By Paul McBeth
Aug. 20 (BusinessDesk) - Australian health insurer nib Holdings will review its risk and culture in New Zealand as trans-Tasman financial services come to grips with the regulatory crackdown on the sector.
Nib New Zealand will carry out the review in the 2020 financial year in response to the joint Reserve Bank-Financial Markets Authority report into life insurers. It found a range of unacceptable conduct among those firms and placed a firm emphasis on the use of soft commissions, such as overseas junkets.
Health and general insurers weren’t tarred with the same brush, although the regulators expressed their expectation that they would also assess their conduct and culture frameworks and consider and act on all the relevant recommendations.
“In New Zealand, we’ve closely reviewed the findings of the Financial Markets Authority and Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s review into life insurance conduct and culture, including assessing our own practices to see if we can do better,” nib Holdings said in its 2019 sustainability report.
That focus on conduct has spanned both sides of the Tasman given Australia’s royal commission into financial services spurred on the local reviews. Nib said it’s aware of best practice and is working collaboratively with regulators.
The group noted eight breaches of its code of conduct in the June 2019 year, compared to none in 2018.
The FMA and RBNZ report found large upfront commissions were common among life insurers, ranging from between 170-210 percent of the first year of annual premium, which it said weren’t acceptable and drove poor conduct.
Nib New Zealand’s acquisition costs rose to A$36.6 million in the year ended June 30 from A$34.9 million a year earlier, and deferred acquisition costs increased to A$25.5 million from A$23.1 million.
The local unit lifted premium revenue 6.9 percent to NZ$229.6 million, although its underwriting earnings fell to NZ$23.3 million from NZ$27.4 million due to the insurer paying out more in claims.
Nib NZ increased its number of policyholders by 7.2 percent to 110,121, covering 213,061 people.
Health Funds Association of New Zealand figures show 1.4 million people were covered by health insurance as at March 31, up 1.2 percent from a year earlier. Premium revenue rose 9.1 percent to $1.59 billion and claims paid were up 9.5 percent at $1.32 billion.
Nib NZ chair Tony Ryall, a former Health Minister, said the rising cost of healthcare in New Zealand meant health insurance was needed to play a bigger role in supporting the national system.
“It’s an inconvenient truth, but the reality is we’re simply running out of working-age taxpayers to fund our nation’s more than $16 billion annual healthcare costs, with government footing almost 80 percent of the bill,” he said.
David Clark, the current Health Minister, is awaiting an interim report on the health and disability system due at the end of this month. A final report is due in March.
The wide-ranging review will canvass how to improve funding arrangements, and while private health insurance is outside its scope, it can consider its interaction with demographic drivers of healthcare.
Nib NZ said its programme with Ngati Whatua Orakei had attracted 3,331 of the iwi’s members to sign up to the health cover. The insurer said it’s investigating several other population health initiatives focused on mental health and weight loss programmes.
The insurer expects to invest further and grow its cover of Maori.