Born in Australia and raised in the small town of Kerikeri in New Zealand, Toni Ferrier came from a family that was always struggling to make ends meet.
‘I was constantly told that I’d need to earn my own money as I was never going to inherit any,’ says Ferrier, CEO of AIG New Zealand. ‘I chose law because my 17-year-old brain figured lawyers made money.’
One of the few in her secondary school year level to go on to further education, Ferrier completed her law degree at the University of Waikato.
Making the move into insurance
An opportunity to set up an in-house legal team at Royal & Sun Alliance (now Vero) was the catalyst for her move into insurance, having previously worked in law as a senior associate in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The role led to several others across many different functions at the company, including claims, national broker sales and distribution.
More recently, Ferrier has held executive positions at Lumley Insurance through its acquisition by both Wesfarmers and IAG, and at Crombie Lockwood. She has also served as a Commissioner for the Earthquake Commission and has sat on the boards of a range of organisations, starting with Accuro Health Insurance in 2017 (retiring in December 2019) and continuing with tech business Fergus Software, as well as the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ).
Leading through adversity
Ferrier is a firm believer in the leadership mantra ‘we are better together’. And having taken over the CEO reins at AIG in early 2020 — just as the pandemic was unfolding — it is a mantra that has stood her in good stead.
She is incredibly proud of her team at AIG, who displayed ‘the utmost professionalism when dealing with a new chief executive, other leadership changes and COVID all in the same three months’.
‘There’s nothing like a crisis to bring people together,’ she says. ‘The best thing a leader can ask for is a diverse team of people who all want to make a difference, know how to collaborate and play to each other’s strengths.
‘That’s what I look for in leaders and what I hope I deliver. In addition, great leaders need to be resilient, curious, open minded, commercial and outstanding at selling a clear vision and bringing their team on the journey.’
Targeting the SME market
Ferrier says AIG’s current challenge is to bring its rich heritage and expertise in the corporate segment across several specialist lines into the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment at scale.
‘We’re committed to increasing the number of New Zealand businesses and brokers with access to the insights and products we’ve developed,’ she says.
‘We’ve got a great team that is focused on this shift in our business model and customer focus to better support and benefit our SME customers and their brokers.’
The right person for the job
For Ferrier, being a woman in the insurance industry is not without its challenges.
‘Like many women, I have experienced sexism in the industry, such as speculation that I’ve only been given a particular job because I’m a woman,’ she says. ‘But I have also experienced incredible support, including some outstanding experiences with senior people in insurance.’
The most remarkable of these, she says, was when she was encouraged to apply for a new leadership role by a senior leader at Vero when she was six months pregnant with her second daughter.
‘His words were “if you are the right person for the job, there will be a way to make it work with your maternity leave”,’ Ferrier recalls. ‘This was incredibly open minded and progressive.’
A supportive team
Equally, the professionalism and supportiveness of her team at the time became one of her proudest career moments.
‘It could have been a disaster — I had three months on the job, then went on maternity leave,’ she says.
‘But the team rallied around and not only managed through my maternity leave but were open to a lot of change, with a new leader, a new way of doing things and the merger of two branches into one. Their attitude and engagement were outstanding.’
Another proud moment was navigating a technology transformation with her Lumley Insurance team when the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes hit.
‘The team worked tirelessly to respond to the immediate crisis while also responding to reinsurer demands and product changes — all during a technology transformation,’ she says. ‘They were some of the most resilient team members I have come across.
‘I’m also extremely proud of the people who led the setup of the Lumley earthquake recovery unit, with dedicated cross-functional teams that included case managers, construction project managers and quantity surveyors.
‘These teams were designed to rebuild trust with customers and demystify / support them through the repair / rebuild process.
‘It was a tough job carried out amid a lot of negative external market feedback, but they settled claims well ahead of the rest of the market. It was great teamwork across very different functions.’
Diversity and inclusion
Ferrier is clear about the importance of diversity and inclusion. ‘While there’s still more progress to be made, I believe we’re making great strides towards equality across all aspects of diversity,’ she says.
‘As a global company, AIG has a naturally diverse workforce and has a strong focus on trying to harness the benefits this brings to the business as well as ensuring that everyone can bring their best to their role.’
To this end, Ferrier sits on AIG’s Asia Pacific Talent Diversity and Inclusion Committee and gives her time as a mentor for youth in the company’s collaborative initiative with the Graeme Dingle Foundation’s Career Navigator program.
‘Mentors are great at broadening your view of business and challenging you to step outside your comfort zone,’ she says. ‘Once I entered the insurance industry, I had several mentors, and looking back, I can see how having a mentor early could have an incredibly positive impact on a young life.’
War on talent
Apart from the ever emerging, salient risks of cybercrime and climate change, Ferrier says the war on talent is a particular challenge in New Zealand.
The country’s strict border closures during the pandemic made it more difficult to access the right talent across all aspects of the business, while good talent found it easier to move offshore.
‘I attended a senior leadership forum last year and most businesses [across all sectors] in the room noted this as the single biggest threat to their business in
the near term — by far,’ she says.
Ferrier maintains that insurers need to better sell the incredibly broad range of roles available in the sector.
‘Generally, young people think of insurance as “boring” — in fact, one of my daughters told me “all you do is go to meetings all day”. We need to share the really rewarding, diverse careers you can have in insurance.
‘We also need to engage more with tertiary entities and high schools. At AIG, we run an active graduate program and get to share the benefits of a multinational business with a range of young graduates, while benefiting from the fresh thinking and new ideas they bring to our business.’
One of the biggest challenges the insurance sector faces, however, is how to remain not just affordable but truly valued in the future, as the nature and cost of claims continue to increase.
‘As with any industry, we need to ensure we keep the customer at the heart of everything we do,’ says Ferrier. ‘There is a huge amount of collective knowledge and risk expertise in the insurance industry, but there is an opportunity to improve the way this is communicated. Some products have become increasingly complex over time, and few customers get excited about reading the terms and conditions.’
Ferrier argues that the industry needs to think more about how customers want to interact with insurers and the issues they really worry about. ‘We need to continue to find ways to add value to our customers’ lives and businesses and engage regularly, in a meaningful way.’
She believes there is an opportunity to provide greater insight on the risk landscape, as well as any new products that respond to that environment, so that customers fully understand what these products will and won’t cover.
‘Collaboration with broader ecosystem partners is essential, particularly with those brokers, loss adjusters, lawyers, banks and insurtech companies who have a good sense of what customers value, as well as their pain points.’
Two-minute bio: Toni Ferrier
COMPANY - AIG New Zealand
TITLE - CEO
Toni Ferrier was born in Australia and grew up in the town of Kerikeri on New Zealand’s North Island. She came from a family that struggled financially and was one of the few in her school year to pursue a university education.
Ferrier holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from the University of Waikato, as well as a Diploma of Business Administration from the University of Auckland. She also completed the Company Directors’ Course at the Institute of Directors New Zealand.
As a senior associate with law firm Simpson Grierson, Ferrier was offered an opportunity to set up an in-house legal team at Royal & Sun Alliance (now Vero), which led to a variety of roles across claims, national broker sales and distribution. She later held leadership roles at Lumley Insurance during its acquisition by both Wesfarmers and IAG, before accepting an executive position at broker Crombie Lockwood. Ferrier took up the position of CEO at AIG New Zealand in January 2020.
OUTSIDE THE DAY JOB
When Ferrier is not serving as a ‘taxi driver’ for her youngest daughter (including transporting her daughter’s horse), she loves to travel, spend time with family and friends, ski and eat ‘fantastic’ food.
‘Don’t tackle the elephant in the room on your own or all at one time; get a great team around you and break those big challenges down into achievable milestones’. And ‘find the lesson’.
Risks in New Zealand
Toni Ferrier points to three areas having a major impact on the insurance industry in New Zealand.
- 'Cybersecurity is the fastest growing and perhaps most dangerous threat facing organisations today, and boards are increasingly focused on addressing this threat. Many companies have changed their cybersecurity emergency response plans to recognise that cyber breaches are a “when” not an “if” scenario.
- ‘Climate risk will have an impact on most of us and therefore a big impact on the insurance sector, both in terms of the frequency and scale of weather events in Aotearoa and more broadly around rapidly changing ESG [environmental, social and governance] driven investment strategies. The new mandatory Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure regime in New Zealand will help build transparency, but as we’re one of the first countries in the world to implement this, it will take time before we really understand what best practice looks like.
- ‘Insurers are doing a lot more to be truly customer-focused; however, as the industry prepares for the introduction of new legislation in 2023, the recent Financial Markets Authority [FMA] report into conduct and culture identified areas where insurers need to do better. Insurers will work closely with the FMA over the coming months to ensure that both are aligned on how we achieve good outcomes for our customers.’