As John Price drove around flood-ravaged areas of Queensland and Victoria in 2012, stopping at the houses and properties of more than 1,500 people suffering at the hand of nature, he learned a great deal about humility, humanity and the insurance industry.
As Lead Ombudsman, General Insurance, within the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), John fielded numerous complaints about people’s dealings with their insurance companies, mainly over perceived levels of cover. His job was to interview the claimants – most often in the company of a representative from the insurance company – and hear their stories.
“By sitting down and speaking with these people, we were able to resolve a significant number of disputes. These people were not bitter for the most part; they just wanted the opportunity to be heard. Most people, when offered the chance to conciliate their disputes with their insurer, were most appreciative of their insurer’s willingness to work with them."
The visits to flood victims were a powerful lesson for everybody involved about the power of communication and the benefit of mutual respect. John firmly believes that talking with people on the same level, rather than speaking down to them or ignoring their pleas, leads to a situation in which most matters can be resolved.
It is a lesson he learned while growing up in Spotswood, at the time a working-class neighbourhood in Melbourne’s west. Choosing to go to university and study law, John became involved with the Western Suburbs Legal Service.
“It was one of the very early, community-based legal services,” he says. “I was always more comfortable trying to assist individuals than trying to assist organisations.”
That urge to help people, to use the law for creative and positive purposes, continued into his career as a lawyer. This began with Lander & Rogers Lawyers and continued for a 26-year period with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, including 20 years as a partner heading up the personal insurance division of the business.
This sense of fairness and finding solutions permeates everything John does, including in his other major roles as a Code of Conduct Commissioner for Cricket Australia and a Tribunal Commissioner with Cricket Victoria. If a player is charged with a serious offence or chooses to reject a match referee’s decision, John is called in.
Cricket is close to John’s heart – from the ages of 16 to 45, he played for a local Melbourne cricket club. He modestly, and rather hilariously, describes himself as the batting equivalent of Jim Higgs (an Australian leg-spinner, who was also a terrible batsman) and the bowling equivalent of Bill Lawry (a former legendary opening batsman for Australia, who bowled fewer than three overs in his Test career, for good reason).
John argues that team sport is of great importance to children as they develop into adults, and indeed for adults themselves, as it teaches vital lessons and promotes strong ideals.
“I am a life member of the cricket club that I was involved with,” he says. “I am also involved in a lacrosse club. The people I meet in these environments come from all walks of life. They come from all social and economic levels. It is wonderful, because in this environment, everybody is equal. It is a lot of fun.”
Play hard but always fair. It could be the catchcry for John’s philosophy on life. After decades of dispute resolution and 10 years as an insurance ombudsman, he has never lost hope or trust in the individual’s ability to find solutions during times of difficulty.
“I think, fundamentally, people are honest and decent and are willing to work to resolve matters,” he says. “You will always have some people who are difficult; that is the nature of human beings. But in nearly every instance, if you speak to people fairly, then they will treat you fairly in return.”
This is a shortened version of ‘Eye on the Ball’ written by Chris Sheedy. The full article appeared in The Journal, the publication of the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance.