Berkley Insurance Australia (BIA) got it right when, weeks before the insurer had to send everyone home in March 2020, it ran tests to ensure that the staff could work remotely as if they were on-site. Now, with lockdowns back in place, BIA has no trouble connecting with brokers.
“Our main focus is, and always has been, having underwriters as close to the brokers as possible,” chief executive Tony Wheatley (pictured) told Insurance Business, “and having a philosophy that if a broker calls the office, that someone will answer the phone or someone will ring them back to answer their questions; and if they get a submission in, that we turn it around as quickly as possible.”
According to Wheatley, all of BIA’s systems and thought processes are around making sure that the above happens, and trying to improve what’s in place whenever they can.
The CEO, referring to the first quarter of last year, noted: “We did a test three or four weeks prior to when we actually had to close the office down and move everyone out. We made sure everyone validated that there were no issues so they could work from home in the same way that they work from the office.
“At the time, we’ve had to buy some additional equipment. But the day that we decided to close the office, people went home and started work the next day and it was no different.”
A testament to the firm’s success on this front is the feedback from its broking partners. Named Insurer of the Year in Insurance Business Australia’s Brokers on Insurers 2021 report, BIA bagged gold medals in areas such as broker communication, new business turnaround time, and overall service level.
“I don’t think there’s much of an excuse for people not to be able to manage their businesses working from home anymore,” asserted Wheatley. In fact, in the chief executive’s view, the companies that are unable to do so have probably “let themselves down” a little bit.
That is not to say, though, that the BIA boss is not keen to get employees back in the office.
He stated: “It shouldn’t matter from a ‘servicing customers’ perspective. But from a teamwork perspective, it’s nice to be in the office around other people. From an innovation perspective, I think it’s good for people to be able to sit around face to face and bounce things around. You can only do so much through WebEx and Teams and that sort of thing. You need a bit of energy in the room.
“From our perspective, we think it’s important that people get back to the office eventually. But it really depends on where we sit in different states for COVID. We can’t guarantee the timing. In the meantime, our focus remains on servicing the brokers, getting our quotes back to them quickly, ringing people back when they call, and just doing the simple stuff really well.”
Meanwhile, the insurer – which participates on the Steadfast client trading platform – is also working towards having its own online broker tool, which Wheatley said is “the next big thing” for BIA. The company is looking to roll out the portal, at the earliest, sometime in August.
“Part of our strategy is not to take the connection between the brokers and our underwriting teams away,” highlighted the CEO. “It’s really just to streamline the manual process. But if there’s a referral or there’s something that a broker doesn’t understand about a quote that they’re putting into the online system, then they go and talk to the same underwriter they talk to if they send it to us directly.
“And people don’t have to deal with us online; it’s optional, so they can keep dealing with us the way they deal with us now. And if they do deal with us online, the team that they work with would be exactly the same team that they would work with offline. We find that’s something that really resonates with brokers, because that’s not always the case.”