Canadian Underwriter

How are Ontario brokerages handling the new omicron restrictions?

January 20, 2022   by Alyssa DiSabatino

Young woman pictured behind glass window of storefront. She is wearing a face mask and hanging a sign that says "closed until further notice."

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In December, things were looking up. Despite rising COVID-19 infections from the upwardly-rampant omicron variant, many business sectors began to hopefully reopen as pandemic restrictions loosened and workers started coming back to the office part-time – a change from the now typical work-from-home arrangement. 

Cut to January, and Ontario has reintroduced restrictions and returned to a modified step 2 of the reopening plan. 

This has, without a doubt, affected Ontarians across the board, from schoolchildren to business owners alike. How has this shutdown affected insurance brokerages? 

“[In] November, we had just started opening our doors to the public again by appointment only. So, with these new restrictions, we’ve gone back to no appointments and no in-person visits,” Nicky Burns, operations manager at Sentinel Risk Insurance Group says.  

“Almost all the stuff that we do can be done by email, by phone, snail mail, if we absolutely have to. We’re just trying to limit contact,” Burns says.  

Jennifer Savage, Young Brokers Council (YBC) president and personal and commercial sales executive at McDougall Insurance says her Sudbury-based brokerage has a different clientele community – one that prefers walk-ins.  

“People want to sit down, and they want to talk. You know, that’s what I love about being a broker,” she says. “We had to kind of close the doors, just because there was literally so much walk-in traffic.”  

“But the person that comes to pay their bill… or was in the area and wanted to pick up a slip – we’re not going to turn them away, we would never do that,” Savage adds.  

When it comes to employees, many still have the option of coming in person to their offices.  

With offices in Kawartha Lakes, Durham Region and Etobicoke, Sentinel has opened its doors to employees in rural areas who may not have reliable internet access to work-from-home. “We gave all our employees the option whether they want to work from home or be in the office. Most of them are working from home at this point,” Burns says.

laptop with screen video conference on kitchen counter with smart phone, note pad Tan

In a social industry, insurance brokers have had to adapt and find new ways to socialize with their colleagues.

“There’s only so much Zoom we can all take,” Savage says. “I think the industry in general has figured out ways to kind of keep it fresh [and] different, not necessarily Zoom, but different platforms where you can be more interactive.” 

For Sentinel, Burns says they’ve hosted remote scavenger hunts where employees had to look for items around their own houses, while Savage says YBC, an organization under IBAO, has hosted virtual comedy nights with hired comedians.  

In terms of successes, Burns says the pandemic may have helped some brokerages catch up with the rest of the industry, who may not have had adequate technologies in place to serve their clients digitally. 

“I actually think it’s probably benefited our industry that way, it’s kind of pushed everyone to kind of all be in the same alignment that way,” Burns says.  

“I think that a lot of people have realized that we can do things online,” she says. “That’s what we need to be looking at, is moving all of our policies to e-delivery if that’s what clients want, and just being able to service clients the way they want to be serviced.”  

Savage agrees. “I think we always should have done it this way, asking our clients how they would like to be dealt with.”  


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