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The Vinnies CEO Sleepout: reminding us of our social purpose

In the midst of our respective individual pursuits for optimal wellness, it is important to maintain awareness and support the plight of those less fortunate, writes Zurich chief executive Tim Bailey.

At a time of intense scrutiny on the financial services sector, it is easy to lose sight of the inherent social purpose underlying the myriad products and services it provides. 

This is especially true of life insurance, where the $10 billion that life insurers pay in claims each year isn't widely appreciated; except perhaps by the tens of thousands of individuals, families and small businesses who are the recipients of these benefits. 

They, and their loved ones, understand better than most the role that life insurance plays in keeping a roof over their heads, helping them pay their mortgage or their rent, when accident, illness or worse cuts off an income stream – either temporarily or permanently. 

There's a clear mental health benefit too, which is why I like to think of our industry as part of a broader ecosystem, also comprising the healthcare and social security sectors. The members of this ecosystem work together to provide physical, financial and emotional wellbeing across the community. 

A few years ago, Zurich conducted research showing that nearly 40 per cent of Australians could survive for no more than one month without their income, before they would need to start selling their assets. It's a frightening reminder of how precarious the finances of many households actually are. 

Financial difficulties are one of the leading causes of homelessness in Australia. Underlying those difficulties can be many different — and often interconnected — factors; it could be someone losing their job, or suffering mental illness, or going through a relationship breakdown. In some cases, all three come together. 

Sadly, it's a growing problem. On the night of the 2016 Census, over 116,000 people were classified as homeless. In NSW, the homelessness rate increased by 27 per cent between Census periods. 

Whilst there is no easy solution there are plenty of organisations and individuals doing their best to help find one. One such organisation is Vinnies. In a few days, I will get the chance to represent Zurich at the Vinnies CEO Sleepout. For more than a decade this event has been helping put a roof over the heads of society's most vulnerable people, raising more than $42 million to fund homelessness services across Australia. 

These services include shelter, food essentials, and other vital support. As little as 100 dollars can provide a night's emergency accommodation for a family, so the millions that this event will raise can provide a lot of help to a lot of people. 

I see many parallels between the services Vinnies and others like them provide and the role life insurance plays in protecting people's emotional, physical and financial wellbeing. And that's why I am taking the opportunity to do the Sleepout this year. 

Last year's event raised more than $5.6 million nationwide, funding over 1.5 million meals, nearly 700,000 beds and nearly 2 million individual support programs. 

This year's target is $6.4 million, and as I write they are more than halfway to achieving that goal. Which means, your help is needed. 

Increasing awareness of the homelessness issue is vital if we are to make any progress towards solving it. So, at the very least please, visit the CEO Sleepout website to find out more. And, if you can make a financial contribution, or become a volunteer, even better. Every dollar and every action, no matter how small, counts. 

Tim Bailey is the chief executive officer of life and investments for Zurich Australia. 

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain