COVID-19 has majorly disrupted the global economy, with many business sectors opting for temporary shutdowns or bare minimum operations. The insurance industry, however, is racing forward even while confronting unprecedented levels of risk and uncertainty.
With only 25 per cent of employees working from offices, companies such as Universal Sompo General Insurance are facing mobility issues, and here is how they are fighting the underlying challenges.
Insurance companies have been facing severe underwriting losses in the auto and travel segment. The automobile and travel industries have temporarily shut down, and there is absolutely no scope of business generation. In order to fight back, Universal Sompo is looking forward to drastic changes in the existing business structure.
Tanmaya Kumar Panda, head-HR, Universal Sompo General Insurance, says, “As a customer- facing industry, we are aware of the severe constraints being faced by the auto insurance sales force. The focus is on holding on to the existing business and ensuring maximum possible persistence.”
The Company has re-configured its customer services department to supplement the efforts of the sales force and to attend to proposals through soft modes – SMS, e-mails, actual calls. Both new and renewal business is solicited through the joint efforts of the ground sales staff and the central customer services department.
Talking about the travel and tourism industry, severely hit by the pandemic, Panda comments, “There is no point chasing the non-existent or wasting time and resources on segments with no traction. Not only have we completely defocused on the travel products, but we have temporarily redeployed the related vertical sales force to the health and auto lines of business.”
However, Panda also mentions that there is a groundswell as far as health insurance awareness is concerned. He also clarifies that the awareness has not really helped things get better on the business front.
“Due to the lack of mobility of sales force, agents and customers on one hand, and the usually cautious health insurance underwriting norms, on the other, it has not translated into a corresponding surge of proposals and premium numbers, except in terms of corporate group health insurance proposals,” he adds.
We, as managers, are seeking to communicate the stand stand-out learning of the critical times, and are accepting social distancing and remote working as the new normal
As the Company has not benefited much from process-easing efforts such as telemarketing, the primary focus is on auto and property renewals. For insurance companies, a lot of thrust is on renewals, which leads to efficiency and business growth.
As Panda mentions, the Company is also facing a major challenge on the renewal front. “It seems that the renewals are very few and far between. In other words, they are non-existent owing to the uncertainty in business,” he explains.
Despite all these challenges on the business front, the customer-facing company has initiated a business continuity plan to tackle the crisis.
Where renewals are concerned, the Company is trying to ensure maximum renewal percentage by closely tracking the un-renewed cases. “We are continuously revamping the technology readiness to facilitate proposal transactions during the lockdown period and beyond,” shares Panda.
The effort, according to Panda, is to ensure that not a single, willing customer is denied the facility of renewal. While ensuring the above, the Company is also keeping a backup plan ready for the impending normal times. Also, the sales force needs to stay motivated to rally and make up for the shortfall once normalcy returns.
Speaking of employee motivation, Panda feels that employees can be kept engaged only when their morale and sense of belongingness are high. Hence, he feels that employee-morale-uplifting efforts should be given priority.
In line with the same, the Company has resorted to soft and emphasised communication, placing primacy on employee safety ahead of targets and business goals. Moreover, it has also sent out direct and indirect messages to the employees regarding the security of their tenure and emoluments. Prompter-than-normal crediting of salary provided the much-required assurance to the employees.
Furthermore, when it came to hand-holding the employees through the new normal, the major challenge was making data, documents and files accessible to the 75 per cent employees working from home.
Although goals and assignments remained the same, mentoring became paramount rather than the earlier method of monitoring.
Panda reveals, “Engaging remote employees was a bigger task than the ones working from offices. So, to ensure a proper engagement, we felt that self-discipline would work better than imposed discipline to help the employees stay motivated.”
“Higher motivation levels ensure better outcomes,” he adds.
In the world of work, post lifting of lockdown, where social distancing will still be the norm, the customer-facing industry is also gearing up to welcome minimum employees back to the office premises.
In Panda’s words, “We, as managers, are seeking to communicate the stand stand-out learning of the critical times, and are accepting social distancing and remote working as the new normal.”
The admin vertical is constantly working on reconfiguring the workplace and putting in place the sanitisation protocols, including the distancing norms.
“We are acclimatising the workforce to the work-from-home and attendance-in-roster rules for individual goal achievement. We are shifting expenditure commitments from office-premises-and-travel-related overheads to IT-and-connectivity readiness,” discloses Panda.