5 minutes with Chris Black

Chief Executive of FMG

Having worked in insurance, banking and finance – what do you think are the factors that drive business success?
I think a successful organisation has a number of key attributes, starting with a clear and enduring purpose; a strong vision that’s memorable and also core values that are understood and used in everyday decision making. You want values that don’t just sit on the wall.

Secondly, successful entities have a clear market positioning and a competitive marketing strategy. I think planning is undervalued – documenting your objectives and executing a plan well is crucial.

Consistency and continuity in a business is also very important. As is having the courage to make strategic choices – that’s saying “yes” to some and “no” to others and avoid saying “maybe” too often because it puts pressure on you.

On an individual side — be open, willing to learn and adaptable. I think the ability to get on with people is really important and to have that sense of stewardship in whatever role you’re in. At the end of the day, I think being able to deliver results matters but it’s also how you do it that’s equally important.

Why did you choose to join and more importantly, stay with FMG?
FMG is a very worthwhile New Zealand organisation. It’s a 114-year-old, proudly rural-orientated organisation set up by farmers for farmers and it’s a mutual. While a mutual is different from a co-operative, they come from the same stable in terms of a core philosophy. The people you’re serving are the people that own the organisation.

FMG plays an important role in the fabric of rural New Zealand and the economy more broadly, as does Farmlands. We’ve got all sorts of diverse people in the organisation and it’s a great place to be part of. It’s not just about creating an environment where people want to be on the team. It’s about creating an environment where people don’t want to be off the team, so that’s very motivating.

What are the key audiences that FMG provides insurance for?
FMG has a two-dimensional model. Firstly, we’re a licensed general insurance company and we also offer personal insurance. So that’s life, health and disability. Anyone dealing with FMG can have all their requirements satisfied.

On the other dimension, we deal with the rural sector. That’s farmers and growers and we’ve got 50 percent market share there. FMG is the biggest insurer for lifestylers too. They’re really important for us as they feel rural and we’re New Zealand’s leading rural insurer, so we’re a natural fit for them.

What does this market share mean for members and the rural sector?
Servicing 50 percent of the rural market is an exciting milestone for FMG. We’ve come up from 35 percent in 2011 and Farmlands has played an important part in that. In terms of how we invest back, we have to make a profit and run the business commercially. We’re one of the fastest growing insurance companies in New Zealand and we need to ensure we have enough capital to support that growth.

We’re heavily involved in rural communities and recognising success. We run 600 events each year right across the continuum, from local community events to industry-related sponsorship. As naming sponsor of the New Zealand Young Farmer of the Year contest we get to see first-hand how young people are succeeding in our sector and that’s exciting to be part of.

Our main giveback is by way of Farmstrong, New Zealand’s rural wellbeing programme. What we’ve proven is that participation improves our general wellbeing. If your wellbeing improves then you have less accidents, less injuries and it costs everyone less overall. As a social change programme, Farmstrong has really taken hold and it’s making a huge difference, so we’re very proud to work alongside the Mental Health Foundation. Farmlands plays an important role in this area as well.

How does FMG nurture a culture of success?
In terms of the employee side, FMG likes to create an environment where we encourage people to make decisions. People make big decisions everyday – you get married, buy a house, have a career — if you can make those decisions, you can make a decision on our behalf. That’s empowering and enabling for people.

What’s FMG’s advice model?
Well, the other way we’re making a big contribution to our core constituents, is by breaking the cost-plus insurance cycle. Traditionally this is: pay your premium, make a claim, we pay the claim, your premium goes up and so on. What we’ve been focusing on for the last 10 years is providing clients with information and advice, so they can make informed decisions and hopefully avoid losses and interruptions, or at least minimise them. That’s worked extremely well and we’ve had less claims per 1,000 items insured as a result. Equipment such as tractors being an example of this.

This year’s Young Farmer of the Year is a 22-year-old business graduate working in trade strategy – is this the farmer of the future?
FMG has done an interesting piece of work around the future of farming, growing and insurance. We looked ahead and the key theme coming through is there’s going to be more complexity. On the back of that we’re seeing more demand from regulators, more mixed farming and also a diversity of people entering farming, whether that’s ethnic, cultural, guys or girls. I think someone like James Robertson, who took out the 2019 title, is representative of someone who needs to have different skills, experience and perspectives. You’ve got to be familiar with technology and complexity because it’s basically running a business. Farming is varied and exciting and we want more of that.

Where do you see opportunities for
FMG and Farmlands to advocate for the rural community?
We’ve had a really strong, mutually beneficial relationship for decades and we collaborate on a whole range of things. I have a good relationship with Pete Reidie and we catch up often. We’re trying to leverage the safer farms technology through FarmIQ and the SafeVisit app for everybody. So, whether it’s wellbeing and safety, or training and information sharing, the more of that we can do together, the better.

One of the Farmstrong tips is to take time out, what do you do to unwind?
I’ve played golf all my life and started off with a few eclectic sticks. My favourite course is Paraparaumu – it’s a links course and in my view, that’s the way the game should be played. I was a land surveyor originally and I love the outdoors. Playing golf in the open with a bunch of good friends, enjoying good competition and then sitting around the table having a quiet beer – I really enjoy that.

For more information on advice and insurance visit fmg.co.nz.