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The awards conundrum

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The insurance industry is awash with awards. From brokerages naming their favourite insurer to industry-wide awards, there seems to be something for everyone.

Once it was solely the National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA) handing out awards for best young broker, best insurer and broking leaders. Then, 15 years ago, the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance (ANZIIF) launched its industry-wide awards – and, let it be noted, this was in the face of stiff opposition from NIBA and the Insurance Council.

If they were worried about awards going viral, they had a point.

There are now at least five “insurer of the year” awards we are aware of, and the same insurer has never been known to win more than two in one year.

But at least it’s all in the spirit of recognising the industry’s high-performers and encouraging others to excel – or at least it used to be.

A couple of weeks ago a new entrant charged into no man’s land with 28 industry awards to hand out. The number of executives who have since spoken to about this – in tones ranging from confusion to outright hostility – makes it impossible for us to ignore it, much as we would prefer to.

The event was organised by Insurance Business, the Australian offshoot of an international publisher. Its awards event effectively gazumped ANZIIF’s identical event slated for August 30 – something that is becoming a bit of a habit. ANZIIF’s insurtech conference in Sydney on May 2-3 was followed a week later by an identical Insurance Business insurtech “summit”.

Both awards events are quite similar in organisation and execution. The difference comes when you consider motives. ANZIIF’s event is about celebrating the success of companies and high-performers in the industry it serves. The Insurance Business event is a marketing exercise.

It caps a stream of similar awards handed out by that publisher. Among them are its “elite brokers” awards, which at least have given a brief moment in the spotlight to many people of whom you might never otherwise have heard.

Tim Garratt, the publication’s editor, defines the brokers, insurers and underwriting agencies who receive such awards as “the finest insurance professionals Australia has to offer”. Perhaps that accolade is deserved by some of the recipients, but the criteria used to justify it are limited in their scope and opaque in their execution.

Such awards underline the fact that there are no set standards for industry awards, and maybe there should be. Industry awards should be authentic, but authenticity is only possible if it’s twinned with transparency.

In our opinion, the most authentic awards are NIBA’s insurer of the year, which is decided through an intensive survey of its members, and the Mansfield Awards for Claims Excellence, which are organised and managed by Insurance News and loss specialist LMI on a non-profit basis. The Mansfields measure all insurers’ claims results and also conduct a large opinion poll.

Insurance Business, meanwhile, can’t even identify who nominated some of its award finalists. We are aware of instances where companies were told by the organisers prior to the latest awards event that they were finalists – and would they like to buy a table for 10?

Questions as to who nominated them were deflected with the response that such information was confidential. Hmmm…

None of this would matter all that much if Insurance Business wasn’t intent on commercial advantage from its plethora of awards. It gains profile within the industry and builds commercial relationships – for which read advertising – by highlighting finalists and winners, which are able to use little “finalist” and “winner” badges in their advertising.

But consider this: if a company says in its marketing that it’s the best at something, it has to be able to demonstrate how. So if insurance buyers see on a company’s website or in its advertising that it has won an industry award, is there a risk they could be misled into believing it actually means something? We think so.

The person or company winning an award has been judged against only half a dozen or even fewer competitors, even though they actually compete with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of others.

Really, the winners are the best of those who bothered to enter – or were entered by people who can’t even be identified.

As one senior insurance executive put it to, having two industry awards events “is like putting the Logies up against the Oscars – only one of them really means anything”.

We don’t take such a harsh view. None of the above will deter some companies and individuals from using their “win” as a marketing tool, and there’s no law saying they can’t. If it gives them a glow of satisfaction, so be it.