Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, brokers and insurers have adapted to constant changes.
The crisis has altered the way we live, work and travel, and the insurance industry has moved swiftly to adjust to those changes as we try to continue in this “new normal”.
The world doesn’t look like it is going back to pre-Covid settings any time soon. From vaccine mandates to travel insurance, we look at what changes brokers will experience in a post-pandemic world.
Vaccine mandates are part of the new normal across many sectors, and the insurance industry is no exception.
Already IAG, the country’s largest general insurer, has announced a compulsory COVID 19 vaccination measure for employees who work from IAG offices and other work sites.
The IAG mandate also covers locations outside of IAG where employees interact with customers, partners, suppliers, and other people as part of their roles.
The insurer will also require that its business partners, including bank and broker partners, be vaccinated before entering its premises.
Amanda Whiting, IAG chief executive officer for New Zealand, said in October that the compulsory vaccination policy was “the right thing to do”, and that the decision was made following a consultation with employees.
“Since the start of the pandemic, our decision making has been guided by government advice and the priority of keeping people safe,” she said.
“We have always adhered to government restrictions and, in many cases, gone above and beyond those to provide our people, partners and customers with additional protections.
“As the pandemic continues to evolve and there is no question that vaccination is the best way to keep everyone safe in the short and long term.”
Mel Gorham, chief executive of the Insurance Brokers Association of New Zealand, says IBANZ supports the “physical and mental wellbeing of our people”.
Brokers are expected to work from home and turn to digital processes during severe outbreaks.
Gorham adds: “We are fortunate, as demonstrated during all lockdowns affecting Auckland, that our work can be undertaken remotely, which allows for personal choice about the vaccine where no mandate applies,” she says.
THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION
The pandemic has accelerated the insurance industry’s adoption of new technologies, with the ‘digital revolution’ making the sector more efficient, more profitable, and more accessible to customers.
A recent example is Delta Insurance, which has rolled out a new, digitised renewal process for various policies.
Delta chief operating officer Kent Chaplin says the innovation is “a significant step forward in the digital revolution happening in our business”.
“Automating a number of otherwise time-consuming insurance processes is no longer the way of the future, says Chaplin.
“It’s the way of the present – particularly in the Covid-19 environment. The best performing insurance companies globally are changing their operations to automate significantly and simplify their processes in the face of strong consumer expectation, particularly in how they respond to COVID-19.”
Previously, Delta’s underwriters had to manually follow up every policy coming up for renewal with the broker involved.
Delta Insurance New Zealand Managing Director Dinesh Murali says the main driver of the change was to make the process easier and more efficient for the end-user, the customer, and the broker.
“This is something our end-users have been seeking – a simpler process and better experience.”
Rodney Knight, general manager - risk & compliance at Rothbury Insurance Brokers, says the acceleration towards digital will suit large broker groups the most.
“When technology works well, it works well,” he says.
It was “really important” to think about scale, he adds.
“You need to have enough of a client base to make it worthwhile to take up opportunities for more integration with insurance systems.
“So, if I'm looking at a small one-office broker, I don't know how they would cope if it became a requirement, and they really might not be able to access it as well.
“Whereas for Rothbury, it's quite a good position to be in at the moment.”
Knight says he can work remotely and says its brokers are set up to access all of the information they need from home.
“That's been a big advantage for us during lockdown, and it means we've got the same access to any integration with outside party systems too.”
Tim Grafton, chief executive of the Insurance Council of New Zealand, says the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital and remote working arrangements, which have enabled insurers to meet their customers’ needs under Covid restrictions.
“Some of these new working arrangements will become features of the new normal,” he says.
“Having said that, personal interaction, such as that between underwriter and broker, will remain important aspects of doing business too.
“If brokers feel that insurers should be doing more, then that is something they need to raise with insurers directly. There is always scope for brokers and insurers to do better in the interests of the end customer.”
The pandemic is expected to lead to major changes in the travel insurance sector.
Travel insurance providers are changing their products in the wake of the pandemic, with Tower and Allianz Partners already agreeing to provide travel insurance to Kiwi travellers with selected cover for epidemics and pandemics.
The insurance applies to domestic, leisure and business travel. The cover will allow travellers to claim for cancellation and medical expenses, should they contract COVID-19 or similar diseases after purchasing the policy.
Allianz Partners was one of the first companies to offer this type of travel cover.
Tower CEO Blair Turnbull said the current downturn in global travel had provided an opportunity for the company to re-examine its product offerings as international borders reopen.
“With New Zealanders spending more time at home, it’s been an ideal time to consider how best to support our customers when they embark on overseas travel again,” said Turnbull.
“As a post-pandemic world feels within arm’s reach, we know many Kiwis are thinking about how to travel responsibly and how to get appropriate cover. We’re going to work with Allianz Partners to offer cover in the footsteps of Covid-19.”
Brokers and clients will need to have a thorough discussion about the nature of travel and the expected level of risk on each trip, Gorham says.
“This will include whether they are vaccinated or not, where they are travelling to, their health and any expectations they have about a travel policy covering them in the event of an outbreak (whether travelling to a covid hotspot or not), being stranded, prevented from travelling or being infected with Covid.”
Clients would need to speak to their broker about what they should consider and disclose, she says.
“A key thing I did when booking my November travel back in May (which, as an Aucklander, I had to cancel) was to ensure that full refunds applied in the event of cancellation and being aware of and adhering to any cancellation time limits or other conditions,” says Gorham.
Travel remains an area where “considerable uncertainty” remains, but being fully vaccinated and delivering a negative test will be standard mandates for governments and airlines, Grafton adds.
“This would obviously have a direct impact on a non-vaccinated person’s ability to travel,” he says.
“The implications for insurance brokers are that, while cover is available, they will likely have to be more diligent in understanding the risks they present to insurers to ensure compliance with airline or government-mandated restrictions.
“Brokers should also be aware of the New Zealand Government’s ‘do not travel’ advisories as some insurers will not offer any cover for these countries, whereas others will provide cover for stolen luggage, medical events but not claims relating to Covid.”
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