Cigna's Kiwi boss to take on developing markets role

Cigna's Gail Costa is taking on wider responsibilities, but will keep ties with New Zealand.
Cigna's Gail Costa is taking on wider responsibilities, but will keep ties with New Zealand.

Tawa's Gail Costa has been named chief executive of developed and developing markets for global insurance company Cigna International, following her work growing the business in New Zealand.

Costa, who was Cigna's New Zealand chief executive for almost a decade, will move from Wellington to Hong Kong for the new role.

She will have an overview on the Kiwi, Hong Kong, Taiwan, British and Turkish markets.

Cigna insures 275,000 Kiwis and worldwide has US$17 billion (NZ$20b) under management.

Costa has risen in the insurance industry after years of hard work. "My first job was a very low-level clerical job and along the way I was fortunate enough to have some very supportive people suggesting I go to university part-time and apply for other roles."

Costa eventually earned a bachelor of commerce and administration degree from Victoria University.

She had always been based in Wellington, aside from spending five months in Spain managing Cigna's European operations while it sought a replacement several years ago - an experience she said gave her the confidence to work in a different market.

Her retired husband would move to Hong Kong with her while their daughter, a student at the University of Otago, would call it a second home.

"I do like [Hong Kong]; it's got a real hustle and bustle about it. I am really excited. The good thing about this role is I retain the ties [to New Zealand].

"I may have felt very differently about the role if I didn't have that because this [New Zealand] business has been very special to me; it's my baby if you like. I am looking forward to going and making a difference on a bigger scale."

In New Zealand, Cigna was generally seen as a small player in the industry because it sold directly to customers.

But Costa said a big part of its business was working with large banking partners and distributing their products.

"In more recent years we have grown significantly since we have branched out in our own name and have been advertising funeral plan, term life and income protection [insurance] on TV and other media."

Cigna's contact centre, in Wellington's Majestic Centre, won the Tuanz 2007 Call Centre of the Year award and was one of its strengths.

Using sports broadcaster Keith Quinn and rugby great Michael Jones to front TV campaigns had made a "big difference", with sales up 17 per cent last year. Cigna Life Insurance NZ Ltd's profit after tax rose to $26.75m in the year to December 2011, up from $16.3m the year before. "I think you'll find the wider industry was pretty flat . . . We're one of the only companies that are actually growing."

Term life insurance, priced from $15 a week, was its biggest seller. An identity theft product launched a couple of years ago had not been so successful because, she said, people did not yet see the need.

A recent successful project was a package called CreditCare with bank BNZ, that insures the repayment of credit card debt in case of injury, loss of income or death. Tested on around 4000 customers here, it will soon be launched to around 4 million in Turkey.

Contact Jazial Crossley
Wellington business reporter
Twitter: @msbananapeel

The Dominion Post