Covid-19 is having an industry changing impact on insurance. From the controversy over business interruption, to the more day-to-day concerns of running remote teams, brokers are facing unprecedented challenges. The second webinar in our series discussed what firms are doing now to shore up their businesses, and what challenges they think brokers will face. Will the crisis prove to have been the prompt the industry needed to move into the digital age and what changes will need to be made with regards to flexible working practises and office requirements?
As there wasn’t enough time to answer all of the questions asked during the webinar, we asked the panel to answer them offline and here's what they said:
How do you find clients perceive the "insurer" working from home even on a part time basis - or is this not a factor you are seeing?
Carl: Clients have been very supportive of us getting staff working from home; as a lot of them are doing so themselves, there is a greater degree of empathy.
Neil: This isn’t an issue that I have seen being prevalent.
Applied: Clients understand that every business sector that can work from home, is working from home. Clients care about whether they can reach their broker, either over the phone or virtually, they can access their important insurance documents and information anytime and if they are getting the right products for the right price. Using the proper tools, a broker can take care of the client from anywhere.
What areas of your businesses do you think WFH does not work so well?
Carl: Probably around new business, where collaboration on quotes is harder to achieve when WFH.
Neil: The diversity in our team from a knowledge and experience basis is vast, the main issue is the lack of interaction with colleagues where in the office there would be a level of support, it is possible to replicate this and generate support but it’s much more forced and manufactured when staff are remote.
Applied: We are very happy to say that working from home has worked extremely well for Applied. Since we are a technology company, it is a priority that we stay online and available for our customers who also have to do the same for their customers.
As certainly everyone is dealing with an entirely new working environment, e.g. kids virtually schooling, partners working in the same workspace, dogs barking in the background, we have seen more creativity in engagement between employees and flexibility to accommodate shifted schedules.
Flexible working can be beneficial for businesses but present a number of challenges. Are management teams really prepared for new working practices in the long term?
>Carl: WFH does not suit everyone. There will be lots of challenges, and the current environment is forcing a lot of learnings. The biggest ones for the future are maintaining good quality team engagement and a common sense of purpose.
Neil: Perhaps not, but we are all fast learners. Again it’s about looking at the metrics and data points you have to review success and productivity and finding ways to ensure that you can track them remotely, as well as being able to remotely influence them to affect and manage them where necessary.
Applied: Management teams will have to begin shifting their mindsets towards working from home as the pandemic has opened it up as a possibility. Using Applied as an example, the pandemic has actually been a great test to show that our employees can work remotely and we as management Trust them.
Even though employees aren’t physically in the office to supervise, management can still check in via video calls and track work within the management system to ensure productivity.
I’d suggest over the long run you may see more of a hybrid approach where there are days in the office and more standard days working from home. We see great value in the random moments of collaboration and innovation that often happen in person, but also recognize a future of flexibility.
Am very impressed as to how brokers were able to make that switch very quickly and hats off to you all. Have you been able to gauge any changes to your overall culture and how have people held up?
Carl: our teams have enjoyed much better, even more friendly conversations with clients, and colleagues are much more understanding and supportive of each other.
Neil: I think our team have been remarkable resilient, most are pleased to be working and productive the changes are likely to surround future flexibility as customers and employees expectations will have shifted and businesses need to be flexible in the future to meet this demand.
Applied: Since mid-March, our leadership team has ramped up communication with employees, including videos to provide announcements, emails to suggest ways to stay active, and webinars to continue education into each of Applied’s products. These have helped to keep our employees engaged through this stressful time.
We have seen positive results from this approach, coming together and rallying for one another and our customers. We have also seen even greater empathy and focus on doing the right thing, really showing the cultural values of our business.
Hope do the panel see the claims landscape changing with the use of tech and the role of the broker in that situation?
Neil: Maybe more video-based claims interactions rather than face to face. I’m not sure it will change what we do, but maybe how we do it.
Applied: The claims landscape is only going to become more digital as working from home continues to transform the way we work. We were already making important strides in claims, including starting a claim through a customer mobile app and providing more details via a customer self-service portal, and so I expect innovation and adoption to ramp up like we are seeing other uses of technology adoption and innovation rise during this time.
While the daily tasks of the broker might change slightly, going from paper-driven tasks to digital exchanges, the role of the broker – to be a trusted advisor – will always remain core. Insurance consumers will always need advice. Even with direct-to-consumer products becoming more widely used in the personal lines sector, brokers are still needed in many other aspects of insurance.
What time frame are we looking at to continue working from home and how do you see the business development happening for the brokers? What new skills should we learn in order to be productive in coming times?
Carl: It depends on how long it takes for the public's confidence to return. Understanding Tech better, and utilising tools like Microsoft teams to offer another way of engaging with clients as well as colleagues.
Neil: I think we have one eye on a return to the office even on a partial basis at some point in the future, it’s an evolving process and we are constantly reviewing when that right time is.
Applied: We don’t know how long we could be working from home at this time. Some brokers will go back to the office immediately when they have the chance and others might work from home indefinitely. Whichever location brokers choose, they will all need to use technology that their consumers are demanding.
Even before the pandemic, insurance consumers were demanding 24/7 access to their documents and their broker, so it is critical for brokers to use an online customer portal. Mobile apps for broker staff are also helpful for business development while working remotely. These mobile apps can track sales activities and enable staff to access information within the management system so they can be productive while on the go.
These are just a couple of examples of tools that brokers will need to stay productive while working remotely. However, it is important to not just use digital tools, but to have a digital mindset when working with prospects and customers. Today’s insurance consumers are digitally minded, driven by other industries that are much more automated than insurance, so it is important that brokers always look for how they can further automate their business to have the competitive advantage.
When do you think the London Market will be back up and running on the ground, some have said January 2020?
Neil: I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me given that Social distancing guidelines, I feel a lot of people are preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.
Do you feel the insuring risk will change for a broker especially with recession around the corner and a previous spike in Fraud?
Carl: We always seem to see a spike in fraud in a recession...
Neil: I don’t think anyone knows how the economy will react to this scenario, I imagine that there will be negative economic consequences, but the broking sector have been here before and we must remember lessons we learned in 2008 in order to ensure that we are a resilient sector.
Applied: Now more than ever, brokers need to be using technology to ensure they are choosing the right coverage for their customers. Brokers can use risk assessment tools within their management system and employee-facing mobile app, as well as fraud detection tools that are available.
Do you see any new insurance products have been developed during (thanks to?) actual situation? if yes which? and is there already an appetite for them?
Carl: I think there will need to be a review of BI cover, and I'm sure we will see an industry type solution along the lines of Flood Re.
Neil: I hope that in penetration of cyber insurance is something businesses think more about. Also, other products such as those being discussed to provide a response to similar situations.
Change of focus in relation to 'consumer risk' from regulator?
Carl: I think the regulator will look at insurer and broker resilience when this is over, especially around how businesses were able to respond to WFH and the impacts that that might have had on customer outcomes.
Neil: I think clients in this potential economic circumstance become more vulnerable as such I think this will be higher on the regulators radar.
When machines can be used to underwrite and process claims, what work will the people they are replacing do? There will be a need to change a lot of roles to work with the technology and do you think the insurance industry is starting to address that?
Carl: This won't happen overnight. There will be lots of learnings and occasional mishaps along the way, as well as unintended consequences that have not yet been imagined. Roles for people will evolve, and there will always be the need for specialist underwriters - and human oversight.
Neil: I’m not sure, it isn’t my area of expertise, I do know that those prophesising of the insurance industries future have been wrong in the past... If we keep these roles about relationships, service and advice, we can hopefully retain as much human contact as is necessary, whilst using technology to supplement this.
Applied: While technology is automating historically manual work, that doesn’t eliminate the role of the broker and the trusted advice they provide. Digital technology will never be able to replace the advice that a broker can give, the customer service that someone needs during a tragic event or even the completion of tasks that while are more digital in nature, still need people to carry them out. What we see is actually converting those roles that were often more manual and converting them to more revenue-generating roles – whether that be new sales or customer servicing supporting renewals.
As tasks become gradually more digital, it is important that brokers regularly provide educational resources to their staff to stay up to date on the latest releases of their software and also new technology that is coming available to make the business more productive and profitable.