Innovations born "at a time of great stress": CEO

Innovations born "at a time of great stress": CEO | Insurance Business

Innovations born "at a time of great stress": CEO

The post-COVID-19 future belongs to those in the industry who are flexible, adaptable and future-driven, according to Bunmi Ajayi (pictured), founder and CEO of Megalines Insurance and Risk Advisers, located in Victoria’s Point Cook.

“… I am always one who sees opportunity in every challenge. Most breakthroughs, innovation and disruptions in the world have often been birthed at a time of great stress,” Ajayi said.

“How we respond in times of hardship could really make a difference in how we come out at the other end. Brokers particularly have an opportunity now to proactively demonstrate empathy and educate their clients on some of these issues while reassuring them that they have not been discriminated against.

“Post COVID-19, I see an increased role of technology in the way we will conduct business and relate with customers. Herein lies the opportunity for those players who are adaptable, flexible and future driven.”

Ajayi’s client-focused and pro-innovation response to the pandemic is mirrored across the industry, which has seen many large insurers such as Suncorp, HCF and Zurich bolster their digital claims processes and offer more telehealth support to clients. During challenging times like these, Ajayi says he’s proud to see the industry move quickly to provide relief.

“It’s also good to see some industry wide measures that have been announced by insurers to alleviate the pressure for insured businesses including deferred premium payments, refunds on unused portions of premiums for travel insurance or businesses having to cancel policies midstream while waiving any cancellation or administration fees,” Ajayi said.

But the pandemic came at a challenging time – the insurance sector is still reeling from the fallout of the disastrous bushfire season that saw 1,600 homes destroyed and more than 5,000 insurance claims submitted, according to the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA).

“Having just come out of a significant bushfire crisis in Australia where insurers were outstanding in their response, the coronavirus follow up is, to say the least, unfortunate. I believe the biggest challenge facing the industry now is COVID-19,” Ajayi said.

According to Ajayi, flow on challenges from both the bushfire season and now the pandemic include constraining reinsurance appetite, business continuity issues, declining investment returns, a drop in gross written premiums due to decreasing demand for certain covers, and policy cancellations.

“Much more than this could be reputational damage, as almost all but a few policies carry pandemic exclusions relating to losses caused by diseases notifiable under the Quarantine Act or Bio Security Act 2015,” he said.

Managing reputational damage to the industry is critical right now, as global media outlets turn the spotlight on insurers to scrutinize their responses to the pandemic. Unfortunately, for Ajayi, he says the industry will remain “misjudged” during these grand events.

“While the mechanism of insurance was never designed to, nor should it, respond to every conceivable risk exposure, the industry stands to be misjudged by consumers and commentators as not living up to its responsibilities when the world needs them most,” he said.

Ajayi, who “fell into” the insurance industry after receiving an “unsolicited” admission letter to study at Nigeria’s University of Lagos, says that depth of knowledge in the field of insurance is a quality that will keep clients loyal to your business – an important strategy during times of uncertainty.

“Over these many years, I have come to be fully persuaded that the depth of what you know and the value that you add to others (employees, customers and suppliers alike) will make you stand out from the competitors,” he said.

Apart from his competitive strategy, what sets Megalines Insurance and Risk Advisors out from the crowd, is the company’s investment in technology – an important resource during the pandemic.

“I believe we’ve always been steps ahead of the industry standard when it comes to our tech capability. So, for us at Megalines, it [the pandemic] was an opportunity to level up even more by increasing client touch points through automated text messages, push notifications on the Megalines App, 24/7 presence with our web chatbot,” he explained.

“We created an insurance guideline to some of the FAQs and tips around the subject of insurance and COVID-19 which was made available to all of our clients and placed on our website.”

He also says that making personal phone calls to clients to create a conversation with a “listening ear” shows compassion towards their circumstances and enables them to hear more about their personal options during this time. He also communicates through online meetings via Zoom and other “similar platforms.”

Ajayi has also had a unique approach to managing his staff during the social restrictions – with having a progressive rotational roster seeing 50% of his staff working from home while the other 50% remain at home.

“Our company has always had a well-rehearsed, robust business continuity and remote working capability, but what COVID-19 did is to get us deploying this on full scale,” he said.

“Initially all staff were made to work from home and progressively we now have a rotational system 50-50 where at any point in time, we have some working from home and others in the office.”

But on the other hand he says this pandemic has caused a “bit of a conundrum” for the industry because it was spontaneous in nature, making it hard for a business to adequately prepare itself or its clients.

“This may also present, for insurers, dwindling investment returns and increased regulatory spotlight,” he said.

An area that could benefit from the pandemic, however, is business interruption cover – a policy that has seen lots of coverage and discussion in recent times due to the mass closures of businesses across the nation.

“By way of opportunities, I believe that the pandemic may result in huge demand for more comprehensive business insurance/business interruption cover,” he said. “Customers will expect such insurance policies to address the many gaps revealed during the crisis. Insurers must tap into these opportunities and up their investments in innovative products and services.”

Insurers should also be intent on committing to greater transparency with their clients after the pandemic eases, according to Ajayi.

“Insurers now have a veritable opportunity to move into a clearer communication regime post COVID-19,” he said. “Transparency, clarity and simplicity more than ever before in their policy coverage wordings will no doubt reinforce trust in the idea of true, unrestrained protection in times of need.”

Ajayi has enjoyed plenty of success over the years, having been named the NIBA Australian Insurance Broker of the Year in 2015. However, he says he is continuously striving to better himself, his service and his support for his clients.

“I am always striving to stay and function at the cutting edge of my best game and professionalism,” he said. “Leading the business toward delivering greater customer experiences and accelerated growth with a best in class Net Promoter Score (NPS) will always be key for me.”