Benji Marshall face of NIB in NZ

HEALTH insurer NIB hopes Benji Marshall will do as much to boost their brand in New Zealand as Knights legend Paul ‘‘Chief’’ Harragon has in Australia.

Unveiling its financial results for the year to June 30 yesterday, NIB said the league star – on his way to play rugby union – had been signed on as a brand ambassador for the Land of the Long White Cloud.

NIB chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon said almost 50per cent of Australians had private health insurance, compared with only 30per cent of New Zealanders.

But while most Australians bought their private insurance directly, New Zealand had a US-style market, where most people bought their insurance through their financial advisers or their employers.

‘‘That mean0s there are 70per cent of New Zealanders who don’t have private insurance and we think there is room to grow that market,’’ Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Late last year the company paid $NZ103million ($80million at the time) for New Zealand’s second-biggest health insurer, Tower, which Mr Fitzgibbon said had 14per cent of the market.

He said the Kiwi business was trading under the NIB brand and was already contributing close to 9per cent of the company’s overall profits.

FACE OF NIB: League superstar Benji Marshall

NIB reported a net profit of $67.2million for the year to June 30, down from $67.6million the previous financial year.

Its operating profit of $69.3million compared with $70million the previous year.

Overall insurance premium revenue was up 14per cent to $1.29billion, while underwiting profit was up 4.3per cent to $73.8million.

NIB announced a final dividend of 5¢ a share fully franked, which will take the full-year payout to 10¢ a share, up from 9.25¢ a share in 2012.

The insurer picked up 20,000 new policy holders during the year, giving it a policy total of 472,264 at the end of the year.

Mr Fitzgibbon said that after five years of very strong policy holder growth, things were getting tougher within the health insurance business.

Profit margins were thinning and earnings weakening because premiums had failed to keep pace with rising costs.

‘‘If you’ve got hospital costs going up by 10per cent and dental going up by 12.7per cent and overall health costs are going up by CPI plus 2per cent but you’re not getting those increases in your premiums, then the business gets squeezed,’’ Mr Fitzgibbon said.