensive for the financial adviser, regardless of what sort of channel that’s been used,” says Willis. “So businesses will spend a lot of their client acquisition budget on marketing.

“I think it’s often quite misunderstood that for every prospect an adviser has, there’s quite a significant drop off until one agrees to accept the advice. And so therefore, the commission that an adviser finally gets actually has to pay for a lot of that acquisition.

“I think the regulator wants to ensure there is value transfer for the commission payments that are being made, and that there is no conflict of interest in the payments generated.”

Willis believes some of the regulations still coming through on the conduct side will entrench that a little bit further.

As an industry, insurance is probably lagging a little bit in terms of its online capabilities…

He says the value of advice has been proven over and over again – particularly when it comes to claim time – and the client has the correct policy for the risk they wanted to mitigate.

“Our claims acceptance rate is very high, it’s over 96%,” says Willis. “And that’s because many of our customers have had the assistance of an adviser through the claims process.”

As for Covid-19, Willis is keeping an eye on the potential health risks of those developing what’s been termed ‘long Covid’ – a range of ongoing health issues some people suffer following an infection of Covid-19.

“I think what we’re all looking at in this whole pandemic is what it looks like for the future,” he says. “We will continue to closely monitor the longer-term impacts of long Covid which I don’t think have fully emerged yet.

“In terms of whether that would impact on our underwriting decisions…It certainly doesn’t now, and whether vaccination would impact on underwriting…it’s not our intention for that to be the case.”

As for the modernisation of the firm’s systems, Willis says work was started years ago by addressing some of the “pain points” the firm’s advisers were experiencing with some of its legacy systems, but that the focus is on continuous improvement.

“Particularly in terms of putting new business on the books,” he says.

What we’re looking to do is make sure customers can access our products as easily as possible…

Willis says plenty has been done at Asteron Life to speed up the process of getting queries answered and new proposals issued.

“Other changes included bringing the life business together as a single unit and that meant we could probably increase the focus on the customers a little bit more,” he says.

“As an industry, insurance is probably lagging a little bit in terms of its online capabilities. Asteron is no different, we’ve been looking to improve our digital offerings at the front end. So as people want to apply for insurance, they can do that online. Or they can do it through a digital electronic application process.

“But a lot of our backend is still done manually. We’re progressively looking to bring those sorts of communications into more of a digital context. And that’s an ongoing journey for us.”

As for new products…Willis is predictably tight-lipped, but says the firm continues to refresh products while keeping an eye on costs.

“We look at how we can add benefits of value to customers, and that doesn’t mean we just add more benefits because that just keeps adding more to the price,” he says.

“What we’re looking to do is make sure customers can access our products as easily as possible, that they meet their needs, and are really well understood.

“Our focus is also on making sure that when we communicate with customers, we’re doing it in a clear and understandable way.”