HBF ready to roll out improvements

12 July, 2017

New HBF CEO John Van der Wielen, who has been in the job for nine weeks, says he’ll be rolling out changes over the next few months.

Van der Wielen, who spoke to BP Digital this week, says he has many new ideas but will focus on getting the health insurance giant ‘fit for purpose’ first.

“We’ve got to get a bit leaner and fitter and we’ve got to take our own costs out as well, which is really important and we can do that.

“So, it’s a bit about get fit first and then we’ll look at all the options available to us and that includes product innovations, vertical integration so you go more into the health and we’ll look at a variety of expansion options for us as well.”

While he would not reveal any specific measures, Van der Wielen – who has worked in the upper levels of wealth management – says streamlining health packages would be one area of change.

“And forget that it’s health insurance; look at it as if it’s Fortescue mining or BHP’s commodity prices dropping or you’re under margin pressure; you must look at your own costs and efficiencies as well, so we’ll put close emphasis on what do we do well and do more of it and what don’t we do so well and try and improve that.

“I think we do have areas of improvement where we can reduce cost, so let’s face it. What we have to do is look after our members and try and get the premiums down.

“The absolute point is you have to get fit yourself first and then look at the external environment to see what growth options you have available. And I’m using the mantra – where do we play and how do we win?”

Van der Wielen, who will introduce finance expert Noel Whittaker at the CCI-Boffins Books Noel Whittaker: Australia’s Financial Wizard of Oz event at the CCI function centre on July 19 –– says he’d hand his money to Whittaker to manage any day.

The pair have known each other for years with Van der Wielen acquiring Whittaker’s business Whittaker Macnaught in 2006-07, when he was CEO of St Andrews Australia, the wealth management arm of BankWest.

“We’ve maintained a friendship ever since,” Van der Wielen says.

“I’ve worked globally in the highest levels of ultrahigh net worth wealth management and so on and I’ve met many people who might appear smarter than Noel, but his basic approach to how you make money, keep money, and reduce risk for the average person are just fantastic,” he says.

“Everyone says Warren Buffett’s approach is really simple but people find it difficult to duplicate and Noel’s process of ‘here’s the routine you get into, here’s how you apply the simple rules for management’; I would give my money to him tomorrow.”

Van der Wielen recalls his mum reading one of Whittaker’s books about 30 years ago, where she took his advice to pay her mortgage fortnightly instead of monthly.

“We were one of the first countries in the world to implement that and it was one of Noel’s designs. He’s still relevant after 30 years. I can give you a thousand examples of things I’ve listened to over the years, but he is still relevant.

“Whilst technology in the world has changed, managing money with some very simple principals, and it is about taking a longer-term view and doing it in a disciplined manner, and not about going for the next punt.”

Van der Wielen says he’s been to many presentations with Whittaker around the world, including Singapore, the Middle East and the UK.

“He’s what you call a very Australian Queenslander but his messages resonate right the way around the world.”

►Don’t miss your chance to hear from Noel Whittaker as he gives insights and information that can be applied to your own life and workplace book your tickets here today.