Insurer Insight: Can you ‘pandemic-proof’ the insurance industry?

The Coronavirus has highlighted how under prepared the world was for a global pandemic. It has impacted all aspects of our lives, as well as how businesses operate, including those in the insurance sector and their clients.

A survey conducted by the CII showed the reality of how it has affected policyholders, revealing that six out of 10 insurance professionals in the UK have been contacted by customers who are struggling to afford their insurance payments.

The question is, can you ‘pandemic-proof’ the industry and what measures can be put in place to better protect the public going forward? We spoke to some of some of our Strategic Insurer Partners to gain a better understanding.

Russell White, Director of Distribution at Ageas, believes that “the industry itself has been pretty resilient”, but that we all need to work together to support UK businesses.

“We haven’t been exposed in the way that leisure or hospitality industries have. Clearly, one of the challenges the pandemic has highlighted is around policy wordings and customer expectations of the policy they have purchased, as is evident in the current FCA BI test case going through court,” he continues. “As one industry, we need to lean-in, respond to the decision of the court and proactively discuss how we stop this happening again – and continue to work on ensuring that customers clearly know that the product selected or recommended meets their needs.”

When asked what initiatives Ageas has in place to ‘pandemic-proof’ its business, Russell adds, “Our current thinking includes a permanent change in attitude to different ways of working, so that we can sustain the agility and flexibility that we’ve accrued over the last few months – responding to needs, if we have to reflect another lockdown situation. We will also be designing and building products that are flexible enough to respond to customers’ needs, even under these extreme circumstances.”

What can we do to bolster the industry in the future? “Feedback from our brokers and customers points to video-connections being the new normal – and we believe this is an opportunity to strengthen the insurance industry’s relationships with vulnerable consumers in particular,” says Russell. “To answer that feedback, we’re creating a new Video Account Management Team for broker partners who don’t currently have a face-to-face Ageas Account Manager; they will be able to offer everything that an Account Manager would do in an office.”

Russell adds, “For the short and long term, we and our peers do need to recapture the confidence of brokers and the public generally – everyone should take time to review and reassess their Business Continuity Plans through COVID eyes, and be confident in delivering improved, technology-driven business as usual.”

During the pandemic, NIG has kept its focus on customers and “has shown flexibility on policy terms and conditions to respond to their emerging needs”, says Sonya Bryson, Managing Director.

She continues, “This includes extending our unoccupancy terms, prioritising return premiums to help customers’ cash flow, waiving cancellation and installment interest charges and offering premium payment holidays. We also launched NIG Risk Assist, a portal offering both our brokers and policyholders a range of online tools to help manage and reduce risks in their business. Along with health and safety assessments, a virtual HR department, business continuity guidance, e-learning and an ask the expert service, Risk Assist also has a COVID-19 Hub and valuable advice around re-starting business activities post lockdown. It’s available online 24/7 and can be accessed from anywhere – a tangible demonstration of NIG supporting customers’ needs.” 

As part of its continuous improvement approach, NIG also regularly reviews its products to ensure they meet customer needs. Sonya explains, “A recent example would be our highly rated Business from Home product. We’ll be refining data capture to reduce quotation referrals and improve the customer journey, as well as increasing policy limits on Business Interruption, goods in transit and household contents. We’re already heavily invested in initiatives, such as our Business Reactivation Toolkit to help clients navigate these challenging times and will be looking to develop these further.”

Considering the future of the industry, Mark Terry, Strategic Account Manager at Allianz, believes a partnership approach between brokers and insurers will be vital. “Insurance will no doubt play a key role in the aftermath of COVID-19. Our customers, regardless of the size of their business, will now be thinking more about their resilience, risk management capabilities and the detail and flexibility of their insurance needs going forward. This reasserts the role of the broker and insurer partnership, providing expert advice and devising solutions that truly meet our customers’ changing needs.”

He adds, “We must remember our role as an industry is to enable people in their working and personal lives – appreciating that COVID-19 has significantly impacted this. We’ve worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic to support our customers, and we need to keep demonstrating the value we bring and learning as we move through the pandemic and beyond.”

One of the ways Allianz has assisted its customers is taking a more flexible approach on changes to business descriptions and working closely with brokers to ensure that customers aren’t unintentionally uninsured by difficulties with renewals.

Also, its engineer surveyors, who are classified as key workers, have continued on the frontline to ensure factories, hospitals and other key services are safe and can continue to run smoothly. Back in April, Allianz responded quickly to prioritise early inspection of six lifts at the London Nightingale NHS hospital, prior to the admission of COVID-19 patients.

It’s been a steep learning curve for all, and the insurance industry’s processes and role in particular has faced intense scrutiny. But as our partner insurers show, they continue to support both clients and brokers as they have done throughout, looking a ways to adapt in the future to meet changing demand.

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