Andrew Aitken speaks about new NZbrokers role

After four decades with one employer Andrew Aitken has embarked on a new role with NZBrokers Holdings.

While 37 years working for Vero Insurance and its various antecedents is impressive, no one could accuse him of stagnating in one role.

“Through that time I started as an insurance cadet then worked through all the various areas – claims, underwriting, sales, systems development, relationship management, then I came through into leadership and I was on the executive leadership team with Vero for 14 years which gave me some experience in the world of governance,” he told Insurance Business.

“I think it’s important to challenge yourself and look for new skills and new knowledge and continue to grow and develop. I was always looking to do the next thing and looking to learn new things and have new experiences. Moving to this latest role is another step on the way.”

The ‘latest role’, as a non-executive director for NZBrokers Holdings, (NZBH) a subsidiary of Austbrokers Holdings Ltd, entailed not just a new employer but switching to the broker side of the industry.

Having left Vero mid-2014 to be an independent director, Aitken explained that the position came about after he helped with some of the due diligence process involved in Austbrokers’ 100% acquisition of BrokerWeb Management and 50% stake in BrokerWeb Risk Services last November.

Aitken said it had provided the ideal opportunity to take a step back and use his wealth of experience in a broader way.

“It’s great to be able to keep that connection with the people in the broader general insurance business that I have come to know so well,” he said.

“It’s certainly been interesting to take a broader view of the underwriting market, and talk to other underwriters outside of the Vero world on a different basis.”

His wealth of experience also makes Aitken’s knowledge base invaluable when looking at market trends or developments.

For instance, commenting on the current soft market, Aitken said while he didn’t think it had reached new levels, the rate of change may have had some effects on the perception of the industry.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen a change quite so quickly before. You have to worry about how the insuring public and businesses that buy insurance perceive insurance when two years ago prices were going up and now they’re going completely in the opposite direction.”

He said having lots of capacity at one level was also a challenge both for the underwriting world and the broking world.

“Built on top of that we’ve got some very strong influences in the broking market and I guess as NZBH comes up to speed it’s also looking to have a stronger influence in that market.

“I think the NZBH and BrokerWeb proposition will continue to evolve and change and really will have even more to offer broker members as time goes forward. I think our challenge is going to be to develop that and make the most of it.”

Aitken said he was excited about what the future held for NZBH, especially with its differences from other major brokers and broker groups marking it out.

“It’s early days for NZBH in New Zealand but we see that the market here presents an opportunity and off the Austbrokers business delivers quite a strong proposition in the Australian market, and there are elements of that that should be able to be translated across to New Zealand.

“It’s something that in terms of the BrokerWeb Management membership looks to do in a very collaborative way. In terms of the BrokerWeb Risk Services, that business is continuing to look to grow both organically and taking other opportunities that come along.

“We see that there’s an opportunity for another strong player with longevity and that’s where we want to be,” he added.

So far, feedback from insurers, members and equity partners alike had all been absolutely positive, he said.

“As to how our competitors see it – well, I guess we will see how they respond as NZBH moves forward.

“We’re not the same though as other the other major broker groups or major brokers, we’re looking to offer a proposition that has a strong appeal to some sectors of the market.

“That collaboration with members we see is a very strong part of what we do and the way we do things, which we put together with other services that we offer, and will be offering – so a little bit of ‘watch this space’ there!”

Aitken is a chartered member of the New Zealand Institute of Directors, and while the NZBH role is not his only directorship, the new workload allows more time spent with family and pursuing his sporting loves of sailing and skiing.

“Stepping back from the intense corporate world – I can recommend it!” he added.