"Every crisis is unique, but there are common elements"

"Every crisis is unique, but there are common elements" | Insurance Business New Zealand

"Every crisis is unique, but there are common elements"

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis on a massive scale, but one leader says that insurance - a sector that is no stranger to dealing with a crisis - may be best placed to provide learnings from various disasters over the past decades.

GB’s executive vice president Jon Winsbury says he’s seen a huge number of disruptions during his time in insurance, and although every crisis has its own defining features, a lot of the learnings around business management and team leadership can be applied to the situation we’re currently facing.

Winsbury started his career just as Auckland was in the middle of a devastating five-week power outage, an event which cost some local businesses as much as $60,000 per week.

“When I started with the organisation, we were knee deep in the 1998 Mercury Energy crisis,” he explained.

“Many Kiwis will never forget the cut off of power into the Auckland CBD, and the thousands upon thousands of business interruption claims that were generated at the time. That’s where we really cut our teeth in terms of how we dealt with that for Mercury Energy.”

“Then there was the great flood in Queensland in 2011, various storms and cyclones up and down the east coast of Australia,” he continued.

“The big mother of catastrophes in the Southern Hemisphere of course were the Christchurch earthquakes, and the subsequent quakes over the next five-year period.”

Winsbury says the more recent Australian bushfires and floods have also proven a challenge, and GB has been called on by both government and the insurance sector to help deal with the fallout. He says that although the COVID-19 situation is unique in many ways, there are still “common elements” to every catastrophe.

“COVID is a very unique environment - what I’ve found is that every catastrophe that fronts us in the insurance sector has got unique elements to it,” he said.

“However, there are common elements of this that I think we can draw on as a sector, and there is no industry in a better place to manage these kinds of things, because insurance is used to this.”

When it comes to steering your business safely through the storm, Winsbury says the first and most crucial question a leadership team should ask itself during a catastrophe is how the event is impacting its customers.

It should also keep an eye on what’s happening on a larger, economic scale, and it can’t leave the “micro” considerations of the business to line managers.

“You should ask - am I across the impact this is having on my day to day customer service? Am I across what this is doing to the health and safety of my staff?” Winsbury explained.

“Do you know that your people are being communicated with effectively? Are they getting technical support, is there anything you could do to improve it?

“You should ensure that you have a clear line of sight, and that you’re comfortable that you can assist your staff during a very uncomfortable period.”