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Essential: insurers stay open as NZ closes down

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New Zealand has some of the toughest COVID-19-related restrictions, but the Ardern Government has declared insurers are an essential service and will remain open for business.

From tomorrow, New Zealand will enforce Level 4 restrictions that will see the closure of all schools, bars, restaurants, takeaway food businesses, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds and any other place where the public congregates.

“Only businesses that are essential to the provision of the necessities of life may remain open,” the Government said in a statement.

Insurers sit in the “essential” category alongside supermarkets, banks, doctors, pharmacies, service stations and couriers.

The Insurance Council Of New Zealand (ICNZ) says New Zealand insurers are committed to supporting their customers in response to COVID-19, with all ICNZ members activating business contingency plans to protect their business and staff.

“Insurance is a vital service to support the financial resilience of New Zealand and we are glad it has been identified by the New Zealand Government as an essential service during the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 period,” CEO Tim Grafton told today.

He says new working arrangements may cause delays for some services, but all members are well equipped to maintain their services.

“Should the unexpected happen during the Alert Level 4 period insurers will be there to help and will be able to arrange emergency and critical safety repairs,” he said.

The “essential” classification applies to all licensed insurers - life, non-life and health. However, financial advice has been deemed non-essential, so brokers will engage with clients remotely.

Suncorp says its New Zealand insurers Vero and Asteron Life and have scaled up their work from home capacity to enable customer servicing and claims management to continue during the lockdown period.

Tower Insurance CEO Richard Harding says his company has undertaken a “huge logistical, planning and technological undertaking” to allow 95% of Tower employees to perform their roles from home to support social distancing efforts.

“Our team have worked long hours to get us to a point this week where the vast majority of our team can work from home,” he said. “It really is an unprecedented time and we want to keep our team safe and keep helping customers. It’s going to be bumpy for the next few weeks. Please bear with us.”

IAG NZ says its AMI stores have closed and call centre hours have been reduced as the company setting up teams to work from home.

“This means temporarily closing our AMI stores and operating at minimal staffing levels until our teams working from home are up and running,” it says in a statement.

Fellow IAG-owned insurer NZI, which is also setting up teams to work from home, says it is “committed to supporting New Zealand through thick and thin” by maintaining “a very high level of business continuity”.

The Earthquake Commission says it will continue to process claims for damage caused by natural disasters, including reopened Canterbury claims. All claim lodgement channels remain open although face-to-face interactions will cease. That will cause delays to managed repairs currently under construction, as well as onsite assessments and scoping.

The New Zealand regulators, the Reserve Bank and Financial Markets Authority, clarified which financial services should be considered as an essential service, with a full list of registered insurers and essential supply chain functions available on their websites.