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Challenging the Status Quo

Women in Financial Services

Off the back of recent Deloitte Insights research into female representation in the financial services industry across the world, this article is the fourth in a series about women in leadership in the New Zealand banking and insurance industries. While Oceania is leading in regard to female representation in senior positions, there is still a way to go yet. This series explores the perspectives of women in executive roles in the New Zealand banking and insurance industries about developing and supporting the workforce experience and strategies that can be employed to foster upwards mobility for upcoming talent. We delve into diversity, equity and inclusion and consider how to facilitate a positive and rewarding working experience for all. 

Partners Life Founder and Managing Director, Naomi Ballantyne, is unrivalled in the New Zealand financial services sector. Known for challenging the status quo, Naomi has founded not one but two life insurance companies over the course of a successful 40 years in the industry.

After abandoning a marine biology degree and taking a chance on a job advertisement that meant little to her at the time, “management trainee, life insurance”, Naomi began her career in the life insurance industry at 18 - at a time when many in the industry had been there for decades. Now, she’s one of the most prominent figures in the sector and remains driven in her mission to show New Zealanders just how important life insurance can be.

In what would be an early lesson in giving things a go, Naomi recalls an anecdote from her first insurance job where the introduction of total and permanent disability policies necessitated a need for risk underwriting and premium loading – a skillset that neither Naomi nor anyone else in the organisation had at the time. “I didn’t know how to do it, but I was good at maths and applied that logic to work it out. There was a feeling of not being worried about doing it wrong,” says Naomi - a sign of the entrepreneurial spirit that drove her to build her own successful businesses in the years to come.

Naomi describes how she “became addicted” to life insurance from the outset. “I found my calling early on by accident,” she says, reflecting that four decades on, it’s the meaning of the work that has continued to fuel her passion for the industry. “I’ve never wanted to change industries. I get emotional letters from clients when we’ve helped them and I’m lucky because there aren’t many fields where you get that kind of response to the work that you do,” says Naomi.

A culture built on attitude and capability

With life insurance playing such an important role in Kiwis’ lives, having the right team to deliver a great customer experience is essential.

The Partners Life approach to recruitment is simple – “we don’t exclude anyone.” Naomi acknowledges that diversity and equity can be a challenge in an industry like insurance but believes that a recruitment approach of locating those who are the best fit for the company is what enables an organisation to achieve a more diverse workforce. “When you look for you, you’re only presented with those who also think like you, and you don’t get the diversity of thinking that you need. I don’t fit a mould, so there is no mould in terms of the right type of person or their history or experience.”

From a culture perspective, it’s about attitude and capability at Partners Life. Naomi’s approach is to “look for those who have a desire to know things and those who are driven to be good at whatever they’re doing. If you find those people and you hire enough of them, it drives the whole culture of the organisation.”

That outlook informs how Naomi has approached her own career but it’s also the same advice she has for anyone who is working towards career progression – “if you don’t know something, you can learn it. Don’t let the fact that you don’t know stop you from participating or making a decision,” she says.

Naomi’s advice for women entering financial services? “Know your worth and make sure you get paid what you’re worth.” To break down the gender pay gap, Naomi says that women need to talk about salaries, research and ask questions to ensure they’re being paid fairly. And employers should “take a stand and say, ‘I’ll pay you more than I have to,’ to stop perpetuating the problem.”

For someone who has carved their own path, Naomi is now creating hundreds of opportunities for Kiwis’, with Partners Life employing over 250 people. It’s clear that the unwavering passion that has carried Naomi through her career to date is now filtering down to the next generation of leaders.