Jobs have been lost and policies put at risk from yesterday’s crash of a small Queenstown insurance company.
At 11.45am yesterday (Monday), Western Pacific Insurance chairman and co-owner Graham Smolenski announced he and brother-in-law business partner Jeff McNally had just decided to put the company into liquidation.
“You’re going to be the first to hear this,” Smolenski told Mountain Scene when the paper called.
International accounting firm Grant Thornton has been appointed liquidators and, in a press release last night (Monday), Christchurch branch partners David Ruscoe and Simon Thorn say they’re contacting Western Pacific’s approximately 7000 policy holders via their brokers.
The liquidators are giving priority to Christchurch earthquake claims – of which there are 78 for the September event and 77 for the February disaster.
The claims department remains operational and is still taking claims on 0800-66-56-56, Ruscoe and Thorn say.
Smolenski tells Mountain Scene five jobs would go in the closure of Western Pacific’s Chester Centre offices in Shotover Street.
The writing was on the wall for the insurer in a major article in the Herald On Sunday the weekend before last.
Western Pacific’s McNally told the Auckland paper the February 22 earthquake had “swamped us”.
The insurer had written to brokers saying it had suspended writing new policies or renewing existing ones while its risk portfolio was reviewed.
Denying the halt had anything to do with the insurer’s ability to meet its commitments, McNally told the Herald On Sunday: “We’re intending to get back into business, hopefully [this] week.”
But yesterday co-owner Smolenski said: “We’re not satisfied with our overall position.
“The first [Christchurch] earthquake we handled OK but the second one had huge implications for us with reinsurance and there’s just going to be a sea of litigation for years.”
Smolenski didn’t know the number or dollar value of claims from the latest quake.
“We’ve got no idea.”
Western Pacific sold commercial insurance, including cover for a wide range of risks including property damage, business interruption, employee theft and dishonesty, public liability and taxation investigations.
Smolenski, 58, is the former long-time chief of Millbrook Resort, a current shareholder and director of NZSki, and a former Destination Queenstown chairman.
• More in Thursday’s print edition of Mountain Scene