With several decades of international experience in the insurance industry under his belt, Ken Keenan (pictured above) knows from experience that every cloud has a silver lining. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia’s shores back in March, the Pen Underwriting team was quickly forced to switch to remote working – a state of play that has continued for some to this point. For Keenan, the company’s Australia CEO, one unintended benefit was the sudden drop off in time spent travelling.
“The travel restrictions have been somewhat of a blessing in disguise, both personally and environmentally speaking,” he told Insurance Business.
The past six months have, of course, been challenging for Keenan and Pen Underwriting, though he praised his employees for their willingness to work from home without interruption.
“I don’t think our clients would have noticed much of a difference in how we worked with them, to be honest. The team responded extremely quickly and we were able to enjoy a sense of continuity,” he said. Indeed, Pen Underwriting hired three new employees at the start of the pandemic and though Keenan is yet to physically meet two of them, he praised them for being “fully on-board with what we’re doing here at Pen.”
“We’ve shown that, by and large, we can be successful working remotely like this,” he said. “When things stabilise and we have time to review our practices, I’m sure there will be a change in how we operate. We’ll still have people in the offices, of course, but there will definitely be flexibility when it comes to working arrangements.”
Keenan’s focus on maintaining a strong and cohesive company culture has proven invaluable during these socially distanced times. Pen Underwriting was quick to provide opportunities for employees to engage in activities such as wellness and health focused classes and has also made mental health services available, allowing anyone to feel free to talk openly about the stresses they may be facing.
Looking forward, Keenan is eager to see how business interruption (BI) cases will be handled by Australian courts – in his words, “Business interruption has been the hottest insurance topic since the pandemic started.”
“It is generally felt verdicts in other countries will have no impact on the unique test case here,” he added. “For Pen, we await the outcome as it may determine the direction for insureds arising from BI claims where an infectious disease exclusion has been applied. However, we never envisaged coverage for pandemic type events, and certainly never priced for them.”
He further commented that the insurance market outlook is mixed.
“We all have some portfolios or segments within portfolios that are underperforming,” he said. “However, the underlying market dynamics are generally favourable for underwriters at this time with pricing and terms moving back towards profitability. This is really a welcome prospect.”
When asked what’s in store for the future, Keenan’s natural optimism shines through.
“It’s been a long year for a lot of us, but I’m really looking forward to starting fresh next year and bringing in 2021 in a positive way,” he said.