Australia: A conversation with Prue Willsford, CEO, ANZIIF(Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance)

We spoke to new ANZIIF CEO, Prue Willsford, as she settles into the role. Prue joins ANZIIF with 20 years' experience in the financial services sector, including at State Trustees, Macquarie Bank, NAB and Colonial Mutual, and in education as the former Deputy Chancellor of Victoria University.

You are now more than six months into the job, how are you settling into to the role?

It's a joy to come to work every day. The opportunities for us as an organisation to partner with industry are immense and I honestly have never been so energised about my work.

We have award winning educational products and a real role in working with industry to grow the professionalism, technical capabilities and the opportunities within the insurance industry. We're small – only 55 people – and yet our impact is way beyond the size of the organisation. We punch above our weight at a level that is actually quite thrilling.

Until now your career has predominantly been in financial management and financial services product development. What has inspired the change to the educational aspect of the insurance and financial services industry?

When I went to university in the 1980s, I was the first in my branch of the family to ever get a tertiary education. Quite separately, I come from a family that has a strong background in community service. About six years ago someone approached me to join the Council of Victoria University. And because I'm not very good at saying no, I ended up as the Chairman of their Resources Committee, which looks after their budgets, campuses, people strategy and technology infrastructure strategy.

Through this position, and my position as Deputy Chancellor, I really came to understand the transformative role of education; how it improves personal lives as well as the productivity and capability of a nation.

It is a privilege to be working in an organisation like ANZIIF whose sole purpose is to actually improve the capability of the industry, companies and individuals.

What attracted you to ANZIIF in particular?

Education is definitely one part of it. But for me, ANZIIF was the magic trio. It had financial services, education and community building, underpinned by a leadership role. It was the absolute combination of those items together that I sort of thought "Mmm, sounds perfect for me".

What are your plans for ANZIIF and the key priorities for the organisation over the next few years?

Our strategy is to be the natural partner of industry and members. Our sole purpose is to make industry better and stronger at an individual level and also systemically. So, at the moment, I am very focussed on going around and meeting, listening and talking to the friends of ANZIIF. Whether they're CEOs, heads of L&D, in distribution or product development or members in the early stage of their careers, they all have very valid perspectives on our service offering from both a membership and an educational perspective.

So, while my views on ANZIIF's priorities are still forming, there are some things that are key for me.

First, we are launching a new website in July that focuses on providing a tailored membership experience. It builds on the amazing opportunities for people to drive their own career paths through online education and content, and also through the delivery of some pinnacle industry events.

Supporting that, will be significant ongoing investment into our education and training products, so that they stay relevant, best of breed and are of real value to both individuals and companies. There's a revolution happening in education that we're part of and I'm incredibly excited by the capabilities of our organisation in terms of digital learning.

Anecdotally I was having a conversation with a gentleman on a plane the other day and we were discussing insurance generally. I was saying how ubiquitous insurance is; how many don't understand how much of our capital investment is dependent on it, and that so much risk-taking that has driven the growth of the economy couldn't happen without it. And the light went on for this gentleman and he said, "Oh, I see! Insurance is like air. It's ubiquitous, it's everywhere, it's invisible and if you don't have it you'll know all about it".

Part of our role at ANZIIF is to help that light go on for a lot more people.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for ANZIIF and the insurance industry generally over the coming years?

The big challenge that we see from ANZIIF's perspective is the incredible rate of change that's occurring due to changes at a macro level. We're seeing off-shoring, outsourcing, partnering across the region. That presents challenges, but it's also a real opportunity for us to partner with regional organisations and individuals to make sure that they have reliable skills and competencies across their network. We are also seeing the massive war for talent, the demographic time bomb that is occurring at all levels, particularly in relation to the technical skills in our industry.

These changes mean that the natural career paths that used to exist within the insurance industry are changing. That's why we're investing so heavily in terms of our education offering.

More broadly, the insurance industry continues to go through mergers, acquisitions, model changes, serious challenges with catastrophes in terms of staffing up and staffing down and being able to access the right kinds of skills at the right time. There are also big changes in terms of capital flows across the globe, which obviously affect Australia and New Zealand locally.

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