Congratulations on your recent inclusion in the Insurance Business Elite Women list; what does being on the list mean to you?
As the CEO of a Southern Cross business, I’ve felt incredibly honoured to lead the business during this very difficult time for both the travel insurance and wider travel industry, and to be recognised for that. Being included among a list of amazing women doing such impressive work is humbling and a huge honour.
Do you think it’s still difficult for women to take on leadership roles in the insurance industry, or have times changed?
My career has been in both lending and insurance, and I haven’t noticed that it is more difficult for women to take on leadership roles in insurance specifically. I’ve found financial services leadership roles are generally dominated by men, but personally, I’ve never actually seen the barriers to women in leadership being an industry-specific issue. I feel there is a much broader issue around the design of a traditional leadership career that often doesn’t recognise, nor accommodate, the commitments women have outside the workplace, which usually involves being the primary carer for children or other family members.
I also feel there is a perception of leadership characteristics that inhibit many women from putting themselves forward, as they just don’t seem achievable or authentic. I do think times are changing though, and we are seeing more examples of organisational cultures that recognise the importance of the individual, regardless of role, gender, age, disability, or ethnicity, feeling much more comfortable being themselves when they show up for work each day. This is certainly true across the Southern Cross group, which has a very high representation of female leaders and very strong and authentic diversity and inclusion programmes.
Personally, throughout my career, I have been true to my own leadership style and have been lucky enough to have leaders who have valued my skills and trust in my ability to motivate a team to achieve results.
Southern Cross Travel Insurance also recently won its Rainbow Tick accreditation, which recognises the organisation’s commitment to providing an inclusive and progressive workplace. What has the company been doing in the background to achieve this accreditation?
We’ve always had a very inclusive culture at Southern Cross, and last year we established a formal diversity and inclusion committee to acknowledge and celebrate this. I’m not a Kiwi myself and Auckland, where we’re based, is beautifully diverse in its cultural composition. As a result, so is our committee.
Achieving the Rainbow Tick accreditation was not hard due to the diverse DNA within our organisation – we simply needed to formalise some of our existing practices and were pleasantly surprised as to how quickly we achieved accreditation.
Travel insurance policies are often criticised for including language that is overly complex and confusing for the average consumer. How does SCTI ensure its policies are written as clearly as possible?
Last year, we took home the award for Best Plain English Legal Document at the Plain English Awards 2021 for our Domestic Travel Insurance policy (NZ). Writing our policies in plain language is just one part of our commitment to simplicity, transparency and delivering a great customer experience. It’s important to us that we build trust and goodwill with our customers through policies that are clear and easy to understand.
We plan to continue investing in making more of our policies available in plain language, making it easier for customers to understand what they’re covered for.
Writing our policies in plain language is a sustained and continued focus for us, not just a one off. It’s part of our duty of care that’s always been at the heart of our customer service.
Policies sold for trips to the US and UK are up 466 per cent and 382 per cent respectively
As borders start to reopen in NZ, are you seeing an increase in the number of travellers keen to take out travel insurance? Do you think that the pandemic is going to have a positive effect on the number of people travelling with insurance overall?
Like many New Zealanders, we’re absolutely thrilled to see international travel options open up again. There’s clearly a huge appetite amongst New Zealanders to spread their wings, and we have seen sales of our international travel insurance policies increase by 456 per cent between February and April this year.
With Fiji relaxing entry requirements for travellers, we’ve seen a whopping 4,657 per cent increase in policy sales for this destination over the same period.
Policies sold for trips to the US and UK are up 466 per cent and 382 per cent respectively, with many taking into account the recent Easter break and the upcoming winter period.
What digital offerings has SCTI developed lately to better serve customers who require digital interactions and purchase/claims pathways?
We’ve spent considerable time modernising our systems over the last five years. We’re now fully in the cloud and feel we’re in a strong position in this regard as we step into the resurgence of travel and travel insurance.
During the pandemic, we launched our new website in both Australia and New Zealand on a leading content management platform that enables us to add new products quickly (domestic travel insurance was one of these) and allows customers to lodge their own claims by loading their documents online. In a five-year period, we’ve moved from only accepting paper claims via post to now enabling more than more than 97 per cent of our claims to be lodged online by customers through our new website.
We’ve also introduced our virtual assistant Scout as another means by which customers can communicate with us 24/7. Scout is a chatbot that also offers live chat functionality if that’s what customers need. Part of the rationale for introducing Scout was to be able to support the rapid uptick in customer contact we anticipated we would see once international travel resumed. We’re so very glad to have Scout in the team right now!
How do you communicate with your potential and existing customers about the need to choose the right policy for them, whether they are going on a cruise, winter sports holiday, international student assignment or business trip?
We have several policies available for customers. We can cover international students and visitors to New Zealand, Kiwis travelling overseas to work, Australian and New Zealanders travelling domestically and, of course, overseas on holiday, which is the majority of what we sell.
When designing the new website we carried out customer experience testing on the new ‘buy journeys’ to make sure they were intuitive
When designing the new website we carried out customer experience testing on the new ‘buy journeys’ to make sure they were intuitive. For example, the way we navigate customers through the buy journey online directs them to the right product by asking what they’re intending on doing.
We were very clear when designing the customer journeys online that we wanted to use plain language throughout and provide clear advice where there are policy limitations or mandatory requirements of which customers need to be aware.
How does underwriting your own policies change what you can offer your customers?
It gives us a huge advantage in our decision-making agility. As we manage the end-to-end journey for a customer, we’re able to make decisions quickly when we need to. It also helps us manage the brand experience throughout that journey so we can keep consistency of the standard we deliver.
Partnering with assistance companies around the world is a key part of your service promise; how have you managed to ensure your network remains in place and is up to standard during Covid?
Emergency assistance is a specialist service, and we work with a partner here that supports several travel insurers and has a global network of air ambulances and medical care specialists on hand. What we’ve found throughout Covid is that the complexity of repatriations increased significantly with differing border restrictions to navigate, reduced flight availability and availability of any medical staff required to support our customers in their transit home if needed. Managed quarantine requirements on arrival in Australia and New Zealand also presented significant challenges as availability was incredibly limited. Ultimately, it meant repatriations took significantly longer than we would normally expect, resulting in delays for customers and additional costs to us. Each case was very complex to navigate because so much of it was out of our control.
What have you learned from your time in the travel insurance industry that you would like to pass on to newcomers to the sector?
I’ve worked with several insurance products throughout my career, and I can honestly say travel is the fastest, most fascinating, and emotionally confronting insurance product I’ve worked with so far.
Firstly, from a technical angle, it’s like a 360-degree insurance product with such a range of differing benefits packed into one policy – medical, cancellation, property, and personal liability to name a few.
I often get very close to a customer’s situation and am actively involved in the decisions we make to support them at that time
However, from a human angle our research tells us customers don’t really class the product in an insurance category – travel insurance is generally classed in the same way a customer thinks about all the things they need for holidays, like visas, passports, hotels, and flights. When buying a policy, they’re looking forward to a great holiday, and at the extremes of when they need us, it’s crucial we’re there as soon as humanly possible with the right resources, level of care and empathy they need to support them. During these times, our customers can feel incredibly vulnerable and scared in a foreign country and it’s our job to provide them with the correct support to get them safely home. I often get very close to a customer’s situation and am actively involved in the decisions we make to support them at that time. Many of those customer situations have stayed with me in a way you just don’t experience with a car or home insurance policy. It can be incredibly emotional but also so, so rewarding when you know you’ve really helped someone in their darkest times.