March 27, 2020 by David Gambrill
So far, so good, the Canadian property and casualty insurance industry appears to have adapted very quickly to the new virtual environment of working from home, according to results from a recent Canadian Underwriter survey of its readership.
Just over 300 insurance industry professionals responded to the online survey Thursday. A vast majority (almost 85%) of them reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with how their business continuity plan responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The successful transition to working from home was consistent from large companies to small. “Working from home is working,” as one respondent put it.
“We mobilized over 2,000 staff to work from home in less than three weeks,” one respondent reported in the survey’s anonymized comments. “Prior to that, we had a pilot of 60 people working from home.” Another respondent reported of their business continuity plan: “We were able to take a company of over 1,000 people and have them work from home almost overnight.”
The same sentiment seemed to apply to mid-size and smaller operations as well.
“We had two remote workers out of 65 staff,” one respondent reported. “Once we decided to move staff home, we had all 65 home in two weeks with no issues.”
“Even though we are considered [an] essential [service], we have all but two out of 16 staff members working from home and it’s working,” said another. “When it isn’t working, we have banded together and found a solution.”
Previous experience with disasters and battle-tested business continuity plans improved the response during the government-ordered shutdowns related to the COVID-19, some respondents reported.
No one should have been surprised by the possibility of a pandemic, one said. “A pandemic was considered a possibility dating back to the bird flu scares.”
For one broker, “prior experience with Ice Storm in Quebec probably made [for] a more extensive thinking process to establish [a] continuity plan.” Based on that experience, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the broker had already implemented electronic signatures, and set up a document server for larger clients and for transmission of larger files [to replace exchange of paper documents].
Practice made perfect for one organization in the survey. “We had a smaller issue that triggered the business continuity plan earlier this year, and our office was shut for about a week,” said one respondent. “There were some bumps in the communication to employees, management taking too long to make decisions (leaving employees waiting until the last minute to know what was happening.
“This time [with COVID-19], management was quick to make the right calls about working from home (even before the Ontario government mandated the office to shut). Also, all employees had been provided with laptops, VPN access, and other tools needed to work seamlessly from home.”
The Ontario government has since declared insurance to be an essential service, meaning that insurance offices in the province are exempt from a mandatory order to close their physical operations.
While the transition for most has been smooth, technology (capacity of telecommunications, servers, digital service bandwidth, etc.), daycare, accounting functions, and maintaining staff morale were all cited as ongoing challenges for P&C organizations — particularly if social distancing is to last over an extended period.
“Will I be laid off?” one respondent wrote, in answer to a question about “What are your biggest concerns right now?”