An interview with Symon Brewis-Weston


Sovereign’s Chief Executive Officer speaks with FST Media about how real-time data insights will revolutionise the insurance industry.

FST Media: What are your key priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Brewis-Weston: Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will continue to address the level of under-insurance in New Zealand. Our challenge is to make insurance appealing and engage with younger generations during the critical moments in their lives such as buying a house, getting married and having children.

To change the future of New Zealand’s health and financial security, it is up to us to continue innovating and developing tools, services and products that meet the needs of a constantly changing market. This includes developing new ways for customers to interact with us and our partners. We recently experienced great success in creating an online claims process for our health products and will be looking at how to continue innovating in the future to give our customers what they want. 

We will also address how complicated life and health insurance has become for customers. Our future is all about simplicity, flexibility and the ability to deliver market leading solutions to meet the future needs of customers. 

FST Media: What technology or innovation is the ‘holy grail’ that the financial services industry has yet to deliver? 

Brewis-Weston: In my opinion, there is no solution that is the ‘holy grail’. I believe it is more about building the right organisation that has the agility to respond to changing customer needs and the customer-centricity that is vital to predicting these needs before others do. Technology is key to this process but it is not a solution on its own.   

FST Media: What is your strategy to reach out to a growing Gen Y customer base with insurance in the New Zealand market? 

Brewis-Weston: We have relaunched our brand in the past six months to connect with a younger customer base with a view to help them understand the importance of insurance. As part of this strategy, we challenged Kiwis to take charge of their health, proactively preventing problems before they need our help fixing them.

We restored a 1978 Dodge ambulance and took it on a road trip throughout the summer, visiting New Zealand beach hot spots to give away free rash tops, SPF50 sunblock and other sun smart solutions to help address the high rates of melanoma in New Zealand. Without a branch network, it gave us a presence across the country and a great reason to talk to people. 

We have recruited brand ambassadors to help us connect with our Gen Y audience – including Pua Magasiva of Shortland Street and Nicola Smith of – and developed tools that help people get healthier. This includes free 30-day challenges, a healthy content hub and working with New Zealand’s top bloggers to provide healthy inspiration.

We sponsored the Sovereign Tri Series, which is an opportunity for us to connect with regional locations and provide events for people at all fitness and experience levels. We also have plenty more planned to bring our ‘Life. Take Charge’ brand to the forefront in the coming months.
We are also aware of the importance of innovating to ensure we are delivering the products and services that this market wants. If we are to attract the “internet generation”, we need to cater for their desire to make decisions online. 

FST Media: How will you leverage data analytics to deliver a seamless customer experience across all channels? 

Brewis-Weston: Better understanding our customers enables us to tailor products and services, as well as reduce the complexity of our business. It allows us to talk to people how and when they want to us to, anticipate their future needs and become even more adaptable and ready for change. Data allows us to continue building trust by demonstrating that we not only understand what our customers want, but that we are adapting to meet their expectations.

FST Media: How will real-time insights revolutionise the insurance industry? 

Brewis-Weston: Real-time insights will give us the ability to be more responsive to customers, improve turnaround times and customise the customer experience. It also will improve productivity in the workplace and make us more effective.

FST Media: What role does social media engagement play in the overall customer journey?

Brewis-Weston: Social media has become an important communication tool for Sovereign and will continue to play a vital role in the future. It allows us to communicate directly with our customers and respond directly to their needs. It also gives our customers more choice as to how they get in touch with us and provides us with instant feedback on our products and service.

Teams across the business have collaborated to ensure the “Facebook experience” for our customers matches the experience they would receive through any of our touchpoints and it is working well. 

In the insurance industry, social media can be a scary concept. Rather than shy away from it, we are creating transparency for our business and giving our customers more choice. It is very exciting. 

FST Media: What is the future of wearables and telematics in the insurance industry?

Brewis-Weston: Wearable systems can be embedded into clothing, applied to skin, or added into consumer devices. They enable the user to track activity such as steps taken in a day as well as key health statistics such as blood pressure. In the future, they will even allow continuous monitoring of physiological cues associated with illnesses such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. It would be wonderful to reward clients who, by using their wearable devices, improve their health and fitness. 

FST Media: What is the most overstated technology in the financial services sector today?

Brewis-Weston: Wearables run the risk of being overstated unless they have a meaningful purpose for people. There is a lot of technology that is looking for a problem to solve.  It comes back to the notion of developing a genuine understanding of our customers and ensuring we improve the parts of the experience they care about, not just reacting to new technology.

FST Media: How do you define success?

Brewis-Weston: Ultimately, success is measured by our customers and our shareholders. If customers believe Sovereign is making a difference in their lives, and our shareholders feel we are making a difference to the business, I call that success. 

FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team? 

Brewis-Weston: By encouraging diversity across the business, we have a team that represents our customers, our community and has the skills to deliver amazing work. To me, diversity is as much about how you think as it is about culture, age and gender. Creating a diverse team encourages outside-the-box thinking. 

If we are going to successfully address some of the big challenges facing our industry, attract younger customers to our brand and create a sustainable future for the business we need to create an environment where innovation is encouraged and where it can thrive. 

It is important to create a platform for people to try new things, experiment and challenge how we work.  Importantly, everyone needs to have the same view of what success is to ensure we stay focussed on innovation that benefits the business.

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

Brewis-Weston: For me, it is really simple. It is about the people I work with and the people that take over the business after I leave. I always want to leave the business in a better state than when I arrived, but just as importantly, I want the people I worked with to have grown as leaders and realised what can be achieved by having teams working well together.