ANZIIF’s new leader aims to enhance consumer outcomes through greater professionalism and continual learning

By John Deex

Chief Executive of the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance Katrina Shanks has been in the job a matter of weeks – but she already knows where she wants to take it.

Arriving in Melbourne from her native New Zealand, she takes over from former chief Prue Willsford, who has stepped down after a decade in charge.

Ms Shanks, a chartered accountant by trade, was a New Zealand National Party MP from 2007 to 2014 and spent the past five years leading Financial Advice NZ.

That role has given her a good grounding in insurance, and she believes political nous will be critical too as she sets out her vision and priorities.

“It’s about being modern and relevant to our members, and understanding the value proposition to ensure that we’ve got that right,” she tells Insurance News.

“We have to ensure we’re aligning with good consumer outcomes and putting those at the centre of our decision-making. What can we do to empower and enhance the sector?”

Ms Shanks says insurance gives customers peace of mind – but only if the sector is operating effectively. And its professionals are key to that process.

“We need high standards within the sector at every single point where a decision or change needs to be made.

“At [the institute], we’re here for the reinsurer, we’re here for the insurer, we’re here for the underwriters, the claims, to ensure they have the right skills to be able to develop the right products, and they can respond at the right times.

“It’s important that insurance is activated when it needs to be activated and responds how it needs to respond, in a timely manner.”

“What we’re trying to do is increase people’s financial health, wealth and wellbeing. A big part of that is financial resilience, and financial resilience comes from having the right insurances.

“So it’s important that insurance is activated when it needs to be activated and responds how it needs to respond, in a timely manner. It’s fundamentally important.”

Ms Shanks says recent record-breaking catastrophes combined with covid-induced staffing and supply chain issues created “the perfect storm” – but this also creates a learning opportunity.

“There are going to be learnings from everything that happens. So what are they? What’s changed? What are we doing in future? Because these natural events aren’t going away.

“We have to work on how you get a quick workforce overnight, to be able to process claims in a timely, modern, relevant manner. You have got to respond. You can’t not respond.”

Ms Shanks sees potential solutions involving government support.

“Maybe it’s a collaborative decision, where the government says, ‘When we have a natural disaster like this, we will provide you with X amount of money, so you can draw on a workforce with 24 hours’ notice.’

“It doesn’t have to be the sector in isolation. It’s called the government and the industry working together. The best outcomes are when you work together.”

Ms Shanks continues Ms Willsford’s determination to enhance professionalism, not just through initial courses but also ongoing development.

Ms Willsford believes the life insurance professional standards set out in 2021 and last year’s general insurance claims handling framework are among her greatest achievements, and Ms Shanks sees their significance too.

“The frameworks are a key component of ensuring the sector has the right skills at the right time, and that the outcomes are of a certain standard. [The institute] has a long, proud history of providing this type of service, working with the industry to lift those standards.

“The journey doesn’t finish when you complete your qualification. There’s continual learning, professional development, which ensures you stay upskilled for the rest of your career. The frameworks are one part of that journey.”

The institute aims to grow at home but will continue to look for new members outside Australia and New Zealand. It opened an office in China in 2012.

Ms Shanks says covid slowed international growth but “it’s a matter of regrouping, looking at where you’re at, and what the opportunities are.

Environments have changed significantly since 2020, and it’s about readjusting to that.”

And she is committed to the institute’s awards program, which is “really important for recognising excellence. Awards are a very important part of the sector and, of course, we will continue to deliver those awards.”