By Herminia S. Jacinto
President, Insurance Institute for Asia and the Pacific
IT has been seven months since the lockdown was first imposed as the government wanted to control the entry of the feared coronavirus into the country. They wanted to control the movement of people to prevent transmissions just in case some had already contracted the virus. This was the very first time that a lockdown stopping all activities, including education and business, was experienced by the whole country.
Companies were stunned by the directive to close down offices and work from home. How to sell products, meet with clients, customers and other business partners became a huge problem. How did the various industries react? Each one had to create their own new systems and procedures. Creativity and imagination coupled with presence of mind became the order of the day.
How did the insurance industry respond to this sudden change? As offices had to close, clients who needed to transact business with the companies had nowhere to go. Insurance, heretofore, has been sold on a face-to-face or person-to-person basis by people trained to do so. These are the agents, agencies, financial advisers, brokers and other frontliners who service their clients’ needs personally. Suddenly there were restrictions about face-to-face meetings!
After the initial shock, companies immediately put into place new systems and procedures to get back to the new normal of doing business. Many companies were already engaged in various forms of computerization so that all they had to do was to add the functions that are urgently needed to keep on operating like in pre-virus days.
Technology has been the saving factor that countered the negative impact of the pandemic on business. Companies can now sell policies using some applications that are readily available in the market. Agents and financial advisers went online and sent notices to their clients and prospective clients that they could go “shopping” for their insurance requirements online. Even before the pandemic happened, the agents had long been using their gadgets in selling and prospecting; all they had to do was to make some more enhancements on their programs.
Companies focused on improving their existing systems like installing a portal where clients can file their claims or check the status of pending claims. The clients can also submit to this portal some documents that are required to process the claim. And all this can be done 24/7.
Working from home was implemented in various forms. Alternate teams work one week and other teams take the succeeding weeks. For those who have to be physically present in the office, quarantine passes have to be secured from the authorities and strict protocols have to be observed. Companies provided transport services for these employees during the time when there was no public transportation at all.
The insurance companies are supervised by the Insurance Commission and many of its products and procedures are governed by various rules and regulations promulgated by this office. The regulator did not disappoint or disappear. They were with the industry from Day One in finding the solutions to the problems created by the lockdown.
Immediately, the Insurance Commission allowed employees who are in charge of health, accident and personal lines to report to the office to service clients personally. Submission of reports and other requirements were either relaxed or deferred to future periods when companies have adjusted to the current situation.
Where are we now? Almost back to normal operations but with alternative ways of selling and managing the insurance business. We continue to study and learn as shown by the very good attendance in the webinars on digitalization and other topics intended to improve the ways of doing business. We take pride in having installed work schedules that allow us to service our clients and at the same time keep our precious employee force safe and coronavirus-free.
We are currently hosting (virtually, of course) the Asean Insurance Council. Meetings being attended by representatives from the regulators and the insurance industry of 10 nations of the Asean, which meetings would have been held in Cebu.
To our clients and our business partners — the insurance industry continues to be at your service!