Peter Daly ends a seven-decade career of achievement and leadership with some words of advice

By Miranda Maxwell

Peter E Daly AM, a legend of Australian insurance, retired in December, bringing the curtain down on a distinguished career spanning 70 years.

Regarded as the man who led the industry into a more customer-focused era, he can look back at jobs that included several chief executive appointments to insurance companies, the chairmanship of three insurers and service on 29 boards. But possibly his greatest business legacy is his championing of consumer rights at a time when insurers adhered to strict contract terms for the claims process.

Mr Daly was appointed chief executive of the Insurance Council of Australia in 1991, after serving two years as its president. Over the next six years he changed the council from a fusty, low-profile organisation that had minimal recognition with politicians, the media or consumer groups into a responsive and effective supporter of the insurance industry.

He was also busy outside insurance, serving as chairman of the Australian Landscape Trust and tourism operation Seal Rocks Victoria, and he also served on the Zoological Board of Victoria. Mr Daly was awarded life membership of the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance in 2017.

A powerful lobbyist and passionate advocate for change, he set up the first claims review organisation, Insurance Enquiries and Complaints, within the ICA offices in Melbourne. The group grew from one office to occupying an entire building floor. It made independent decisions on disputed claims, and was funded entirely by the industry.

When he resigned from ICA in 1996 to pursue other industry-related interests, Mr Daly was hailed as the person whose strident support of the concept of “doing what is reasonable in the circumstances”, rather than relying exclusively on contract law, changed the consumer/insurer dynamic.

After leaving ICA, Mr Daly became chairman of the Insurance Ombudsman Service, which was folded into the government-run Australian Financial Complaints Authority in November 2018.

In 2004, he was appointed to the Order of Australia for services to the insurance industry and consumer protection.

He finally called it a day in December last year when he retired from the chairmanship of Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Company Australia, which trades as Adica Insurance.

His seven-decade journey started at Legal & General in his native Johannesburg at the tender age of 16, where Mr Daly says he revelled in tackling challenges. He and his wife Daphne – they’ve been married 65 years – relocated to the central African nation of Zambia for two years in the 1960s.

“I was just the office boy in South Africa and I made many stuff-ups, but they got to know me,” he tells Insurance News. “Then somebody said there was a top job going in Zambia, and at the age of 24 I thought I’d like to be a general manager. I was always wanting to climb the ladder.

“I played a lot of cricket when I was up there, so I was kept busy, and my career sort of blossomed from there.”

Mr Daly was one of eight children, and all four brothers and his father had careers in insurance. But the subject around the dining room table each night was always sport – “they all played better cricket than me”. Unlike his siblings, he never worked for his executive father, and once wanted to train as a teacher.

“Zambia was quite a nice break to find your own way in life,” he says. “I wanted to do my own career.”

Adica Chief Executive Dean Cullen

Farewell: Adica Chief Executive Dean Cullen, left, congratulates Mr Daly after 70 years in insurance

After returning home to South Africa, Mr Daly soon relocated again, working in Britain before heading to Australia, where he was appointed managing director of the Norwich Winterthur Group in 1983.

Wanting to raise his profile in his new country, he joined the ICA board in 1985 and diligently attended all meetings. He served a two-year term as its president and, after Norwich Winterthur was taken over by another company, he served as ICA chief executive from 1991 to 1997.

“My involvement in the insurance industry grew, and I changed the role and focus of the organisation and its profile,” he says. “I engaged people to push the industry into a new era.”

He says he arrived at ICA “sadly disappointed” at the way consumer claims were handled. “Some insurance companies handed their claims to legal firms to recover a debt. Let’s say you had a claim of $3000 – well, it is now $9000. I used to phone those CEOs and say, ‘You cannot do this.’

“I decided we needed to set up a place where people could come to ICA about their claims. We recruited what I called Dad’s Army – people who had retired from insurance – to contact the insurance company and say, ‘I think you are being unfair.’ It worked very well.”

A keen Essendon AFL supporter, Mr Daly says sport “plays a big part in my thinking”. He agrees his professional mindset was similar to that of a coach, believing that “if you didn’t produce the goods, you’re already gone”.

“My theory was exactly the same in insurance – if I appointed somebody as CEO, I expected that CEO to get results to get their bonus.”

His personal philosophy has been to build teams and ensure “each of them are better and smarter than I am”.

For almost a decade after he left ICA, Mr Daly arranged for fellow Essendon supporter and federal treasurer Peter Costello to attend annual luncheons with senior insurance industry executives.

The luncheons were organised by his friend Ron Smith (of Concord Insurance and BJS Insurance Brokers fame) and now-Insurance News Publisher Terry McMullan, and “you could raise issues that the industry was concerned about”.

Adica Chief Executive Dean Cullen says Mr Daly served as a mentor to many and was an early champion of gender equity, while overseeing expansion from a handful of employees to a company of more than 200 staff insuring almost 300,000 vehicles.

“We are so grateful to Peter. He has guided Adica through its foundation to a company with sustained growth and a good standing in the Australian market today,” Mr Cullen says.

After so many years of local and international travel, Mr Daly now enjoys life in Melbourne and holidays in Queensland.

“We’ve been all over the place and I don’t want to go around the world any more. I just like my apartment in Surfers’ Paradise – I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and I’m very family-oriented.

“My interests have moved to conservation and the environment, and I am sure this will keep the mind ticking. I believe we’ve got to give back to society, and the community.”

He wrote his autobiography a few years ago, entitled Be Reasonable – Do It My Way. “Everyone knows it’s not really true,” he says.

His views on the insurance industry are as relevant as ever. Mr Daly believes the sector should focus on providing employees with clear pathways and succession planning, and encourage staff to see insurance is a career.

“Culture is absolutely number one,” he says, and training and leadership are a key part of that. “I have met many brilliant people in insurance. I have always strived for success and trying to help others to succeed in their goals. I owe much to those who assisted me to meet opportunities and challenges, and to show how the industry contributes to the Australian economy and community.

“And even after 70 years, I’m still learning.”