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[Opinion] Why did Southern Cross cancel an interview with its CEO?

More than a month ago, Southern Cross asked if I'd like to meet their chief executive, Nick Astwick when he was next in Wellington and a date was agreed: Friday, Oct 27.

Wednesday, November 1st 2023, 6:00AM 4 Comments

by Jenny Ruth

The arrangement was made around the time I was writing a series of stories for Good Returns about Southern Cross having quietly dropped a $60,000 a year benefit for non-surgical hospitalisation with scant notice to either insurance agents or policyholders.

To be clear, Southern Cross was legally within its rights to do this because a clause in its policies specifies it can do so on 30 days notice.

Southern Cross was also proactive about providing me with access to a presentation to agents and communications sent to policyholders so that I could judge for myself whether the company had provided adequate notice – I concluded that I don't think it did.

I proposed doing an audio interview with Astwick to be published on my Substack, Just the Business, and also that, if anything newsworthy came out of it, I'd write a story for Good Returns.

A week and a half ahead of that date, Southern Cross asked if I'd provide questions ahead of time, and I agreed – I don't tend to do ambush-style interviews, and usually agree to provide questions ahead of time, if asked.

I was a little tardy about delivering the questions, but still got them to Southern Cross by the Wednesday morning, two full days ahead of the interview, with the proviso that I'd ask follow-up questions as they occurred to me.

Then, the health insurer's PR people started quibbling about the questions. I made it clear that I wasn't going to change the questions and that it was up to Astwick whether he answered them and what answers he chose to give.

Then, the day before the interview, Southern Cross cancelled it.

“Unfortunately, receiving the questions yesterday means there’s not enough time to prepare. Perhaps we could revisit this interview again in the coming months,” a newly hired PR woman emailed me.

I have to say, I'm not holding my breath.

The following are my questions that Southern Cross says it requires more than two days in which to answer:

  • How is the review of communications going?
  • Have you come to any conclusions yet or made any changes?
  • Your insurance contracts allow Southern Cross to make changes to policy provisions on 30-days notice – what's the reasoning behind that?
  • How often does Southern Cross use that clause?
  • Have you considered removing it?
  • The election's over now – is Southern Cross doing anything or planning to do anything to convince the National Party that it shouldn't get rid of CoFi?
  • How would you describe Southern Cross' relationship with agents?
  • Are there still disadvantages to being the incumbent?
  • You've warned that if the Reserve Bank increases solvency requirements for insurance companies, premium prices will have to increase – are there good reasons not to increase solvency requirements?
  • Do you feel the Reserve Bank is listening to what the industry is telling it?

I'll leave it to readers to judge for themselves why Southern Cross found these questions so difficult to answer.

Tags: Opinion

« Partners Life unbundles trauma coverAccuro policyholders to vote on merger with UniMed »

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Comments from our readers

On 7 November 2023 at 10:02 am JPHale said:
Southern Cross does have a reputation of their way or the highway, and it shows through the organisation.

I'm not really surprised at the cancellation given they won't like answering these questions that call them to account.

Southern Cross likes to beat the drum on being for their policyholders, but they are failing to demonstrate that in the last little while.

Historically, Southern Cross has had a better focus on members, 2018 was the last time they had effective clear communications around changes.

It seems the change in approach aligns with the new leadership that came in with Nick in 2017.

Given his banking background, the attitude from the top isn’t surprising to see Southern Cross acting more like the banks than a member-focused mutual insurer.

I wonder if the SX board understands this, because the anti-adviser attitude of banks is palpable and well understood.

If I was disengaging nearly 1/5 of my clients I'd certainly be concerned about addressing this, seems not to be the case with Nick and his leadership team.
On 28 November 2023 at 1:36 pm oneopinion said:
Good luck getting anywhere with SX, outside of UltraCare I would not recommend them to 95% of my clients. JPHale agree with your comments and Nicks background also.
On 6 December 2023 at 10:35 am 37 years too long said:
Southern Cross should look back at what happened to AMP when they handed the reigns over to new management with a banking background. AMP had a 40% market share in the mid-80s. By 2019 the company had shrunk to the point of irrelevance.

Southern Cross shares the arrogance that was AMP's downfall.
On 7 December 2023 at 10:29 am Amused said:
@ 37 years too long

Well said! The AMP example is a great one.

On that subject we patiently await now the release of the biography titled "How to take a 170 year old financial services company and destroy it by hiring an ex-banker management team. The true story of the demise of AMP life.

I am sure that it will be a best seller among life advisers.

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