BoP insurer growing nationally

By Ingrid Tiriana

Events like the Rena disaster and the Canterbury earthquake have increased awareness among business owners of the need to have the right insurance.

Tauranga-based Preferred New Zealand chief executive Philip Holland says the business of insurance is growing as individuals and businesses seek expert advice.

"The general mindset around insurance is changing. Three years ago a typical response from a business owner if we'd talked about the need to protect their debt or get the right kind of insurance might have been in the 'she'll be right' realm," he says.

"Now, however, reality has struck due to events like the earthquake and Rena. Those events have really highlighted the importance of good advice and people are starting to pay more attention to what sort of insurance they have. It's now seen as a staple as people understand the risks of either being without or not having the right kind of plan in place.

"A lot of businesses in Christchurch didn't survive after the quake because they didn't have the right insurance," Mr Holland says.

His business is growing as a result.

"A lot more people are wanting advice. People can get insured online or through direct insurers but you don't know what you don't know and people want that face-to-face advice," he says.

One product, Mr Holland says, does not fit all and his business has thrown out the jargon and gone back to explaining finance and insurance in a way people can understand.

Preferred New Zealand is a merger of Tauranga-based Financial Independence Ltd and Palmerston North's Preferred Brokers Ltd, creating a national network with its headquarters in Tauranga.

Offering a full range of personal and commercial finance, mortgage and insurance services, Preferred New Zealand aims to challenge the old way of thinking and make insurance, mortgage and lending easier and less confusing for consumers.

Having its headquarters in Tauranga was a strategic move which Mr Holland says will enable it to grow its brand in a way that would not have been possible had it been based in a major city.

Tauranga, he says, is an excellent place to establish a national business.

"Tauranga is central, it has a good professional infrastructure, a vibrant business sector and the overheads are a lot lower than in the likes of Auckland. With technology it doesn't matter that you're not in a major centre and the biggest advantage of being based in a regional city is that it gives you the ability to effectively grow your brand.

"You can really make something of your business in a regional city like Tauranga."

The lifestyle, says Mr Holland, is also an advantage, a drawcard that makes it easier to attract good staff.

In the past five years staff numbers have grown from five to 65, product offerings have grown from one to five with more being developed and sales of insurance underwritten have risen 12-fold over the period.

"We are committed to building a nationwide business from a Tauranga head office," said Mr Holland, who was with Financial Independence in Tauranga for five years before assuming his current role as head of the merged company.

"Despite the economic slowdown, we have grown steadily and we expect to continue to bring jobs to Tauranga. We are currently recruiting to further enhance our customer service in line with our policy of reinvesting in the business."

The primary focus for the merger was to achieve scale and provide the basis for building a strong national brand, says Mr Holland. Privately owned by six stakeholders, five of whom are active in the firm, Preferred NZ has focused on reinvesting in the business to move it beyond a traditional brokerage by adding dedicated claims and customer services staff who can deal directly with queries, rather than referring the client to the insurer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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