This month marks 15 years since Insurance Advisernet entered the New Zealand general insurance broker market. Founder David Crawford takes us back to those early days and general manager Travis Atkinson, who joined the business in 2019, shares his observations.
David, take us back to 2006, bringing the IA business to NZ. What were those early days like?
David Crawford (DC): Starting Insurance Advisernet was both exciting and terrifying. We were fortunate in that we had a working model from Australia, but we had no systems, no clients apart from one and no staff – just me with a laptop, a phone and a car!
Back then my primary job was to recruit brokers, negotiate wordings and commissions with insurers and get the back office set up. When I think back, it’s a bit like starting any new business, you just work all hours to make it a success.
It took us two years to get the broking software for NZ operational and another two years before we made a profit, so it was quite stressful. We finally paid back our shareholder loans after seven years and we haven’t looked back.
Travis, what was it like coming in at year 12?
Travis Atkinson (TA): While I’d worked with IANZ and knew David and Sue well, I was really impressed by the incredible depth of capability that the company had. The technology, compliance processes and market leading innovation such as our trust fund management was so impressive.
I could also see how well the company had come over the 12 years but equally how much potential still existed.
What’s been some of the highlights of the last 15 years?
DC: A lot of it is the people – amazing brokers that have joined over the years, many of whom have become personal friends during that time. Loyal and hard-working staff both here in NZ and in Australia – such a great team of talented people.
Our first year of profit in 2010 was pretty special, as was breaking $100m premium in 2019 and now $150m in 2021 – it’s unbelievable. The events are also always memorable – the first 2012 IANZ broker awards with Bernie Kane our inaugural ‘Broker of the Year’ winner, the 10 year celebration in Queenstown in 2016 and winning the Insurance Business Awards “Broking Network of the Year” in 2020.
TA: It was extremely rewarding to meet the brokers in our network and get to know them better. There was a real theme of brokers who had the passion, vision and bravery to set up their own business. Meeting them and hearing their stories has been my standout experience.
Having said that, it took me a while to get my head around working on the broker side of the business, and some would say that is still work in process! I was a long time on the underwriter side so it takes a while to be more focused on clients outcomes in particular.
What have been some of the big challenges you and the industry have faced?
DC: The Canterbury earthquakes were a significant challenge for the industry which affected brokers and insurers alike. One broker alone had 1600 claims, so everyone helped out. Subsequent years’ premium hikes were also a challenge for clients that had already been hard hit. We had two insurers go bust, one had to be bailed out by the Government and claims are still being resolved today.
The legislative landscape has recently changed for the financial services industry affecting both intermediaries and insurers. It’s probably the most dramatic change since 1994 and we are still yet to see the full effects of these changes, most of which are for the better.
For Insurance Advisernet our main challenges have been with managing our growth which is directly influenced by the growth of our brokers. We’ve had two foundation members leave over the years for different reasons and each of those had its challenges, but each time it caused us to refocus our efforts and the value we provide to our brokers.
Technology continues to be a challenge, mainly because we are dealing with insurers with legacy systems. We’re fortunate to have our own broking system and a team of dedicated people who continue to develop and upgrade our technology, often under a lot of time pressure.
What are you most proud of – what gives you the most satisfaction?
DC: Three things. Firstly, seeing brokers who have never run a business before, start from nothing and grow and develop a successful business, that’s pretty incredible. To do so they need to develop themselves and it’s this personal development which gives me the most pleasure.
Secondly, we’ve developed a network of independent broking businesses throughout NZ that have no fear of the big companies and endorse our motto of personalised local service backed up by national strength. So, the next generation of broking firms is alive and well and thriving.
Finally, we’ve maintained a culture of inclusivity, and the camaraderie in the network is fantastic. Our conferences are regarded by the industry as the most fun and we work hard to ensure that we take the time out to celebrate our successes when we can.
What lies ahead for IANZ?
TA: The groundwork is well in place with an amazing group of brokers. We’ve quickly moved to being advice driven and being the risk management advocates for our clients.
Our brokers have embraced transparency of earnings and thinking about great compliance as a competitive advantage. Our growth has been strong but we’ll focus on quality of systems, processes and people. We have very good learning and development capability and I think supporting talented brokers in this area will be a key advantage for us.
I hear feedback where clients have not received the best outcomes of dealing with other brokers. We have to aspire to best practice in the advice space – that means having talented and well-educated people in our network backed up by great systems.
I’d also like to support an increasingly diverse group, for example I’d love to see more female brokers launch their own businesses.
DC: The intermediated insurance landscape is changing rapidly and we anticipate there’ll be more opportunity for us as good people become further disenfranchised with the larger corporate brokers. There’ll also be heightened regulatory oversight from the FMA, and we’re already seeing evidence of this with their review of insurers.
The future is all about advice which is a big focus for us. We’ll continue investing in smart technology to keep us at the leading edge of change. Insurance is a resilient industry and I can’t see this changing while risks in NZ and the world continues to grow.
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