Insurance start-up to go global

Naomi Ballantyne
Lawrence Smith/Fairfax NZ

Naomi Ballantyne

Naomi Ballantyne has more than 30 years' experience in the insurance industry - and she'll be glad of that experience as she and her team decide whether to publicly list their new firm.

Ballantyne was hired as the founding employee of Sovereign as a 24-year-old, before later launching the company that became OnePath Life (NZ).

In 2010 Ballantyne founded her latest venture, Partners Life, a company with a business model she believes could be an international success.

Close to $90 million in shareholder equity has been invested in Partners Life, the latest being a $31.6m capital raising in July last year.

Private New Zealand investors hold an 85 per cent share of Partners Life and international investors have a 15 per cent share.

Ballantyne said she would like to list on the NZX and a decision on that would be made "shortly".

"Our intention since the day we started is to list which allows us to widen our investor base and also bring in additional capital," Ballantyne said.

If the green light was given then Partners Life could be made public within the next 18 months to two years, she said.

Following that Ballantyne said she dreamed of taking the company, or at least the business model, international.

Because Partners Life was a young start-up with no "legacies" it was nimble enough to develop the intellectual property needed to create new, innovative products and service clients faster than its competitors, she said.

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"What we think we've built here is a template of a model life insurance company that we believe can support distribution anywhere in the world."

Partners Life could go international either by providing life insurance through partners in other countries or to replicate the model in other markets, she said.

Ballantyne said Partners Life received more business from independent advisers than any other life insurer in New Zealand.

Financial advisers sold about 80 per cent of life insurance in New Zealand and about 50 per cent of those advisers were independent, she said.

Independent advisers were not contractually obligated to direct a certain amount of their business to a particular insurance company, she said.

"So they are free to place their business where they believe is best for their customer."

Having the largest share of business from independent advisers indicated Partners Life products were market leading, she said, adding more than 1900 independent advisers were selling Partners Life products.

At the end of December Partners Life had about an 18 per cent market share of new business in

the life insurance industry for the products it offered, second behind Sovereign, she said.

Partners Life was No 1 at the end of the September quarter and Ballantyne was awaiting the March quarter stats to see if it had reclaimed the No 1 spot, she said.

As at the end of March, Partners Life had 101,000 clients and its annual premium income from existing policies was $134m.

Ballantyne said Partners Life core philosophy was centred around its products and how effective a policy was for the client at claim time.

"The initial plan was to create a product that matches or betters all of the features and benefits that are available in the marketplace, irrespective of which company they come from."

There was a big difference between the best and the worst products in the marketplace and Partners Life aimed to have a "rich product at a competitive price", she said. "We've not only added more innovation to those existing products which our competitors didn't have, but we've developed brand new products . . . "

To develop innovative, products at a competitive price, the business needed to be more efficient than the rest of the market, she said. "It has to cost you far less to manufacture and service your business than your competitors."

Understanding the "lives of your customer" and exactly what the competition was offering was also essential, she said.

When Partners Life launched in 2010 it had three employees, it now employed 155 staff, most of which were based at its Takapuna office, she said.

Next month, at the Fairfax Media-organised New Zealand CEO Summit, Ballantyne will share her story of turning a start-up life insurance company into a significant industry player.

She said successful leaders needed to be completely engaged in their business and egos had to go out the door.

"Basically you're the shoulders on which your business is being built," she said. "The people that follow you need to know you've got confidence."

 - Sunday Star Times

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