The COVID-19 pandemic may be front and centre of the world’s attention, but as the Southern Hemisphere enters its storm and cyclone season, Gallagher Bassett executive vice president Jon Winsbury is reminding the insurance sector that it needs to stay well prepared for potential surge events.
Reflecting on the past year, Winsbury noted that New Zealand has seen its fair share of weather events such as floods, fires and minor earthquakes, and, in Australia, hailstorms and bushfires have taken up significant insurer resources. He says insurers need to be aware of the trends that lead to increased property damage, and also consider how well resourced they are to deal with major future events.
“What’s interesting for us as an industry is that mother nature doesn’t really care about COVID-19, and we’re managing a global pandemic in a challenging time when we’ve still got storms coming in,” Winsbury said.
“We saw a minor earthquake in Christchurch, and Gallagher Bassett had a lot of experience in managing hundreds of thousands of claims during the 2011 earthquakes – still the Southern Hemisphere’s largest ever insurance event. We’ve had our worst floods in 57 years in the city of Napier, and catastrophic hailstorms hitting the East Coast of Australia in the past three weeks with more predicted to come. It’s never ending, it never stops.”
“What is clear is that as the nations that primarily consume insurance grow in economic wealth, they also grow in population and in their footprint on the environment,” he explained.
“Looking at the floods in 2011, a lot of the properties that were damaged – the houses, businesses and infrastructure – were simply not there 20-30 years ago. We see this in terms of rising insurance costs due to the ever increasing footprint of us as humans. It’s an obvious statement, but I’m not sure we’ve thought through some of the implications of that.”
Winsbury says that for the insurance sector, the focus needs to be on managing the expectations of customers when they make that first call. He says claims handlers need to ensure they have enough well-trained people to deal with any major event, or that they can offer the proper training quickly if the need arises.
“Managing customer expectations is becoming more and more important, not just for pure customer service, but also in terms of managing catastrophes,” Winsbury said.
“When Cyclone Debbie happened, we basically had to recruit 100+ people and train them a lot more quickly than you’d think would be acceptable. That really made us think about how we get people on board for surge events.”
“It’s really important that those people have good empathy, communicate clearly, and can manage expectations early,” he added.
“If the expectations are set correctly in the first phone call or email, then the track of progress through the claims will be much better.”