When Heather Smith’s son Oskar was five weeks old, she returned to work at one of Australia’s biggest insurance companies. Her husband became the stay-at-home dad, while Heather compressed her five-day working week into four days.
“You just have to be there for your kids,” Heather says.
Like so many other parents, that instinct to spend more time with her son prompted Heather to change career direction and do something different – more meaningful, if you like.
Within a year or two she was running the Good Beginnings parenting charity. Then she merged that with Save the Children Australia and ran that for a while too.
It might surprise you to know that now Heather is back in a senior executive role, at another large insurer - icare.
This time, though, it’s different.
You might assume at icare we would be driven by process and paperwork, like other big government departments and private insurers can be.
“At icare we are solving a problem that meant the way people were being treated was as part of a process, not as individuals with different needs,” Heather tells the now 11-year-old Oskar about her work as head of the workers’ insurance arm - formerly the workers compensation arm of Workcover.
icare combines that function with insurance of workers, volunteers, sports people and even support for those with dust diseases and those suffering after traumatic injuries on the roads.
“People and their families were getting different support depending on how their injury occurred and what sort of challenges they faced – be it broken legs, psychological trauma or chronic back pain,” Heather says.
“It makes sense to treat people with similar challenges the same – and better.
“So we decided to put the good stuff together from all the parts of the businesses we merged.”
In the past, for instance, someone injured at work in NSW or severely hurt on the roads had to deal with a ‘middle-man’ who then dealt with Workcover or the appropriate government body. icare is removing those extra steps to speed up the process and ensure the right support gets to where it’s needed quickly.
Like going into a hospital with a broken arm and being checked by a nurse to determine who in the waiting room needs help first, icare is increasingly triaging those in need and dealing directly with them, to streamline what can be a difficult process of navigating the complex social services and insurance system.
“Just like NRMA might want to get you back on the road as quickly as possible, we want to get you back into life as soon as possible, whether you are hurt at work or in your car or playing sport,” Heather says.
Early intervention is better for the injured person but just as sensible for taxpayers.
The Productivity Commission explains how early intervention “seeks to incur expenditure during the early stages of a person’s disability in order to improve (or maintain) their functioning later on, or reduce the volume of supports that they need later in life”.
Modelling by the commission for the National Disability Insurance Scheme predicted that early intervention reduced costs by 0.35 per cent a year – a tidy saving given the costs involved in funding icare’s Lifetime Care scheme and workers compensation.
Little wonder, at our core is the idea of “Commercial mind, social heart”.
The commercial mind means making the business sustainable, which in turn requires financial decisions that limit the ongoing cost to NSW citizens while also delivering the most effective services people need when injured.
Crucially, we are not a slave to profit, doing what Heather’s colleague Satya Tanwer calls “chasing phantom dollars on the stockmarket through focusing on one basis point moves in the share price rather than customer needs”.
Satya’s a mum of two and a General Manager at icare.
The organisation embraces a set of values that appeal to many staff in the private sector who, just like Satya and Heather, found their working life somewhat empty. They want to make a real difference to the community by combining their business acumen – both mums have MBAs and more, like so many of icare’s staff – with a keen sense of social responsibility.
icare offers that opportunity, in a government agency that’s focused on outcomes, not processes, an insurer that says yes, and an organisation that is sustainable and commercially driven to ensure that policy holders get value for money.