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What can the insurance industry learn from coronavirus?

With the UK now well over a month into its coronavirus lockdown, many businesses are considering what life will be like once this crisis is over and starting to make ‘return to work’ plans for their people

The insurance market’s response to this pandemic has been admirable and it was remarkable to witness the work of our people, in not only facilitating large workforces to begin operating remotely effectively, but doing all of this while not disrupting services for customers. In uncertain times, customers, more than ever, need to be at the centre of decision making to ensure they continue to have trust in the products and services that they rely on.

But, while there are many success stories and examples of teams pulling together, this pandemic has certainly been a tale of two sides for the insurance market. There have been several companies who have clearly been able to harness their technology investment to manage the situation effectively.

However, there have also been those that, through no fault of their own, have been hindered by archaic systems and processes which have had a detrimental impact on their ability to deploy remote workforces while maintaining customer service levels. Those in the industry will know that legacy systems often mean that making even small changes to an online journey for example, could become the trickiest of requests, let alone asking systems to cope with the large scale and rapid changes we’ve needed in recent weeks.

Investment in robust and agile technology has been worth its weight in gold and those that have already implemented nimble processes, will have truly seen the benefit of this hard work. However, even those who have the systems in place have faced challenges, and I can certainly imagine there have been lots of heated, virtual conversations across the insurance world.

So now, after several weeks of operating in these highly unusual circumstances, attention will undoubtedly turn to what our world will be like post the pandemic. The first question to ask is what can we learn? There will clearly be areas of the industry that may never return to ‘normal’ again and it’s important to consider what this means for our customers, our businesses and our people.

1) Forced Flexibility: Insurance is often perceived as a traditional industry and one that has struggled to embrace the flexible working opportunities that make other sectors more attractive to recruits. At BGL for example, over the past few years, we have made great strides in offering more remote working and flexibility for colleagues, but like many businesses, this was not the case for all teams – especially those who work in customer service roles. However, as an industry, we’ve all worked hard to try and facilitate this where possible and I believe collectively, there have been bigger developments in the past three weeks on this, than there have been in the past three years.

2) Technology Triumphs: The technology and processes that colleagues have quickly had to grasp, means that we now have a much clearer view on how to truly harness these tools to get the best outcome. There have been examples of solid collaboration across teams, using multiple platforms, to simply do what it takes to get the job done. 

While I don’t believe a Microsoft Teams call will ever be as effective as a face to face conversation, going forward, far more will consider the option of not asking colleagues to travel to what can, at times, be an unnecessary meeting. We will also see this extra consideration happening more with external meetings. Clearly, this presents a whole host of benefits when it comes to reducing commuting time, cost savings and employee productivity, as well as having an impact on wellbeing and satisfaction levels. Also, importantly, reduced travel will have a significant impact on the environment, something that collectively, we should pay more attention to.

Furthermore, for an industry that is often battling against multiple stakeholder demands – meaning that any changes we need to make to areas such as the customer journey, can often take more time than necessary – there have certainly been many lessons to take from this crisis. The speed of change and implementation we’ve seen in recent weeks, as well as the agility shown in making decisions quickly, has demonstrated there are clearly ways to significantly improve the types of bugbears that impact us all.

3) Permanent Market Changes: Unfortunately, there are likely to be some insurance business casualties to coronavirus. Well ran and financially stable businesses that operate at scale, will undoubtedly still face challenges but should be able to resurrect normal operations fairly quickly. However, those providers who have been severely hindered by technology issues and reduced capacity may well struggle. It will also be interesting to see if we witness a surge in industry mergers as players seek to use this as an opportunity to consolidate.

4) Changing Customer Expectations: It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Motor, Home and Life Insurance won’t continue to play an important role for customers. However, debt and affordability issues may well continue to increase in the coming months and so the insight and trends we receive from our Lending Support Team will be invaluable as we start to understand and shape our customers’ requirements post the pandemic. 

Understandably, customer needs during this period have changed and we’ve seen a significant increase in calls to this team as customers try to manage their finances. The key for any customer focussed business right now is to take the time to listen. Every person has a different concern based on their own circumstances and a ‘one size approach’ will not fit all and therefore, remaining empathetic and flexible will be vital.

I think we can all agree that these have been extremely unprecedented and challenging times for businesses. The seismic shifts that we’ve all had to adopt in recent weeks has forced us all to make some dramatic changes. Because of this, the insurance market may never look the same again but these changes – if handled in the right way – may not necessarily be a bad thing and could lead to a more robust and agile industry for us all. I’m confident that this period will bring real opportunity for those equipped and determined to harness the positives from it.

By Peter Thompson, Chief Executive Officer, Insurance, Distribution and Outsourcing, BGL Group

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