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February 9, 2011updated 13 Apr 2017 8:50am

Entrepreneur takes on big guys in New Zealand

Starting a new life insurance company from scratch is a big step and one two New Zealanders, Naomi Ballantyne and Richard Coon, have just taken with the founding of Partners Life

By LII editorial

Bar chart showing premium income in New Zealand life insurance marketStarting a new life insurance company from scratch is a big step and one two New Zealanders, Naomi Ballantyne and Richard Coon, have just taken with the founding of Partners Life. The new insurer officially opens for business in March this year.

Commenting on the bold decision to establish Partners Life, Ballantyne said: “We’ve followed the situation closely for some time and just felt that we could do something different. Our approach has been to work collaboratively with local financial advisors to create the next generation of products that will protect New Zealand families.”

Ballantyne will serve as MD of Partners Life and Coon as financial director. Former CEO of Prudential New Zealand, Boyd Klap, has been appointed as chairman.

Expanding on the rationale for Partners Life’s establishment, sales and marketing director Pauline Prescott commented: “The New Zealand market is currently dominated by large international banks, leaving a gap for a new entrant to step in and really drive innovation for the good of the client.”

She added that as part of Partners Life’s strategy, a significant attraction for consumers is that they will be rewarded with a loyalty bonus in the form of premium reductions over time.

Initially, Partners Life will offer life insurance, income protection, medical insurance, disability insurance and trauma cover.

As a technology platform, Partners Life has selected Sonata, a solution from Bravura Solutions, an Australian financial technology developer. The Sonata platform will cover all aspects of the policy lifecycle from new business to claims processing.

Ballantyne comes with a formidable background in insurance, including having played a major role in the building up of New Zealand’s largest life insurer Sovereign Life, where she worked from the time of its founding in 1989 until its acquisition in 1999 by New Zealand bank ASB Group, a unit of Commonwealth Bank of Australia. She was Sovereign’s chief operating officer at the time of her departure.

Ballantyne went on to reputedly become the first woman in the world to found her own life assurance company, Club Life. Club Life began operations in July 2001, and in early 2004 was acquired by Dutch insurer ING Group which re-branded the company ING Life Australia (ILA).

Ballantyne resigned as the CEO of ILA in mid-2009, just ahead of ING’s sale of its 51% stake in ILA, in November 2009, to its joint venture partner Australia and New Zealand Banking Group for €1.1bn ($1.5bn). The company, then Australia’s fifth-largest life insurers, was subsequently renamed Onepath Life.

In early-2010, Ballantayne continued to build on her reputation as a serial insurance entrepreneur when she established an insurance brokerage in New Zealand, Us Advice. Ballantayne and Coon announced in December 2010 that they were to establish Partners Life.

No stranger to the world of entrepreneurship either, Coon was the founder of New Zealand home equity release company Sentinel. Sentinel is also the founding company of Seniors Money International which provides equity release products in Australia, Ireland, Canada and South Africa.

Life Partners will be taking on major players in New Zealand’s life market such as AMP, Axa, Sovereign and Onepath.

Beyond Ballantayne’s track record, the new insurer has in its favour an underinsured market.

According to Swiss Re, premium income of NZ$1.7bn ($1.33bn) in 2009 represented penetration of a mere 0.9% of GDP in 2009. This compared with a penetration rate of 4.8% of GDP for general insurance and a life insurance penetration rate of 3.4% of GDP in Australia.

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