For many business owners across Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the way they do business. Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) instituted new health and safety procedures, others pivoted their operations to meet the demands of the digital-first ‘new normal,’ and most sent their employees home to work remotely, at least while local lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were in place.
As business owners adapt to the public health crisis, either by making changes to their working environment or altering their business to new ventures, there are certain things they need to consider from an insurance perspective.
“Many business insurance policies have restrictions on where coverage will apply to property such as computers, stock and office equipment. Where a business owner has moved to a work from home environment, it’s important to review whether the coverage applies,” said Chris Riverso, Underwriting Consultant - Commercial Insurance at RSA Canada.
“Furthermore, businesses must ensure their establishments, procedures and products continue to be safe for their employees, business partners and customers. Specifically, for COVID-19, following regional guidelines is paramount to maintain a safe working environment for all. If the business requires customers or suppliers to visit employee homes, there must also be a consideration as to ensuring the area is safe for both the employee and the visitor. Safety considerations should extend from the office to the home.”
With SMEs relying on digital tools and remote working capabilities more than ever, it’s important that they continually assess and reassess their exposure to ensure they have the right protections and insurance in place. One exposure that has really come to the forefront for SMEs during the pandemic, especially those who switched to remote working operations, is cyber risk.
“Where employees are working at the office, they’re operating under business-controlled servers and online protection, whereas at home, many employees use their own internet, which may not be as secure as what they have in the office,” explained Riverso. “As each business differs in the level of security needed, it’s important for all businesses to assess the additional risk from having employees work from home, and, if required, speak to their insurance company to review their coverage.”
Many Canadian SMEs are considering hybrid half-remote/half-office-based work as they prepare to see out the remainder of the COVID crisis and position their businesses for success in a post-pandemic world. In order to thrive in the “new normal,” they need to embrace the digital path forward and leverage developments such as remote working, pay and inventory systems, and online banking to create efficiencies and cost savings that will help them grow their businesses.
“Embracing technology has a number of benefits, but there are also corresponding risks. As an example, pay systems will reduce the physical cash on site, reducing the risk of theft, but may increase the online risk,” Riverso told Insurance Business. “Changes to a business’s operations may not always reduce the risk but it can change the nature of that risk. When making changes to the business, it’s important that SMEs consider the risks of these changes and take appropriate actions.
“When working digitally, this could mean requiring employees to use a VPN when working from home, or not leaving the computers connected to the internet overnight. By putting procedures in place, the risk can be mitigated. Additionally, insurance companies and brokers can always assist in the risk assessment, offer suggestions, and provide the appropriate insurance coverage for the business.”
While some parts of Canada re-entered local lockdowns in November to prevent further spread of the coronavirus in the second wave, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for business owners. The longer we remain in the grips of the crisis, the better we understand what we’re up against, and the more support that industries, like insurance, can give to business owners to help them put their best foot forward.
One thing that’s absolutely critical, whether a business is just starting or re-starting in a post-pandemic world, is the need for appropriate insurance. Riverso commented: “Where the business owner is restarting, it’s suggested they review their current coverage with their insurance company. If the business owner made changes at the beginning of the pandemic, those changes may no longer be required. It’s important that moving forward at the time of the restart, the insurance coverage is appropriate.
“Those starting new businesses will need to speak with their brokers and determine what coverage is appropriate for their new venture. With their help, and the support of the insurance company, the best terms and conditions can be provided.”
RSA Canada recognizes the important role insurance brokers will play in helping SMEs bounce back. The property & casualty insurer continues to offer consistent service, while ensuring open communication with brokers, and providing solutions and resources when needed. RSA broker partners can access a wide range of public-facing tip sheets and advice on business critical topics via www.rsabroker.ca/coronavirus and the RSA Canada LinkedIn page.