Yesterday saw the first real easing of the lockdown measures initially introduced in the UK by Boris Johnson on March 23. The closer that the wider world comes to the total lifting of the lockdown and the eventual end of the pandemic, the clearer the picture becomes of what a post-pandemic world might look like.
While much of what is predicted on this subject is little more than hearsay, there are some absolutes that are taking form across the global market and throughout the insurance sector. According to Nicolas Aubert (pictured above), the head of Great Britain for Willis Towers Watson, there can be no denying that the COVID-19 crisis will lead to major changes to how people work in the insurance industry and in the way that people work overall.
Aubert outlined how he has welcomed how well Willis Towers Watson, the wider insurance sector and the whole world has demonstrated technological resilience in the face of this crisis. Aubert, who will be a featured speaker at Thursday’s Broker Connect virtual event being held by Insurance Business, has noted the rapid uptake of new technologies and opportunities precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and has been carefully considering the long-term implications of this crisis.
“In Willis Towers Watson UK we started to think about the mid-term and long-term implications about four weeks ago,” he said. “After four weeks of crisis management we started to say ‘OK, this works but now what does it mean for the future?’. And I think we need to be very humble when we talk about that because we are still learning a lot and we have to keep discovering what this means. But it’s quite obvious that thanks to this demonstration of technological resilience and people adaptability, there’s a lot of learning that demonstrates that we need to continue this conceptual framework into the future.”
Aubert noted the importance of addressing the two major concerns that may impact the long-term functionality of remote working uptake. Firstly, very significant attention must be paid to the working conditions of employees as this will be a key factor in determining any continued adoption of working practice changes and policies. Secondly, the insurance industry must accept that there are certain processes which it currently does not do as confidentially, as efficiently or as productively as it should in an out of office environment.
“These two things are absolutely critical when looking at the long-term, as they are already critical for the mid-term, and my view is that we are going to maintain this interim way of working up to the end of the 2020,” he said.
“And I think there is going to be a major difference in the way of working from the beginning of 2021… I think we will have a very limited number of colleagues that will be working permanently in the office and most of us are going to work sometimes in the office but also significantly from home. My prediction is slightly less than 50% office occupancy in the future, but if it were as low as 30% I would not be surprised.”
Aubert has long been a keen advocate of the role that digitisation must play in insurance broking, which was highlighted by the full-scale adaption of the London Insurance Market’s ePlacing Platform, PPL. Willis Towers Watson opted to use this platform capability from the beginning and pushed hard for this utilisation as the brokerage recognised it as the future for the industry.
“This is now a point of no return,” he said. “And it’s extraordinary that it was a global crisis that completed the transformation but now it is done, [the focus] is going to be on further digitising the market. And that not only so the upstream elements of transactions are digitised but so the whole policy management is digitised - whether that’s large brokers like us, or large insurers, or Lloyd’s, this is an obvious step for everybody.”
What is regarded as normal is going to be substantially different today to what it was yesterday, Aubert noted, and the ‘new normal’ is going to be the ability to do things digitally. It would be abnormal to go back to the ways things were done before the COVID-19 pandemic now that it has become clear that with digitisation there is the possibility of more control, more efficiency, more consistency and higher quality, as well as cost reduction for certain elements of the insurance industry supply chain.
“It’s obvious that the new normal is going to be very different from the old normal,” Aubert said. “And some of us are going to continue in this direction and probably accelerate our digitisation and some might miss the trend. That has been the beauty of this market and of competition. But, for me, it’s quite clear that digitisation is going to accelerate.”
Aubert included the caveat, however, that one of the key reasons why digitisation has been so effective during this crisis is due to the well-connected nature of the insurance sector. Insurance is a people business, and the benefits of the experience and connectivity generated by these interpersonal relationships have been highlighted during the pandemic. His warning to the sector is that it must recognise the value of these relationships, which have been built through in-person activities.
“We will need to find the required balance to continue to build trust and confidence between our stakeholders and some of this is going to require in-person activities,” he said. “Some [processes] will not and should not be done digitally. So, the success will be in striking the right balance between what can be done remotely and digitally and has what has to be done in person.”
To learn more from Nicolas Aubert, you can register for Insurance Business’s free Broker Connect event at this link.