Leon and Heidy meet a Komodo dragon on their travels.
Insurance Leon's first choice
By Kate Tilley, Editor, Resolve
Leon Briggs is a rarity in insurance – when he left school at 15, his intent was to join the industry.
"It seems most 15 year olds didn't see the excitement I saw," he said.
Leon's dad was in life insurance and he'd done some holiday work for his father at age 14, so after leaving school he went to a recruitment agency and was soon employed in Sun Alliance's Wellington, New Zealand, office.
He started work on 10 April 1986 and in September 1987 transferred to the Auckland-based marine department. He was back in Wellington at the end of 1988, fully indoctrinated into the marine specialisation. Despite being only 18 years old, he had the third highest underwriting authority in Sun Alliance NZ.
Leon resigned to travel overseas and when he returned to Wellington in 1991, loss adjuster MBS (now Cunningham Lindsey) was seeking a marine surveyor. Leon was an obvious choice and he's been adjusting ever since.
Apart from four years in the US as a forensic accountant from 2004 to 2007, Leon's always been with Cunningham Lindsey and its predecessors. He is now the firm's National Chief Adjuster.
But that's not his only title. Leon has been NZILA's treasurer since September 2013 and late last year became president of the Australasian Institute of Chartered Loss Adjusters.
When he joined the adjusting profession, Leon completed 12 exams set by the then NZ Insurance Institute – a prerequisite for sitting the seven exams set by the UK Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters (CILA). "The CILA exams were hard and harder for the fact there were no text books, just a one page sheet of things that would be helpful to learn."
Loss adjusting offers Leon variety. Although the majority of his work is earthquake claims, he says every claim is slightly different. "You get a fairly shallow understanding of every business – how a piece of cheese is made; how to process a cow or a chicken; how a hydro electric power station works."
Leon says adjusting is about calculating losses, so it's working with numbers. "You don't have to like numbers, as I do, but you must have an affinity with them," he told Resolve.
The fundamentals of adjusting are assessing the damage, deciding how to fix it and what it will cost, examining the policy to see how it responds, and adjusting the claim in accordance with the policy.
The policy element distinguishes an adjuster from an assessor. "Assessors can be very experienced technically, but they just review damage and decide how to fix it," Leon said.
While anyone can set themselves up as an adjuster, education and professional standards are the hallmarks of chartered loss adjusters. "Sound, formal education is the backbone of making sure an adjuster is fit to be chartered, however, ensuring adjusters continue to be skilled and capable of ethical and sound practice requires ongoing education," he said.
Leon was happy to step into the AICLA presidency, having served on the NZ divisional committee and then the board.
Education will be a key focus during his presidency. "I am a detail person and there's a lot of detail in getting the education system right," he told Resolve.
While NZILA promotes an understanding of insurance law and provides discussion forums, conferences, lectures and the like, unlike AICLA, it does not offer professional qualifications.
However, that's not its intent. Leon is proud of NZILA's successes. Its annual conferences – which rotate between Wellington, Auckland and originally Christchurch, but Queenstown since the Canterbury earthquakes – attract more than 300 delegates.
Membership is well distributed across the industry and the legal fraternities.
Leon's work is demanding – he takes about 100 flights a year for Cunningham Lindsey. But, when it's holiday time, he and his family are usually in the air again.
Leon, his wife Heidy and Leon's daughter Ella, 13, love travel. The family has just returned from a US trip. Leon counts Mongolia, Cambodia, Madagascar and Iceland among his favourite destinations.
He plays squash "irregularly" and watches rugby and cricket. He also flies to Australia each year to watch one of the State of Origin rugby league bouts live.
He vows he'd have more time for leisure pursuits "if there were no earthquakes". But if the theory that NZ quakes seem to go in 13-year cycles is correct, the heavy workload won't be stopping soon.