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Getting to Know: Russell Hutchinson

Russell Hutchinson provides advisers with valuable insight and research on the products they offer clients. Here we turn the spotlight back on him.

Friday, June 9th 2017, 11:00AM

by Susan Edmunds

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Russell Hutchinson and I run Chatswood Consulting Limited. My kids used to describe what I do as, ‘Dad has coffee’, but I prefer ‘management consultant.’ I am mainly focused on finding answers to sales, marketing, channel and product design questions for the life insurance industry. Also, Chatswood owns half of Quality Product Research Limited, which runs Quotemonster.

How did you get into the industry?

I’m a ‘lifer.’ At 16, I started to work for a life insurer called Royal Heritage in the UK. After moving to New Zealand, I joined AEtna Life and Casualty, which was bought by Prudential. In August 1989, I joined a tiny start-up insurer on the North Shore called Sovereign. I left there after ten years to run an early FinTech company: Quicken.co.nz. That didn’t work out, so a year later I started Chatswood Consulting, which has been my home for the last 17 years. So, I have worked in life insurance my whole working career, usually in a start-up, focused on new product and new technology.

If there is one thing you would like to change about the financial advice industry, what would it be?

It’s a broad sector… but, every insurance adviser should subscribe to Quotemonster Research! Just disclosing a conflict of interest there. Seriously, the more we can engage our curiosity and become like scientists, or explorers, or pioneers of our own businesses, looking to understand why things are the way they are and how they could work better, the better off we’ll all be. The biggest problem we all have is the one we lack the curiosity to examine.

What’s the best advice you have ever received?

If you have a problem, find some other people with experience of the same thing. Listen to them and take advice. It is okay to ask questions to try to learn more. The better you know the better you do. What I found was that good decisions come from learning more and then figuring out at least two alternatives, because it helps me if I can think creatively about what to do next.

What could financial advisers learn from other industries?

Oh, lots, and I am sure others could learn a lot from financial advisers too. That’s the thing: we all work away in our chosen professions and it is really useful to engage with folks that have a different perspective. There’s a story that Bill Bryson tells about the development of the theory of plate tectonics: years, maybe decades before the idea was widely accepted by academics, the oil companies had picked it up because it helped with drilling operations. Today, our greatest lessons can probably come from improving the way we use data (sales, advice documents, compliance, quotes, applications, underwriting, premiums, life events, medical, claims… you name it) to reduce the time, cost and inconvenience of the most common tasks in our work.

What change could the insurance sector make to better serve customers?

That stuff about data, times ten. So often, we subject the client to a 30-year memory test and record answers on bits of paper (that are hard to file and find) and ask questions about it later. Even if they are scanned, most of the data never becomes digital. Written advice is often poor because systems are poor. Manila 1.0 is a great system for one well-kept file. It is a nightmare for a business with thousands of customers. Of course, insurers struggle with this too, rarely fully utilizing the great data they collect. Producing great insurance advice that is consistently good from client to client  - and being able to prove that to the regulator - requires good systems. Delivering efficiently-priced insurance requires much the same, on a much greater scale. Both would benefit customers a great deal.

What would you like insurance advisers to understand about what you do?

We’re working on systems to make it so much quicker and easier to deliver good insurance advice and we’re not even half-done. On Quotemonster, we have features like bank insurance product ratings, life premiums for direct and bank insurers, two types of needs analysis (with another one coming), underwriting requirements and hundreds of historical policy documents. Loads of features to feed into your advice process, so you can give better advice, however you choose to do that, in your own way.

Are you a KiwiSaver member?

Yes.

If so, what’s your investment strategy?

Growth assets in an index fund.

Outside of work what do you do? 

Fran and I have three children, so we’re always busy. We like live music and theatre; everyone in the house plays something. I’m the most boring with just student-level piano, but they all play cool things: saxophone, French Horn, oboe and trombone. I also like to work out at the gym.

What would you say if one of your kids told you they wanted to be a financial adviser?

Great. The industry is a good long-term bet. It is complicated, varied and changing and, so, continually fascinating. It is used by enough people to be large and roomy, it's growing fast and has a good future. Life is complicated and financial lives seem to get more complicated, not less. That means there is plenty of scope for advice. The kind of advice and how it is given will change a lot, so the industry needs young people to help with that continual renewal. Then, I would say they should find someone who is good at it and try to learn as much as they can.

What’s one thing people may be surprised to know about you?

I draw cartoons. If you’re at a conference with me I may draw you. But I’m not very good, so you probably wouldn’t be recognised anyway.

If you weren’t in this job what would you be doing?

There are so many things I would like to do; I couldn’t say which, but there is no job I would rather do than this one. A while back, I was asked how long I plan to be in the industry. I’ve been in it 30 years and, if health and fortune allows, I hope to at least double that. I know that would make me 76, but I don’t care.

Tags: Getting to Know

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