Canadian Underwriter

Get your brokers back to the office: BFL CEO

November 4, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

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Barry Lorenzetti is encouraging you to get your brokers back to the office and if you disagree, don’t hesitate to contact him for a public debate.

“It’s not as if COVID is going away and we will shut off COVID in four months or three months or next week. It’s here to stay. So are we going to have a system in place where you can come into the office if you want for the next two years? I really think we need to move forward,” said Lorenzetti, Montreal-based founder and CEO of BFL Canada, one the largest employee-owned Canada-based commercial brokerages.

For its part, BFL had most of its workers back to the office at least some days a week as of Sept. 7.

“I would hope that we would get more firms that will jump on the bandwagon so we can help move the economy forward. We want to see a collective, collaborative effort to get people in the office and working,” Lorenzetti told Canadian Underwriter Thursday in an interview. “I am open to public debate on the subject.”

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic March 11, 2020. Initially, many Canadian provinces brought in emergency measures making work-from-home mandatory for non-essential workplaces. (For its part, Ontario categorized insurance offices as essential).

BFL has about 1,000 employees in offices across Canada, with commercial clients both inside Canada and around the world.

“I am aboard a plane regularly, travelling to Vancouver, travelling to Toronto. We have a business to run,” said Lorenzetti.

So what about brokers who are not going to get vaccinated and return to working in person?

“You can imagine how short their runway is for production, how many clients are going to be prepared to speak to them if they are not vaccinated. So I think there is a lot of waking up to do,” said Lorenzetti.

“I am open to Webex or Teams if that will cut down on expenses but I think when it comes to clients, clients deserve to be serviced. They deserve to be with their brokers. I don’t think we can change that. That’s how we bult the company and will continue to build the company that way.”

In the summer of 2021, BFL introduced what it calls a Work Smart program. It divided employees into three categories:

  • employee-shareholders, who are expected to work in the office on a regular basis;
  • workers who sign agreements in which they commit to working at least three out of five days a week at the office while the other two days can be spent working from home; and
  • a third category – including some actuaries and information technology staff – of employees who can work from home permanently but still need to come into the office if asked to by their team leaders.

What Lorenzetti has observed of the third category is about 90% of them are in the office about once a week.

BFL prefers to do staff meetings in person instead of over a remote conference platform like Teams or Webex.

“It’s preferable to have people in and get their body language, see what they are thinking, sitting on the edge of their seats,” said Lorenzetti. “One of the fallouts from having Webex calls and Teams calls is eyesight. My eyesight has deteriorated over the past 12 months, that’s for sure.”

At BFL Canada, employees need to be double-vaccinated or show a negative COVID test result in order to go into the office.

“We have an honour system. They sign off on a declaration,” he said of vaccinated workers.

The mandatory vaccination policy provides an exception for employees with medical or religious exemptions.

“We need to get people moving to the office. We need to get people filling up restaurants downtown during the lunch hours and get people in the community back into the city at the same time.”

Feature image via Arts Media