The coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching consequences on many industries in Canada, including insurance brokerages, which have had to adapt quickly to keep delivering their essential services during government-mandated shutdowns. Now, as provinces begin reopening, brokers are continuing to provide vital guidance and answering key insurance questions for their commercial clients.
In Alberta, the government is looking ahead towards the next phase, which will involve the further reopening of businesses with continued protections in place as well as the relaxing of some public gathering restrictions.
During this time, some of the key concerns that clients have been raising with their brokers include changes in operations that could impact coverage. For example, businesses that now offer delivery services have new risks that their insurance programs might not address. Insurers have generally been flexible in these situations, according to one broker.
“A lot of the insurance companies have been very helpful in allowing some of the ‘new world’ operations,” noted Dirk Bruggencate (pictured), partner and COO at Blue Circle Insurance Brokers in Calgary. “Generally, especially on the auto insurance side, insurance companies have been pretty lenient in allowing some food delivery and other deliveries whereas they normally wouldn’t be.”
However, brokers also have to be conscious to make sure that after the worst is over and rules around coverage tighten up again, insureds are reverting back to normal operations or that these potentially ongoing, more permanent changes are being rated appropriately within insurance policies, added Bruggencate.
As a result, “A big thing for us is communication with our clients on a regular basis and being there for them when they have any questions,” he said.
Another area where insurance companies have been helpful is working with clients and brokers by addressing the lower revenues some businesses might have seen in the past two months, and that may continue into the coming months. In turn, insurers have been adjusting premiums or allowing clients to defer payments. Again, brokers need to maintain communication with clients to help them get through this situation and back to a place where their exposures are properly reflected in their policies.
Blue Circle, being a business itself, has likewise been impacted by the pandemic. It’s a technologically savvy brokerage, says Bruggencate, so its journey through this crisis has been “fairly seamless.”
“Within the first two weeks [of the crisis], we had 95% of the people working from home,” he explained. “We had to buy a couple of things like laptops and connectors, and send some monitors home, but we’ve been on a cloud-based system and we’ve been paperless for five or six years already. We have things like electronic signatures for clients that need to sign documents and we’re up to date with anything eDoc-related.”
In terms of its own plans to bring people back into the brokerage office, Blue Circle is taking things slow and steady. The brokerage team wants to ensure people are properly spaced out and is inviting its staff back in smaller groups.
Long-term, the coronavirus will undoubtedly leave marks on the broking industry in the province and across Canada. Some brokerages may not come out of this, predicts Bruggencate, especially if they weren’t able to adapt to the new normal.
“We get calls once in a while from clients that have existing policies with other brokerages, but they say they can’t get a hold of their brokers because they’re closed,” he explained, adding that nonetheless, “A lot of brokers have handled this well and are able to help clients, but I think the big thing here is evolution. I think this is going to really force brokers to be more technologically-savvy, be on a cloud system, and be able to work from wherever they are.”