Protecting the pets
Sunday, 2 September 2018
It’s tough – but often the case – when finances determine treatment. One way to ensure that more pets get the care they need is through insurance. To help increase awareness of the benefits of pet insurance, the NZVA and Southern Cross Pet Insurance are teaming up. Matt Philp reports.
Kerri Murray makes no apology for her passionate advocacy for pet insurance. The National Sales Manager for Southern Cross Pet Insurance (SCPI) was once a veterinary nurse. She’s experienced that situation when an owner’s inability to pay for treatment leads to an animal being euthanased. Conversely, during her big OE in the United Kingdom, where pet insurance is far more mainstream, she got to see the happy flipside. “I worked in clinics over there with high insurance levels, and there was never a worry about affordability. It makes a huge difference to the level of treatment you can provide.” Kerri, who started in the insurance industry 13 years ago, says SCPI has 27,000 pets insured. New Zealand pet owners are becoming more aware of the benefits of insurance: Southern Cross, one of three providers here, experienced 28% growth last year. Even so, coverage is meagre compared to that in many other countries, despite New Zealand being home to nearly two million cats and dogs.
That’s one reason for the NZVA recently entering a partnership with SCPI, which both parties anticipate will result in an increased uptake of insurance by pet owners. “We have shared principles about the importance of quality veterinary services and encouraging responsible pet ownership. Pet insurance gives a client options to get the best levels of professional veterinary care that an animal deserves when it needs it. This is a win-win for everyone,” says NZVA Chief Executive Mark Ward.
“The NZVA won’t be the agent for Southern Cross Pet Insurance, nor do we expect our members to be selling pet insurance or giving advice on whether one policy is better than another,” says Mark. “Between us, we’ve worked out a well-oiled system to make sure members can offer Southern Cross Pet Insurance policies with very little need to look into the details themselves. They can be assured that our knowledgeable in-house team has been involved in collaborative discussions to thoroughly assess and strengthen the policies. We acknowledge the willingness of the Southern Cross team to work with us to get the best possible policy outcomes. It augurs well for our ongoing relationship and for the potential uptake of pet insurance in this country.”
What’s the incentive for NZVA members? Nothing in terms of commissions or direct financial benefits. But better insurance coverage will improve veterinarians’ ability to offer animals the treatment they need. Just as importantly, it tackles that anguish that pet owners and veterinarians can experience when an animal is euthanased when it could have been saved.
“If we have good insurance, we can put more options on the table,” says NZVA Chief Veterinary Officer Helen Beattie, who was involved in the conversation regarding insurance, firstly during her time as president of the NZVA’s Companion Animal Veterinarians special interest branch and latterly, when talks began with Southern Cross. “It means better outcomes for animals, presumably for clients, and for veterinarians, so that we’re not having those same awful conversations: ‘We could do this procedure, but this is how much you will have to spend...’”
Mark says the issue of pet insurance is also relevant to veterinarian wellbeing, which explains why he has been pursuing the idea of an insurance partnership since the start of his tenure at the association. “Pet insurance is one of the solutions to the compassion fatigue that many companion animal veterinarians feel. The NZVA felt it was worth the time and energy to find the right partner, to work together to make sure the policies were the best they could be and then to endorse them – and to promote pet insurance to the public.”
Southern Cross Pet Insurance was chosen for reasons of ‘fit’, among others, he explains. “It is owned by a charitable trust and has a culture of being there for its customers. The other really important thing is that Southern Cross is also a human health organisation, so it understood us when we said we were very aligned with the wellbeing of our members, not just as professionals but as people.”
What does the partnership mean for the insurer?
For Kerri Murray, it’s a great result. “To get the veterinarians’ backing is something that I’ve dreamed of since I first started. The NZVA is a highly respected organisation, and for us to get their backing speaks volumes.”
Southern Cross Pet Insurance General Manager Anthony McPhail sees the partnership as a key opportunity to grow the visibility of the benefits of pet insurance.
“Kiwis love their pets but as a nation we are significantly under-insured. Through this partnership we hope to empower more veterinarians to discuss the benefits of pet insurance with their customers,” he says.
What about specific policies? Will the new arrangement allow the association to have some input?
“The NZVA has done its due diligence and we can confidently say, ‘Here’s a good
product’,” says Helen Beattie. The NZVA is having ongoing discussions with Southern Cross about potential policy changes and adding coverage for certain procedures.
How likely is it that the new partnership will produce higher levels of insurance coverage among New Zealand pet owners?
That will depend on how actively it is promoted in the clinics. Kerri cites some figures from the North American pet insurance industry that claim people are 50% more likely to take out insurance if it’s recommended by their veterinarians. “It would be great for New Zealand veterinarians to really embrace this, and for insurance to be part of the conversations they are having with owners about their pets,” she says, adding that there are plenty of other opportunities to broach the topic of pet insurance, including at veterinary nurses’ clinics and on a practice’s website or Facebook page. Kerri knows that ‘talking about insurance’ doesn’t come naturally for everyone; part of her (and the marketing team’s) role is to coach and teach the veterinary team on ways to promote insurance products.
“It’s a win-win for the veterinarians and allied professionals, and something they should embrace. Pet insurance gives owners peace of mind that their pets can receive the treatment they need, and it also provides veterinarians with extra opportunities when discussing treatment options,” she says. And in the end, that’s what counts. “It’s about saving animals – it’s always about that.”