Offices will be empty this month as New Zealand’s biggest insurers have sent the majority of their staff to work from home, and insurers are warning customers to expect longer than usual wait times over the phone throughout the adjustment period.
Insurers have asked customers to make use of online tools and web chats where possible, as phone lines will be heaving with customers making enquiries about their policies. The government has also asked people not to travel unless absolutely essential while the country is on lockdown, thus reducing the pressure on insurers and emergency services.
However, the Insurance Council of New Zealand is keen to assure the public that insurance has been classed as an ‘essential service’ - and thus will be fully up and running throughout the lockdown. It says being classed as ‘essential’ has given the sector confidence that it will be able to help customers when necessary, and insurers are fully operational and well prepared - therefore, it’s simply a matter of patience while everyone adjusts to a new way of working.
“All our members have well practiced business continuity plans, and many provide flexible working and are well set up for their teams to work from home,” the Insurance Council told Insurance Business.
“With investment in technology and systems, all our members will be able to help their customers while working remotely.”
“The new work arrangements will take some bedding down, and so we ask for customers’ patience if wait times are that little bit longer than normal,” it added.
“Being recognised as an essential service provides greater clarity about being able to help customers, should the unforeseen happen.”
The Council says insurers will be able to arrange for emergency assistance and critical repairs where necessary, provided that they can meet the necessary social distancing measures. Therefore, in-person visits from repair services are still very much available.
The Council is working closely with its members to ensure they can operate as smoothly as possible during this period, and it says it has been in talks with regulators around extending regulatory deadlines where possible.
“We are working with key stakeholders and government departments to obtain clarity on areas such as essential services, so our members can maintain their business and support for customers,” it said.
“We have also been liaising with regulators to understand what the situation will mean for planned regulatory changes and supporting our members by advocating for extended timeframes where necessary.”
Insurers have been putting flexible working schemes for their staff into place over the past few weeks, and many have announced support packages for customers as well as employees.
Suncorp Group is urging customers to get in touch online where possible, as waiting times on phone lines are long and the company is still adjusting to a work-from-home day to day reality.
“We’re supporting our customer service teams by ensuring we have the appropriate number of employees to serve our customers, while enabling our people to practice social distancing,” CEO Steve Johnston said.
“We’re encouraging the rest of our people to work from home where they can, and we’re offering access to flexible work arrangements for those who need to look after their families.”
Johnston said its web chat was currently the “fastest and easiest option” for customer communication, but is confident that the company can be effective in supporting the community as quickly as necessary.
“We have a team in place to help our customers experiencing financial hardship and encourage customers in this position to contact us so we can help find a solution,” Harding said.
“Because of our new working from home arrangements, customers may experience longer than usual wait times on the phone, so if enquiries aren’t urgent, please try to chat with us online first.”
IAG New Zealand CEO Craig Olsen has announced a specialist customer care team which will operate across all of IAG's brands - AMI, State, NAC and Lantern. It will be dedicated to answering queries from concerned customers.
IAG NZ has also deferred premium payments for struggling businesses though its AMI, State and NZI brands, and has introduced a range of other support measures.
"Every customers, situation is unique, and as such, we are committed to tailoring the right solution to meet their particular needs," Olsen said.
"We will draw on a range of options to do this, from simple changes in their excess, through to working through a customer's unique and personal circumstances to identify ways to assist."