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Shared Value Champions: Chris Newlan, Suncorp Group

August 31, 2015

In this month’s member interview series we feature Chris Newlan, Head of Strategy and Corporate Affairs, Personal Insurance at Suncorp Group about his experience with shared value and the role he plays within Suncorp to support the organisation along its shared value journey.

Chris highlights Suncorp’s experience with natural disasters, and how shared value can be a terrific framework to help build resilience and address collective problems between insurance companies, government and communities. He also describes how Suncorp is driving shared value within the insurance division across their brand portfolio, and how shared value has changed his perspective in a strategy role, leading to innovative new product developments.


What does shared value mean to you?

Shared value is a way we can think differently about a company’s strategy. It’s a recognition that businesses can and do have a positive and meaningful impact on society. It’s an acknowledgement that turning a profit is a good thing and companies should be harnessing their resources, including capital, in a way that addresses complex social issues to achieve competitive advantage and total stakeholder return not just shareholder return.

What lead you individually to the shared value idea? How did you come across it?

The 2011 Queensland “summer of disasters” was a turning point. Witnessing the profound devastation to homes and lives in situations that were in many cases entirely preventable had a significant impact on me and my colleagues at Suncorp. Natural disasters cost insurance companies many millions and sometimes billions of dollars. Governments need to fund rebuilds of public infrastructure. Individuals are forced to rebuild not only their homes but their lives which brings with it a host of financial and health problems. Shared value is a terrific framework to address those problems collectively and open our minds to ways we can address other problems that impact our business and the communities in which we operate.


How is shared value playing a role within Suncorp Group and where are you at on the journey?

It is still early days at Suncorp. At present, we are driving shared value within our insurance division, which includes brands such as AAMI, Apia, GIO, Suncorp Insurance and Shannons. It’s part of our strategy and we’ve got a number of areas we are focussing on. One such area is accessibility to insurance. In Australia, there are almost two million people who need insurance but don’t have it. Commercially, it’s a huge untapped market we are now targeting with a new insurance product targeting low income earners. We have developed this in conjunction with Good Shepherd Microfinance and it’s a great example of rethinking our product set from the perspective of those people whose financial status has excluded them from the insurance market.

What is your role individually within Suncorp Group to support the organisation along its shared value journey?

As Head of Strategy, my job has been to champion shared value within the business. Educating our internal stakeholders and helping them find ways to integrate shared value principles within their own areas has been a key focus for me over the past few months. We have uncovered some exciting opportunities. There are many things we could do. The challenge is to boil it all down to a manageable set of choices that are strategically relevant and ensure we focus and execute well.

How has practicing shared value helped you individually in your role or career more generally?

Personally, I’m rewarded when I see tangible commercial benefits flowing from initiatives that tackle big societal issues. Shared value has taught me the importance of system leadership and considering the larger system within which companies operate. In strategy roles, it’s easy to get stuck behind a desk analysing problems and producing nice slide decks. Shared value forces you outside of the companies’ immediate orbit and tap new areas through partnerships, collaboration and co-creation. We would never have been able to launch our new affordable insurance product if we adopted traditional approaches to product development.

What do you think are some pertinent issues in Australia that could be solved through creating shared value?

There are many issues we can address. Youth unemployment above 13% coupled with significant skills shortages within our own supply chain present us with shared value opportunities. At Suncorp, we have undertaken initiatives with Mission Australia and Youth off the Streets to create apprentice opportunities in smash repairs. That is important to us because we fix more than 500,000 cars a year and we need a sustainable pool of labour. Climate resilience and adaptation is another big issue. Our communities and our homes need to be built or modified in ways that withstand cyclones, floods and bushfires. Inside businesses, mental health related absenteeism drives up costs and takes a big personal toll on people and their families. Addressing this also provides terrific shared value opportunities.