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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Time for a new CEO at EQC

Most people who have had dealings with EQC are aware of the organisation’s numerous shortcomings, invariably resulting in personal and family frustration, confusion, delays, stress, and hardship.

Two years past the first earthquake and EQC still fails to demonstrate any ability to work with its clients in an open, effective and civilised way. Senior managers have fiddled with different approaches to carrying out their business, always tinkering and seemingly subservient to the needs of overseas reinsurers and indifferent to the needs of New Zealanders. Time for a change at the top.

Two days ago CanCERN wrote to Michael Wintringham, Chair of the Board of EQC, requesting that a new CEO be appointed (the text of the letter is below).  The media release and report mentioned in the letter are also below.

If you have views on this please make an effort to express them.  Gerry Brownlee, who is the Minister responsible for EQC, knows about Facebook so that would be a good place to start.

(NOTE: EQC Chair Michael Wintringham has responded to the CanCERN letter. See the blog regarding EQC’s response here. This note added 26/10/2012)

Earthquake Commission
Attention: Michael Wintringham
23 October 2012

Dear Mr Wintringham

Canterbury Communities’ Earthquake Recovery Network (CanCERN) was established immediately following the September 2010 earthquake in Canterbury to ensure the residents of the worst affected communities had a voice within earthquake recovery. We currently have a membership of over 40 resident based groups.

During the past two years, we have sought to work collaboratively with most earthquake related authorities and organisations to identify ways in which the recovery could be improved from both a resident and organisational perspective. We have been meeting with staff from EQC since late 2010. During this time we have seen very little evidence of the leadership necessary to lead the Earthquake Commission through a natural disaster of this scale.

EQC Executive Leadership Team has performed at an inappropriate level. A number of these managers have failed to respond successfully to the ever growing and varied accounts of failure, both systemic and operational, which have been raised directly and indirectly over the past two years.

There has been an overall neglect of duty with regard to addressing issues of claimant communication, operational adaptation, professionalism and customer service.

Due to consistent failures as detailed in the accompanying report, we ask for the Chief Executive to be replaced with someone is who more capable and competent to deal with the situation we have.

If you would like to discuss this, please do not hesitate to contact Leanne Curtis.

Please note the attached media release is embargoed until Thursday 25 October, 7am.

Yours sincerely

Ali Hughes
CanCERN Board

Leanne Curtis
Relationship Manager

Media release – embargoed until 7am Thursday 25 October

CanCERN calls for EQC head to go

Prominent Christchurch residents group CanCERN is so frustrated with the performance of the Earthquake Commission it has asked the board of the EQC to remove the current Chief Executive.

CanCERN has today released a letter and report that was sent to EQC Chair Michael Wintringham on Tuesday, detailing consistent failures at EQC.  The group has asked Mr Wintringham to replace the Chief Executive with someone who is more capable and competent to lead EQC and regain the confidence of Cantabrians.

CanCERN Relationship Manager Leanne Curtis says the attitude of the Earthquake Commissions’ management has led to a breakdown of trust and confidence by the community.

“CanCERN has been meeting with EQC staff since late 2010 but has seen very little evidence of the leadership necessary to lead the Commission through a natural disaster of this scale.  For the people of Canterbury to restore any faith in the EQC we need to see a commitment from the EQC board to address the failings of management,” she says.

CanCERN (Canterbury Communities’ Earthquake Recovery Network) is the largest group representing those affected by the Christchurch earthquakes and has a membership of over 40 resident groups.

“The fundamental issues regarding a lack of clarity and communication we were telling EQC about in October 2010 are the same issues we are still talking about in October 2012.  EQC leadership has gone from saying they have no problems, to now admitting failures but it is not enough to admit failures without talking solutions.  We believe an effective CE would have heard and acted,” says Ms Curtis.

The letter and report sent to Mr Wintringham outlines numerous concerns with EQC’s operations including a history of ignoring community concerns, a reported culture of intimidation in public dealings with claimants, an inability to communicate changes to policy interpretation, time delays and communications failures like calls not being returned, files lost and written correspondence not answered.

A copy of the letter and report sent to Mr Wintringham and copied to EQC Minister Gerry Brownlee is attached.


CanCERN Report on Earthquake Commission

23 October 2012

The following are priority complaints which have consistently been leveled at EQC and which the Chief Executive has failed to successfully address. Each point can be substantiated further if necessary.


EQC publicly measures the success of their operation by reporting numbers and time frame goals achieved. CanCERN has consistently advocated for the need for EQC to respond to the systemic failings which have caused and continue to cause confusion, uncertainty and mistrust.

There has been little evidence that the Chief Executive has operationally responded to the more pastoral aspects of customer service or even acknowledged the need to develop a claimant centred approach to settlements which focus on the needs as presented by claimants. This has led to a community breakdown of trust and confidence and an inability for many to exercise their rights to transparency of their claim and settlement.

The Chief Executive has continually failed to take the necessary steps to ensure managers have met the needs of claimants. This has been well illustrated via a number of situations including the media’s ongoing focus on resident’s stories, community meetings, an escalation of complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman of which many pertain to communication issues, social media sites and minuted stakeholder meetings.


1. A history of ignoring the communities’ warnings of communication failures and failure to develop more appropriate communication systems.

2. Inability to develop effective and efficient systems to serve the claimants needs.

3. Senior management did not exhibit the necessary levels of professionalism to gain the confidence of claimants and the public as a whole.

Examples include but are not limited to the following:
   a) An individualistic approach to solving issues raised by claimants rather than applying resolution to the global issue involving other claimants.
   b) Promises to deliver specific information not followed through.
   c) Unprepared for stakeholder meetings.
   d) Reported culture of intimidation in their public dealings when confronted by claimants.
   e) Quality of the CanCERN/EQC stakeholder meetings appeared to be conditional on CanCERN making no public criticism - constructive or not.

4. There have been admissions from management, both privately publicly, of how they have failed in the areas of:
   a) Call centre issues
   b) Claimant communications performance
   c) Retention and recruitment of suitable staff in the communications area

These admissions have not been followed up by appropriate remedial action.

Operational Examples

1. Failings of communication include but are not limited to:
   a) An insulting interface with claimants: inaccurate, inconsistent messaging, incomplete, evasive, rude, intimidating, indirect.
   b) Failure to communicate changes to policy interpretation and/or position and a failure to provide an auditable tracking of changes to policy implementation documents.
   c) Mutually agreed stakeholder communication processes not followed: promised responses unnecessarily delayed or not provided.
   d) Contradictory messaging as a result of the interface between EQC and other authorities or organisations
   e) Failure to provide claimants with full and detailed information on their rights and obligations once a claim is made and failure to keep claimants informed of changes to that information

2. Did not identify and develop effective and efficient systems necessary to build the confidence of claimants and demonstrate the integrity of the settlement process:
   a) Communication systems failures include calls not returned, files lost, written correspondence not answered, Official Information Act requests delayed and/or mis-answered, inconsistent supply of any notice of settlement payment, call centre staff being unable to provide clear messaging which is consistent with policy or public statements from senior management.
   b) Failure to organise the call centre system in a way that promoted efficiency, effectiveness and consistency of response.
   c) Failure to develop efficient systems of timely information sharing with the claimant in line with their legal rights to information concerning their property.
   d) Inefficient organisation of human resourcing in different operational priority areas: settlements, apportionment, joint assessments.
   e) Failure to build confidence in the quality and integrity of loss adjustors due to inconsistent application of repair methodology. This has led to distinct discrepancies in loss adjustment after multiple assessments.
   f) Failure to build confidence in the assessment phase due to the use of tools that did not accurately capture all damage or allow for referral to further expert assessment.
   g) Inconsistent application of the Earthquake Commission Act 1993 with regard to the interpretation of consequential / incidental damage and what defines ‘betterment’.
   h) Failure to develop systems that would allow the claimant to have confidence in the proposed repair methodology which at times have not reflected industry accepted best practice guidelines.

It is of greatest concern that the points made previously have led to confusion, distressing time delays for claimants and an overall cost inefficiency due to disputes over accuracy. It should also be noted that constant re-interpretation of the Earthquake Commission Act 1993 liabilities has undermined the confidence of claimants and re-interpretations have not been clearly communicated, further destabilising trust. These reinterpretations raise questions of accountability and transparency of decision-making.

We are aware that EQC is currently attempting to formalise its relationship with community and customer representatives to improve communication to Canterbury customers. Although this would seem a good start, CanCERN has been engaging with EQC since late 2010 on the mutual understanding that this was the purpose of our engagement. To date, this engagement has been largely unsuccessful and EQC have failed to take advantage of this and other residential engagements. This new step has been met with skepticism.

This report does not seek to address the specific issues that have also been raised about the Canterbury Home Repair Programme. However, we would note that any issues we have previously raised with EQC executive leadership has been met with the same neglect of duty with regard to addressing the real concerns of claimants. Therefore, we have little confidence in the ability of the Chief Executive to address the identified systemic issues within this programme.

Ali Hughes
CanCERN Board

Leanne Curtis
Relationship Manager

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