April 29, 2020 by Greg Meckbach
To help serve its auto customers better, a Regina-based brokerage that shut its doors to the public due to COVID-19 plans to start letting clients into its offices.
“Our brokerages have been doing what we can without physically seeing the clients, but that is going to change, probably next week, so we will be re-opening our doors to folks who need to come in,” Dave Pettigrew, CEO of Harvard Western Insurance, told Canadian Underwriter Tuesday.
“We are in the process, actually, of installing protective shields – face guards – on our front counters and expect in the next week or so to be re-opening our doors to walk-in traffic,” said Pettigrew. “First and foremost [is] the safety of our employees, their families and the general public that we are most concerned about as we make these changes.”
The Saskatchewan government announced Apr. 23 a five-phase plan to gradually re-open businesses. By May 4, public access to medical services – including dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, opticians, podiatry, occupational therapy and chiropractic treatment – will be reinstated, the province announced. Government auto requires some public interaction, and Harvard Western is opening to accommodate that.
As of Apr. 29, Saskatchewan has 366 reported COVID-19 cases and five deaths, according to Public Health Canada. But while coronavirus case numbers in Saskatchewan are considerably lower than other parts of the country, “there is certainly still significant concern,” Pettigrew told Canadian Underwriter Tuesday.
“Despite the fact that some of our staff have still been in the office, we will continue to try to keep as many of the folks as we can working from their home office,” Pettigrew said. “We are not going to go back to everyone coming in.
“Like everyone else in the country, I think we have had orders to social distance – only leave the home when you have to, and when you do, take the same precautions that are in place across the country. I think we have a similar dynamic going on in Saskatchewan to every other part of the country,” said Pettigrew, who is also chair of the Insurance Brokers Association of Saskatchewan.
Harvard Western has four Regina locations plus one each in the communities of Kronau, Milestone and Yellow Grass, Pangman and Rouleau.
Since the third week of March, Harvard Western has been operating with about half its employees working from home. Pettigrew has heard that most Saskatchewan brokerages are in a similar situation, with the doors closed to the public but with some workers still working from the office.
One reason Saskatchewan brokerages cannot have all workers work from home is they place auto insurance with crown corporation Saskatchewan Government Insurance.
“That work is done using SGI-owned and provided technology inside the brokerage offices, and that’s not a process we can work at home with,” reports Pettigrew. “In our company’s case, I think that was 20th of March when we no longer allowed customers to walk in. We have been doing our best to service them on the phone or electronically.”
But for some functions, one has to interact with the customer – and issuing a licence plate is one example. Also, for some forms of payment – cash, cheque and debit card for example – the customer needs to physically interact with staff, suggested Pettigrew.
“We are unable to serve our clients in some aspects of our business, most notably the government auto function,” Pettigrew said. “They have to be physically in the office for access to computers. It is more typical of the government auto provinces – Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.”