Tasmania was on high alert in January after a blistering heatwave sparked a series of devastating bushfires. Amongst this chaos ANCATAS Managing Director Nigel Clutterbuck and his team worked around the clock to make the hardest time in many of their clients’ lives a little easier
Meenal Kumar: What was your role as a broker during the bushfires?
Nigel Clutterbuck: The Tasmanian bushfires earlier this year were tragic in so many ways. There was so much devastation on many levels and the impact was far-reaching given we are such a small state. The role of a broker in these times can seem insignificant in comparison; however, I strongly believe our role is to help clients in these tough situations and advocate on their behalf to respective insurers, to ensure they receive the best outcome. It’s a great feeling to be in a position to help people in tough times, and ease the pressures where we can.
MK: How did you engage with clients in the lead-up to the fires?
NC: We made sure our team was fully briefed and informed on risk strategies to be able to provide advice to clients. When the bushfires started, we made contact with clients in affected and surrounding areas to provide support and to find out what their individual strategies were, so that we could be in a position to respond quickly if needed. We also made sure that clients had our after-hours access numbers so that in the event of emergency or uncertainty they could reach us.
MK: Did you have a role to play while the fires were burning?
NC: As soon as we were aware the fires were threatening homes, we spoke with our entire team to establish procedures in readiness. Clients in bushfire areas were obviously our number one priority, and given phone coverage was likely to be an issue, no messages were to be taken, so it was a whole team effort to handle queries as they developed. Our team was more than happy to work whatever hours would be required to support our clients during this emotional time.
MK: Immediately after the fires, what did you do to help clients?
NC: As soon as access was available, CGU setup relief centres at central points. This certainly provided locals with peace of mind. We were working with CGU, who were lodging claims directly with our clients from the affected areas and even when access was restricted, CGU organised various meeting points for ease. We were then able to expedite the claims process for the client’s benefit.
The bushfires resulted in nearly 1800 claims and $90 million in combined costs. It was our focus to be vigilant to ensure the claims process for our clients was smooth and as hassle-free for them as possible.
MK: Can you tell us about the claims process following the fires?
NC: It was certainly a difficult time after the fires with some misinformation circulating the local area and social media sites. In addition, the Tasmanian Government announced that they had appointed Hazell Bros for the removal of debris where the fires had destroyed structures, as asbestos was seen as an immediate concern. The government stated that as they would not be recouping the costs from insurance companies, people who were underinsured may in fact receive more funds from their insurer, as the government were meeting these costs. This created some confusion with clients who then had expectations that claim settlements were to be automatically increased.
MK: What’s the situation with your clients’ claims now?
NC: The majority of our claims have been adequately settled. We are still working through a few concerns to ensure the client is not penalised in any way and receives the highest possible settlement the policy provides.
MK: Would you do anything differently if you had your time again?
NC: Every situation is different and we all learn from past experiences. Our company has a number of youth coming through who had previously not been exposed to this type of tragedy and we hope that we don’t have to call on these new experiences anytime soon.
MK: What can other brokers learn from your experience?
NC: The most vital issue we faced was cash settlements. Whilst this has advantages, it can also result in a client not receiving the full benefits of their policy. For example, one client was offered a cash settlement and after our full analysis of this particular policy, we were able to have the settlement increased by $40,000. It’s great to confirm the value of a broker where we can add real value and advice in these situations.
Our goal, irrespective of role, title, level or responsibilities, was to help those that needed it most. During difficult times, it’s a relief for clients to have a broker to advocate on their behalf