Staff numbers at insurer Youi have fallen by 30 per cent but the company insists it is here to stay.

The South African insurance company has had a tumultuous ride since its entered the New Zealand market in July 2014.

In December 2016 it was fined $320,000 for misleading sales practices after the Commerce Commission took it to court.

In November last year it was also forced to pay A$164,000 for poor insurance sales practices in Australia by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.


But Michelle Le Long, Youi's New Zealand head of operations, insists the company is now leaner and is undergoing a transformation to tailor it to the New Zealand market.

Le Long moved to Youi from Tower insurance in June last year and has wide experience in the New Zealand insurance market, having previously worked at IAG - New Zealand's largest insurance firm.

At Youi's peak - before the Commerce Commission took it to court - it had around 400 staff but that has now fallen to between 256 and 280 people.

Le Long says the shrinking has been a result of natural attrition and some redundancies when it shifted its Australian roadside assist service back to Australia, rather than the fall-out from its fine and the negative publicity around the miss-selling.

"That has just been a business decision."

As well as tightening staff numbers Le Long has overhauled the business, increasing its call centre hours from a 9-to-5 day to 8am-to-8pm and keeping the call centre open on public holidays where previously it had closed.

Around 65 per cent of the business its New Zealand operation handles relates to Australian-based customers, with the remaining business generated in New Zealand.

Le Long said she had recently set up separate teams to deal with each market and she hoped within five years the New Zealand operation would be servicing just the New Zealand business.


A new refreshed strategy will see the company launch new websites which will allow consumers to purchase insurance without having to speak to a person on the phone.

"We have tailored a very New Zealand approach."

Le Long said Kiwis were very digitally savvy and wanted to do their insurance online and it was also going through a product review with a view to tailoring the wording of its policies to the local market.

"We are making sure the product fits the New Zealand market."

Last year Youi opened a new A$73 million headquarters in Australia's Sunshine coast which will currently hold around 1000 staff with plans to expand it eventually hold up to 3000 workers.

The move has sparked concern from staff that the New Zealand operation will be handled out of Australia.

A former Youi employee told the Herald he understood all Youi's staff would be based out of Australia by April 2020 and it would service the New Zealand market from there.

But Le Long said that was not the case.

"No - there is no plans to do that."

"Youi New Zealand is committed to serving the New Zealand market locally. It would be madness to do that."

But the business will be moving headquarters.

It is currently based in Ellerslie but Le Long said it was looking to move to another Auckland location which had better access to public transport.

"But that is not an overnight move."

Le Long said it was likely to be another six to 12 months away.