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Christchurch Three Years On: Vero’s Jimmy Higgins in the hot seat

This year is heralded as the year of the recovery for Christchurch. 

NBR asked Jimmy Higgins, Vero’s executive general manager leading its earthquake programme, what his plans are for this year.

According to its latest figures, Vero has paid out $3 billion and settled 70% of residential and commercial claims. 

Vero has been the lead insurer in some of New Zealand’s largest claims, settling with Housing New Zealand ($320 million); Lyttelton Port Company ($445 million) and Ministry of Education ($200 million).

It has resolved 60% of its over-cap ($100,000) properties and expects to resolve the remaining 40% by December 2014. Construction activity will continue into 2015 for those customers that choose to reinstate with Vero.   

EQC-excluded repairs are 80% resolved. Most of the remaining claims will be resolved by the middle of 2014.

Mr Higgins, how do you intend to keep your promises for this year?

“Our experience in Christchurch has shown us that every claim is unique and each customer has different needs. We’ve therefore appointed individual case managers to each customer and we’ve taken a pragmatic approach to solving claims.

“Our timeframes are dependent upon a number of critical milestones which need to be aligned. 

“These include professional and expert reports being delivered in the timeframes expected, building consents not taking longer than planned, 

builders and contractors committing to scheduled dates and managing capacity and customer decisions being made within expected timeframes.”

How do you anticipate resolving these issues?

“We have an experienced team of case managers who are locally based and committed to resolving customer issues. We make sure our teams have what they need and are supported to achieve our targets. 

“Our project management capability is flexible and adaptable. We recognise that it is important to use local building knowledge and contractors who are capable of responding more quickly to our needs. 

“We have a large number of local contractors who have indicated they want to work for us.

“Our claims management model employs a direct customer approach. In disaster recovery, customers’ needs are greater and achieving progress often brings an emotional component to the decision making. 

“The complexity around Christchurch’s residential recovery requires us to have developed a certain level of trust with our customers. Our case managers work directly with our customers and together they develop and agree the solutions to finalise their claims. 

What do you think you’re doing differently?

“We have empowered our senior case managers to make decisions on the ground with our customers. This has built the trust we need to help us all move forward and is shown by the low number of our customers seeking guidance from the Residential Advisory Service (2.4%).

“Our approach has also enabled us to resolve over 3500 EQC-excluded claims within the last 10 months. I used a similar approach during the disaster recoveries that I’ve managed in Australia.

“We are listening to our customers and we have great momentum now. We’re getting on with it and settling claims.”

Read: the rest of the Christchurch Three Years On feature stories here