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State of transition

Elizabeth Diffin

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Advisors from New Zealand remain committed to client service, despite regulatory challenges.

Choose from any number of demographic indicators — population age, birth rate, death rate — and it’s clear that New Zealand is undergoing a transformation. But as the population steadily continues to grow, advisors in the South Pacific nation are seeing potential for the profession, particularly when it comes to the impact of international migration.

Results from the 2018 census showed that New Zealand had become notably more diverse just since 2013. The percentage of the population not born in the country had increased to 27.4%, with 15.1% identifying with at least one Asian ethnicity, the largest of which was Chinese.

Two-year MDRT member Shirley Yun Zhang, FSA, is herself a Chinese immigrant, having moved to New Zealand to attend university in 2008. Her company primarily serves the local ethnic Chinese population in Auckland, which has been the epicenter of much of the Asian migration in New Zealand.

“We help those communities overcome language and cultural barriers when seeking out the insurance products most suited to their needs, and understanding their rights and protecting their interests,” she said. “If the advisor and client have the same culture, it’s much easier to communicate and for the advisor to understand the client’s needs.”

Bill Binli Wang, FSA, a first-year MDRT member also from Auckland, takes a similar approach. He immigrated to New Zealand in 2013 and attended university there. Now, as an advisor, his practice focuses on those like him, particularly recent graduates and young families. This niche happened almost by coincidence: When Wang graduated from university and entered the profession, the people he primarily knew were about his age, and many also were immigrants on student visas. They were not eligible for the public health system and needed medical insurance due to high medical costs in their adopted country. “Many of my clients are young, unsure of their future and whether they can stay in New Zealand, and have a limited budget,” Wang said. “I’ve found that explaining the relevant terms of conditions, combined with New Zealand customs and culture, helps them better understand the product and the importance of insurance.”

Zhang has seen recent changes in medical insurance coverage have a positive impact on the immigrant population she works with.

“Medical coverage used to be limited to onshore care, but it has now been expanded to cover care within Australasia or even farther offshore,” she said. “This has proved popular with my client base, many of whom prefer the option of seeking care in China, for better family care and easier communication with medical staff there.”

Eight-year MDRT member Brian William Burgess, of Christchurch, says these product changes point to the fact that New Zealand has traditionally been fairly innovative in its product offerings. But in recent years, cutting-edge products have taken a backseat to something advisors around the world are facing: more strident regulation.

“Financial services in New Zealand are in what could broadly be considered a state of transition,” Burgess said. “Regulation undoubtedly adds a layer of complexity around reporting, disclosure and generally running our business. But these new regulations will ultimately lift standards and make what is already a highly credible and professional industry even stronger.”

In March 2021, New Zealand entered what Burgess calls “a whole new era of regulation.” The Financial Services Legislation Amendment Bill, which was adopted in April 2019, focused on protecting client interests and addressing the “misuse of the financial service providers registered by offshore entities,” according to New Zealand MP Kris Faafoi. Those wanting to enter the profession will need to obtain accreditation before advising clients. The bill also includes a code of conduct advisors must follow.

“This new piece of legislation is expected to shake up the industry with significant improvements in service levels to clients, as well as industry consolidation with smaller players looking to exit the market,” Zhang said.

Rather than fight against this significant regulation, Burgess’ firm chose to embrace it as a way of serving their clients better.

“Our approach has been to retain a specialist advisory firm to help us navigate the changes and to involve our whole team in the process of implementing and executing these changes,” he said. “Our team has responded extremely well, and it has already promoted a culture of involvement and excellence.”

And ultimately, all three advisors agree that no matter what may change in their country — whether additional regulations, evolving products or the challenges brought on by a worldwide pandemic — their priority is always in helping their clients prepare for the future.

“Much has changed in the way we process data, tailor our recommendations, complete applications and get our clients underwritten,” Burgess said. “But in essence, we are still doing the same thing: making sure we are there to make a difference when someone dies too soon, lives too long or becomes disabled along the way.”


Brian Burgess

Bill Wang

Shirley Zhang


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