Featured Profile: Jenny Oliver
Vote of confidence
The future of life insurance looks bright thanks to leaders like Jenny Oliver, working tirelessly to help a fractured industry rise to the occasion. She tells Karren Vergara about leadership from the top.

Not everyone is lucky enough to be in a job that makes a difference. But Jenny Oliver is grateful that she is.

As TAL's general manager of group insurance, Oliver works closely with superannuation funds to ensure the life insurance provider delivers the quality products and services members expect.

"As an industry, we can remediate any reputational damage that we've suffered and deliver better products to the members."
Giving members' peace of mind that they will be supported financially, and that their loved ones will be looked after, does make a difference in people's lives, Oliver says.

"I'm in the fortunate position where I get to see literally billions of dollars go out the door in claims payments - and that's very real and tangible," she says.

The group insurance business must deliver a number of "complex propositions" for the ultimate benefit of members, and working with the superannuation provider to do this is an aspect of her role she enjoys.

It renders a sense of satisfaction, much like a sporting team coming together and winning a game, she says. "You get that when you partner with the superannuation fund and [its] administrators and everybody else in the value chain, so there's a real sense of achievement there as well."

This centres on coming together and implementing a plethora of tasks around products, technologies and communication, which strangely enough, works like a marriage, Oliver explains.

Both parties have an aligned objective of implementing great insurance arrangements and experiences - both must have a commitment to these goals; trust each other; be honest; communicate and be  disciplined as well.

"If you can have open, honest conversations around what you're trying to achieve or what you're concerned about, it really does lead to a good relationship, but also a really solid, productive and efficient implementation," Oliver says.

The value of loyalty and trust to Oliver are still as relevant today as they were when she first started working during her high school days - at a local newsagency.

A few years later she graduated from university with a finance degree under her belt and it led to an assurance and audit role at consulting firm Deloitte for four years. Then she landed a head of finance role at TAL some three-and-a-half years later.

A grounding in finance gave her a thorough understanding of how businesses operate and "how it all comes together" - another transferrable skill that's proven valuable in her working life.

She eventually realised she wanted to broaden out of finance and "be part of the action"; so she began accepting roles that took her closer to the frontline to working directly with partners.

"Throughout my career, I've had to stretch myself and say 'yes' to opportunities I didn't think I could do or I didn't think I would enjoy doing. I did that because one of my own objectives is to constantly grow and learn and challenge myself," Oliver says.

She admits being "very nervous" the first time she took on a client-facing account management role.

"But I got through it and that gave me the courage and the confidence to know that the next time I was asked to do something out of my comfort zone there was a good chance I would get through that too," she says. It's this attitude that enabled her to have an "awesome and diverse career" that has taken her from finance, to strategic, commercial and operational roles, to underwriting and group insurance.

Oliver saw TAL go through a major restructure in 2011 when Japanese insurance giant Dai-ichi Life took full ownership of TOWER Australia, as TAL was known back then. As with any organisational change, feeling apprehensive is part and parcel.

She was however, surprised just how well the two organisations aligned themselves in terms of culture and values, and how the new parent company took the time to get to know the Australian business and truly "respected what we were doing locally."

Dai-Ichi Life thinks long-term, has patient capital and wasn't looking for short-term results or turning things around quickly, she notes, adding this focus on sustainability comes useful in the life insurance space.

In retrospect, her career didn't take a direct 'straight to the top' path. She had to make a few sideway moves and steps some people would perceive as demotions - but this only projected her forward even faster.

"I had to stop, check, go back, pick up those skills and capabilities, and then I could leap on forward. Sideways and down sometimes leads to up," Oliver says.

When it comes to balancing working full-time with two young children, it's important to be "very clear on what you want from both," she advises.

For Oliver, this meant committing quality time to both family and career - working as hard as (and as late if required) during the week - but saving weekends for family. It also involves making time for her two biggest passions.

The self-confessed "mad V8 Supercar fan" - a Holden girl to be precise - has "stripped out engines and done up a few cars" in her time; a shared interest between her dad and brother when she was growing up.

The other hobby that's carried through her adult life is netball, which gives Oliver an opportunity to let her hair down and not "overthink things" for just one hour every week (she has just recovered from two broken ribs).

During the weekdays, Oliver helps take care of getting the kids to school, meaning she can't attend meetings before 9am.

"I've found as long as I've been clear about this, build in some flexibility when really required, everyone respects it and it works really well," she says.

"TAL in particular, [has] been very supportive of me and my family as they progress throughout certain stages of their life. I look back [and] I am actually really pleased with the way with I've been able to manage that."

Even though the life insurance sector has been besmirched by a string of scandals in recent years, Oliver is resolute the industry will pull itself out of the doldrums.

And despite all of the regulatory and public scrutiny, her outlook is one of optimism.

Oliver is part of the Insurance in Super Working Group and for the past seven months has been actively involved in stamping out the problems super funds and life insurers have been facing, and moreover, mandating a high set of standards to give consumers confidence in the system.

"Being in the room and listening to the conversations, gives me absolute confidence that we'll get there in that regard and that we'll be able to self-regulate ourselves and implement the changes we need," she says.

"As an industry, we can remediate any reputational damage that we've suffered and deliver better products to the members."

In an era where consumers' expectations are "skyrocketing", life insurers must respond in a way that delivers even beyond that, she points out.

One initiative front of mind is raising more awareness on members' lack of knowledge around the benefits life insurance provides through superannuation funds.

"They could be getting that peace of mind and could be one less thing to worry about, but they just don't know, and in the worst case they don't claim on it," Oliver says.

She predicts significant member engagement activity ahead either in the form of personal or digital engagement; as well as continued effort on educating and creating awareness for group insurance. At TAL, she hints sophisticated data techniques will be used to "build a better picture of members."

Such tools will result in gaining a holistic picture of every member by customising the right life insurance outcomes based on their needs and affordability, rather than just what they receive as a default. She sees this as a good opportunity to personalise the group insurance offer to customers.

It really is an exciting and dynamic industry to be in at the moment, says Oliver, who after spending 13 years in life insurance is ever more motivated and determined the industry will come out better, stronger, and she will continue to make a difference.

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