She has a fast expanding book of farmer policyholders and plenty of client satisfaction with her product, but now the challenge for Emma Thomas is getting the name of agri-insurance newcomer, Achmea, widely understood in the bush.
The Dutch-based specialist farm sector insurance business fractured the mould in the local market when it launched here three years ago.
Achmea Australia actively promotes its co-operative business model as centred on policyholders who, in effect, own a stake in the insurance provider, as opposed to conventional insurance firms which answer to outside shareholders reaping annual profit dividends.
The company takes a long-term focus, also setting fairly high benchmarks for its policyholders who are given the chance to trim their own premiums if they adopt sound risk mitigation strategies around the farm.
Those mitigation efforts can range from training backpackers to ride a quad bike appropriately, to removing potential fire risks from behind farm buildings or upgrading electrical circuits installed in the shearing shed decades ago.
These relatively basic strategies, in turn, advantage all policyholders by limiting the chance of payout events and future premium rises.
Achmea’s co-op-based model is similar to that of its majority shareholder, Rabobank, which has picked up about 25 per cent of the rural lending market since it moved into the Australian agribusiness sector in the 1990s.
Ms Thomas, who recently moved from New Zealand to take the helm of the fledgling Australian business, said there was no shortage of good feedback about the company’s strategic approach to the farm sector – a general insurance market worth about $850 million annually.
Achmea estimates its competitive premium and tailored insurance strategies have won about two thirds of all farmers offered a quote by its team of “risk specialists”.
Popular features of its general farm pack insurance offering include its business interruption compensation offer to cover farmers for loss of income after a risk event, and pre-payments on insurance claims while an asset damage assessment is still being finalised.
“At the end of the day a claim event is not good for anybody – the aim is to get back operating as fast as possible,” Ms Thomas said.
“Reducing downtime and mitigating risks as much as possible are the sort of results we want to focus on.
“Our objective is to keep farmers farming.”
She said those who had not immediately jumped on board with Achmea generally kept the door open “to hear from us again in future”.
Having last month moved from a similar, but well established NZ mutual rural insurer, FMG, Ms Thomas’ challenge now will be to build on the initial wave of trust Achmea has won in the Australian market.
She wants to expose the brand to more potential clients who would not normally give much time to re-thinking their insurance needs or considering what is on offer.
Connecting with farmer representative bodies and developing brand recognition at industry events are likely priorities, too.
Achmea was also advertising to fill new representative roles created on the back of its recent growth.
On the crop insurance front, Achmea secured about seven per cent of last season’s $90 million winter crop coverage.
Its coverage offering includes storm damage - a novel category in the Australian market.
Total business growth has more than doubled in the past two years, initially on the back of recommendations from Rabobank, but now with a portfolio of clients from a much wider base, with a particularly strong uptake in intensive farming areas such as the glasshouse and poultry sectors.
Outgoing chief executive officer, Timmo Timo van Voorden, said Queensland had emerged as fertile ground for the new player.
“Farm insurance costs have been rising up to 20 per cent annually in Queensland since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, partly because fewer insurers want to be in that market,” he said.
“Many farmers have responded by cutting back on their coverage to save costs on annual premiums, maybe reducing building coverage from $1m to $500,000.
“We say you shouldn’t cut your coverage.
“Why not increase your excess a bit, so you pay the first $5000 on repairs in the event of a claim, but your annual policy costs will be cheaper.
“And in the event of a total loss you’ll still be fully insured.”
Mr van Voorden said having farmers negotiating to pay higher excess contributions also gave them “skin in the game” in their insurance relationship.
“If you’re conscious of a bigger excess commitment you are more likely to think proactively about minimising potential property or liability risks.”
Achmea’s first policyholders were signed up in Tasmania just weeks after the insurance business was registered in late 2013.
Although the company concedes its client base is still modest, latest industry benchmarking on customer satisfaction scoring saw Achmea rating at 36 - truly outpacing the industry average score of 10.