Articles - Insurance firms front and centre in a COVID19 world

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, insurance companies found themselves in the centre of the storm. In a matter of hours and days (not weeks), many carriers had to make their entire operations remote. At the same time, they were fielding calls about changing coverage; answering questions about business interruption policies; and continuing to pay claims for life, health and disability insurance.

 By Alex Bertolotti, Insurance leader at PwC UK 

 Insurance companies are designed for this. Actuarial modelling, risk analysis and crisis planning are at the core of their business. With policyholders—individuals and businesses—suffering as a result of the crisis, regulators and legislators expect insurance companies to live up to their responsibilities. Those that don’t will likely face enormous reputational consequences. Getting it wrong is not an option.

 So far, insurance companies have weathered the crisis exceptionally well, largely due to investments they’d already made in networks, applications, laptops and more. The crisis did expose a number of gaps and vulnerabilities, and it reinforced the need for additional technology investments. But, overall, industry leaders can feel secure in the knowledge that the battle is being managed and the near-term path forward, while precarious, is one they know how to navigate.

 The big question now facing leading carriers is this: How do we continue to adapt our business strategies to accommodate a new way of working? Three topics come up frequently as the industry looks to the future:
 The need to accelerate digital transformation
 How to bolster the balance sheet
 How to get employees back to the office

 Insurers returning to the office
 During September efforts to kickstart the economy continue, insurance companies are starting to think about workforce models that combine a new mix of remote and on-site employees. For many, this will require at least two phases: one that includes some employees returning to the office soon, and a longer-term version that is more comprehensive.

 The sweeping scale of a return-to-work program (which may take 18 months or more to complete) offers insurers an opportunity to revisit priorities, plans and strategies. At the heart of any program are three questions that carriers should explore: if, when and how should employees return to the office

 If employees go back to the office: Before deciding whether to bring workers back to the office, companies should determine if employees want to return- this in itself is a huge cultural change for an industry which arguably has some of the most traditional on-site working models. They must then conduct their own modelling on how successful a work-from-home structure is likely to be.

 This will vary across job types, and we’re likely to see hybrid models, with employees working at home much of the time, but visiting the office weekly or monthly as needed.

 When employees return to the office: In making this decision, firms should follow government guidelines, prioritize the return of employees whose work requires them to be on-site and be prepared for another shutdown. Worksite shutdowns may be necessary because of a local worksite infection or if we experience a second wave of the pandemic resulting in government-mandated stay-at-home orders.

 How workers can return safely: Before bringing workers back to the office, insurers should understand their employees’ work/life needs (such as childcare commitments if schools aren’t open), risk tolerance and safety concerns about exposure during the commute or while on-site. Reconfiguring office space to meet social distancing requirements will help to provide safety. So will testing, tracking and sanitation.

 There are many other issues to address, such as critical issues of liability should a returning employee contract COVID-19. But answering the questions of if, when and how employees can return to the office will allow leaders to consider the technology and operational infrastructure needed to support an evolved workforce and successfully navigate the upcoming period of instability.

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