Can you give us an overview of the legal team at IAG and its role in the organisation?
There are five of us in the Corporate and Commercial Legal team. We work alongside six Insurance, Regulatory, and Disputes lawyers in New Zealand, and a 60-strong multi-disciplinary team of lawyers in Australia. We work closely with the Australian and the other NZ team and consider them our colleagues. My team reports to the NZ General Counsel, and he is a member of the New Zealand Executive Leadership Team. There is also a Group General Counsel and he is a member of the Group Executive Leadership team.
The legal team’s mandate is really clear: to help IAG achieve its strategic objectives. This acts as our lighthouse, and if a piece of work doesn’t clearly align with a strategic objective, we have licence to challenge it (and often do). We’re also not a compliance function, which allows us to focus on getting deals done and helping the business move faster.
Having this focus is critical, as the team is a stakeholder in every big project, deal, marketing campaign, partnership, and transaction. We’re closely involved with our regulators, with Toka Tū Ake EQC, and with supporting our Chief Executive with discussions with central and local government. No other function supports the entire enterprise with its growth objectives as closely as we do. This means we can see the big picture of what the company is looking to achieve, and this makes resolving any competing priorities quite straightforward.
In-house legal are known to 'put out fires before they begin'. What strategies does your team employ to help achieve this?
For this to happen, the business needs to engage early and take legal advice on board. But that’s not going to happen without good relationships and trust. So, we invest heavily in establishing relationships of trust throughout the whole organisation.
Every business unit has one (or two) dedicated legal contacts that have deep expertise in specific areas. We’re embedded into every major project as a key stakeholder. We hold regular “ask me anything (work related)” forums with the higher-risk teams to ensure everyone knows we’re on their side and here to help. And most importantly everyone in the team has a well-deserved reputation of being approachable, capable, and solutions focussed.
So instead of looking for smouldering embers, we focus on building and growing relationships with key stakeholders. Once that’s in play, the rest seems to fall into place quite naturally.
What are the key challenges facing the team, and how do you plan to address these?
The first challenge is balancing breadth with depth. Depth of expertise means faster outcomes with fewer blind spots. But a lawyer who has worked across the whole enterprise has the benefit of seeing how it all fits together, and this breadth is often also more enjoyable.
Every year, we do a stocktake of key workstreams. This year there were 57! We then work through them as a team, with people putting up their hand for workstreams they either want to lead out, or support with. Everyone gets an opportunity to get involved with the work they are interested in or that aligns with their goals. The team has capability for miles, so we’re all pretty comfortable picking up new workstreams.
The second challenge is the ever-expanding skillset required to support the business. For example, in the last twelve months, the team has had to help respond to back-to-back record breaking numbers of complex and novel claims, has helped set up a new building company (a first for any NZ insurer), has helped expand IAG’s vehicle repair division, and has helped IAG engage with local and central government on the role insurers will play in New Zealand’s adaptation to climate change.
Though a challenge, it also keeps things interesting and meaningful, and when we’re operating outside of our expertise we lean on our legal panel for specialist assistance.
The third is regulatory change. As a dual NZ and Australian corporate citizen, we’re subject to both New Zealand and Australia regulation and have oversight from seven (potentially eight) very active regulators. There has been a tidal wave of new regulation from both jurisdictions and still so much to come. We’re in a constant state of regulatory change, and although we recognise what the regulation is looking to achieve, it can be bewildering when you hear about even more wholesale changes being announced in New Zealand or Australia. It's frustrating too, especially when you get your head around it and realise it’s unlikely to actually help the customer. (Personally, I’d be happy to forego being read out a long-winded, cookie-cutter, privacy disclaimer every time I call the vet!)
What strategies and initiatives has your legal team implemented to foster an effective team culture?
I think we’re really lucky as a team. Our personalities gel well, and we have a fantastic cross-section of both technical and human skills. We have a fortnightly “Roundtable” where we’re all encouraged to share a challenging issue or a creative solution, or just bounce ideas around, so we’re constantly sharing what we’re learning about the business. We’re also happy to pick up the phone to anyone in the team to sound things out.
There’s a tonne of respect as well. Everyone is treated, first and foremost, as a person instead of a ‘resource’. We’ve all got family commitments, social lives, household chores, renovations, sick children, hobbies, pets, holidays. Wellbeing is a big priority and I think IAG does a really good job in that space. (Hopefully) it means that when Monday rolls around, people are happy to roll up their sleeves, get some good results, and end the day feeling like they’ve helped an important company deliver on its purpose.