It’s been almost six months since the coronavirus pandemic began its deadly spread in the United States. During this time, insurance companies have learned important lessons about their own business continuity plans, which in turn has helped to shape their preparations for the coming months as they continue adapting to the unfolding crisis.
CSAA Insurance Group, for example, kept a close eye on the pandemic’s spread abroad at the start of the year, helping leadership to make decisions quickly when the tide appeared to turn.
“We started experimenting with various work from home structures and social distancing within our offices in late February and early March,” said Thomas Troy (pictured above), CEO of CSAA. By the third week of March, when lockdown orders were starting to come down, “We had about 98% of our employees working from home, and we’ve really stayed in that mode and that certainly has changed the way that we go about our work.”
What remains to be seen is what remote working will look like after the pandemic has subsided and how many of the employees that are currently working from home will stay remote permanently, though CSAA has a plan in place for the coming months and how it will transition employees back to physical workspaces in a piecemeal fashion.
For Aon, the pandemic necessitated the brokerage giant to pick up the pace on a strategy that was already in place and being acted on by senior leaders.
“Over the last number of years, we have been on a journey to modernize our infrastructure, and deal with a lot of issues that have accumulated over time because the history of Aon was one of acquisition, meaning that we acquired lots of different assets and not all were integrated onto the same platform,” said John Bruno,COO at Aon plc and chief executive officer of Aon’s data and analytic services. “We wanted our workforce to be more portable, we wanted our workforce to be more empowered, and we understood they were a knowledge-based workforce, [so] we wanted them to have access to each other and access to information more readily.”
The modernization process involved the deployment of customer management systems, collaboration tools, document management systems, and other resources to optimize the firm and the work of its employees across the board. Then,COVID-19 hit and while the overnight changes it brought to the workplace were a challenge, 99% of Aon’s workforce, including subcontractors in its contact centers, were working virtually within a week’s time.
“It forced us [to move ahead] on our digital enablement journey,” explained Bruno. “We quickly pivoted, and we worked not only internally to teach our organization the best practices of using virtual private networks, but we would have anywhere from 45,000 concurrent users daily inside of our environment using our virtual platforms … and since we’re only 50,000 employees and not all of them would be in the meeting rooms, that tells you it is quite a bit of market and client activity leveraging our platforms.”
From the perspective of a personal lines insurer, CSAA also had to adapt its products to fit the crisis. As shelter-in-place orders were being deployed across the country and cars stayed in garages for weeks and months on end, there was a subsequent drop in the frequency of auto claims. “As a result of that, we decided to give back $137 million of premium that we had previously collected for exposure during the mid-March to end of June timeframe,” said Troy.
Keeping the business growing has been another key concern during the past six months, so the Aon team had to think about how to take information that it already had at its experts’ fingertips, and make it accessible for both a broad base of existing clients, as well as prospects.
“We really doubled down on sharing whitepapers, advisory services, ‘ask the expert’ forums … because we had to look for ways in which we were actually driving new growth into the space and attracting people,” said Bruno. In fact, the organization not only used the insight from experts that it had available, but also its own learnings in how it had adapted to the pandemic to determine best practices for other industries.
Among other lessons learned, this situation “has created opportunities for us to develop new products to help our clients on workforce resiliency, it helped us develop new assessment tools and capabilities on how to keep people engaged and motivated … and how to gain access to a more diverse and inclusive workforce through engaging a much larger part-time community,” said Bruno.
As the insurance industry looks ahead to the coming months and thinks through operating in the ‘new normal,’ a few things are top of mind for these insurance leaders. First of all, digital capabilities will remain paramount for both internal operations and ongoing client communication.
“Working remotely and engaging customers differently has exposed the fact that digital tools are more important than ever, and there’s a need for and a demand for even more digital tools,” said Troy, adding that clients’ comfort level with technology has evolved dramatically during the pandemic. Whereas before the crisis, some clients were not comfortable using CSAA’s capabilities to settle an auto claim by sending photos and other data, and not having a face-to-face meeting, “during the pandemic, we had no other choice but to handle claims that way, and it worked well and customer satisfaction has been strong,” explained Troy. “So, we see an opportunity once the pandemic is behind us to continue to use those kinds of tools.”
The adoption of technology during this time hasn’t been unique to the insurance industry, but also has been widespread among its clientele, which in turn opens up new risks that insureds will need help navigating.
“Those businesses that had technology enablement, they survived better than those that didn’t, so now you’re going to see a rush for people to do more and build resiliency in their business model through the leveraging of technology,” said Bruno. “Well, guess what?The insurance industry is going to have to meet them, and provide products and services to help deal with the risks and the opportunities that are created in that space.”