While anyone young has time on their side, Rene Swindley has not wasted any.
He’s created his own opportunities and made the most of those that have presented themselves.
At 33 years of age, Swindley is director of his own start-up commercial insurance brokerage and
With a Board and management team handling everyday operations, Swindley is free to network
and develop further projects, dragging the New Zealand insurance industry into the digital age.
Swindley’s work has earned him accolades as an industry leader as well as invitations to speak at
events for his peers and client associations — for example, he has just returned from a speaking
engagement at the InsureTech Connect conference in Las Vegas.
He is this year’s ANZIIF New Zealand Young Insurance Professional of the Year.
‘Winning this award vindicates my personal crusade to flip insurance broking on its head in New
Zealand and push the boundaries of what is achievable digitally,’ Swindley says.
With trademark modesty, Swindley adds that the award would not have been possible without the
contributions of his clients, mentors and staff:
‘The award recognises their efforts and support — which is very important to me.’
FROM RURAL BROKER TO MOULD BREAKER
The insurance bug bit when Swindley was 20 and a specialist vehicle underwriting agency asked him
to help implement a new IT system.
‘I soon became fascinated with the simultaneous interaction between technology, contractual law
and accounting,’ Swindley recalls.
Already pursuing a double bachelor’s degree in law and management studies, this introduction led
Swindley to specialise in commercial and insurance law, and to major in accounting.
An internship as a rural broker for Law Mooney Williamson followed, which expanded into developing
parts of a farm insurance product and taking on commercial accounts once he graduated aged 23.
‘I quickly came to the realisation that there was a better way to transact with customers, and I believe
my youth assisted with this way of thinking. I envisioned a transparent broker model based on
disclosing a fee for service rather than commission on sales,’ Swindley says.
Before he turned 24, Swindley co-founded insurance brokerage Frank with business partner Andrew
Newman to pioneer this brave new model.
Today called Frank Risk Management, this backyard start-up formed the basis of what, ten years later,
has become the Frank Group of Companies.
INSURANCE FOR CLIENTS, NOT INSURERS
‘From the outset, I wanted to build a brand that was about doing right by the client,’ Swindley says.
‘I have always felt strongly that the insurance industry needs to get rid of undisclosed commission based remuneration, preferential commissions and profit share deals — all of which create a conflict
of interest for the broker–client relationship.’
Frank was therefore built around client representation and disclosure, and quickly developed a loyal
client base, particularly in technology, construction and the professional sectors.
A decade later, Frank has two branches, 14 staff, and transacts over $13m in annual insurer premium.
This has had a broader effect on the rest of the industry, with other start-up broking firms adopting a
transparent fee-for-service approach. Swindley predicts that in the next three to five years all brokers
will be forced to disclose their remuneration and justify the value they give clients.
TECHNOLOGY BROADENS THE OFFER
Technology is the biggest single insurance market disruptor, Swindley maintains — and one he has
been ready for since 2011, when he co-founded New Zealand’s first fully automated real-time quoteand-bind home insurance website, initio.co.nz.
‘Insurers and brokers alike will need to modernise and reinvent themselves as they respond to new
sources of competition, which will also bring down costs.’ Swindley says.
‘Initio is well prepared for this as we create our own platforms and have in-house developers. In the
coming years, consumers will expect easy and intuitive online insurance solutions, and we are at the
cutting edge of this.’
As a digital-first underwriting agency, Initio set the benchmark for insurtech before the term gained
currency. It now employs four staff and provides online insurance cover for more than NZ$1.5 billion
In 2016, Swindley wrote bespoke contingency property insurance cover for 9,000 holiday homes, and
last year rolled out a product targeting the Auckland multi-unit rental property market.
That same year also saw the launch of Frankie, New Zealand’s first online cyber management liability
RISING TO MARKET NEED
With cyber and technology-related losses emerging as a major threat to local businesses, Swindley
saw a major gap in the market and responded, seeking to cement the Frank Group as a risk management brand rather than simply a broking house.
‘This led to partnering with Medical Assurance Society — we provide a bespoke branded online
platform, FrankieMed, for their members, with support from Delta Insurance,’ Swindley says.
Initio needn’t stop at New Zealand’s borders, either.
‘My primary personal aspiration is to take it into international markets — those that are similar in structure and regulation, focusing on one at a time and continuing to build on the international connections,’ Swindley confirms.
Swindley’s dreams are by no means modest, yet his burgeoning success has not gone to his head.
Another strategy he identifies for international growth is surrounding himself with people who are
better than himself, and he wants to see staff develop in their roles and prosper in the industry.
In 2017, Swindley established an employee dividend program for his employees, which means that if
the company makes a profit, so do staff.
‘Insurance is a great career choice and the more people I can convince of this, the better. I want to be
the best employer to the best people — the brand that people want to work with.’
Recently, Swindley formed the Frank Group’s Board of Directors so his companies could operate
independently of him and he could divide his time between Frank Risk Management and Initio.
He feels this freedom is his crowning achievement.
‘It shows that the Group’s people and culture have been developed to the point that the businesses
will run and the clients will be looked after without my direct input,’ he says.
‘A business is not a business until it can run without the founder.’