March 16, 2020 by Adam Malik
No clients will be walking through the doors of at least one Alberta brokerage, thanks to fears around spreading coronavirus in the office.
Leibel Insurance Group has closed its doors to client visits and told all employees to work from home as COVID-19 concerns grow. It’s the first brokerage in the country that Canadian Underwriter has heard of doing so, although the situation with COVID-19 is very fluid, and many others may also have taken the step before Canada’s Prime Minister Monday urged Canadians to stay at home.
Leibel has physical offices in Edmonton and Calgary, plus a virtual office in Toronto. The brokerage sent a message to its customers on Mar. 12 that all transactions will be done through email or over the phone. The suspension came into effect Mar. 16 and is temporary for as long as the virus presents a danger, Chad Leibel, CEO and partner of the brokerage, said in an interview with Canadian Underwriter. The email also outlined options to make payments via e-money transfer and acknowledged that delays in service are to be expected.
“For us to make the decision was pretty smooth and easy,” he said. “We started thinking about a resiliency and contingency plan a while ago in case something were to happen,” such as a fire or other disaster that forced employees to work offsite and now the plan is being put to use.
The brokerage has about 50 employees and its business is split almost evenly between commercial and personal lines. As concerns mounted, the decision was made to be pro-active, according to Leibel’s chief technology officer and communications officer Rob Barros and chief operating officer Travis Murray.
“We want to protect our staff who are in the office from being exposed to the virus,” Leibel said. “We also want to protect our customers. We just felt that with how quickly this is spreading, it was the prudent thing to do — to get in front of it.”
The company can keep track of its employees. A staff member who was in Italy was asked to self-isolate, for example. But they can’t do the same for their clients. “It was enormously stressful for our staff to have to deal with clients [and not] know what they were being subjected to and potentially taking home to their families,” Murray said.
Barros highlighted the positive response clients have given the brokerage, including a doctor who applauded them. “There are a lot of our clients who are just ecstatic that we’re taking these [measures] and recognize that we’re not only doing it for them, but we’re doing it for our people,” he said.
“I was surprised by the overwhelming support from our customers about this decision,” Murray added.
And it’s business as usual as far as Leibel is concerned. “This is really a test of the [business continuity] plan to make sure what we’ve executed is actually going to execute with perfection,” he said.
And the plan is designed to be in place for as long as necessary, Murray emphasized. “We’ll be listening to the actual professionals and seeing how they react,” he said. “We’re prepared to do this for as long as it takes because we’re set up for that.”