The COVID Diaries: Reflections from China and Italy
We reached out to Council members in China and Italy to see how they have been dealing with COVID-19.
At the peak time of spread, even though most employees are required to work from home, we put at least one person from each department to work at the office every day. This gives us enough manpower to cope with matters which require office resources or to just answer phone calls. While working from home, we require our employees to keep the same time routine for emails, phone calls or any contacts with clients just like in the office.
As to the renewal accounts, we would contact them in advance for 1 or 1.5 months to ensure we get the necessary renewal data in time. For clients who couldn’t provide data due to the lockdown, we would communicate with them to see if a policy extension was needed to ensure no coverage gap before their renewal.
Visits or meetings previously planned with clients were changed to online conference calls. Any claims filed during the outbreak would be reported to insurers as usual. We would inform insurers to prepare for the delay of claim documents provided by the clients due to the shutdown.
BAZZI: The major area of intervention has been providing the right containment actions abiding to the law, and contagion prevention on the workplace. Such measures have been keeping people distant…enabling remote working to the maximum extent. After the Decree dated 3/22, the majority of companies are now shutdown, except for those that provide for first-need goods (food, pharma, and so on) and those that are related to them. Banking- and insurance-related businesses can stay open, with the care of enacting as much as possible remote working measures. Generally speaking insurance is considered minimum service, therefore we are obliged to work. All our associates are working remotely from home: we managed to buy laptops and mobile phones for everyone right before the lockdown.
ZAN: Assiteca as well as other service companies, some better prepared than others, have been primarily operational via home working. As far as industrial companies, approximately 70% remain non operational due to Italian Law Decree which was first set to expire on April 3rd but has been now extended to April 13th. There are various measures in place to prop up the economy which in Italy has a strong tendency to be small-to-mid-size companies that would feel the pressure from a shutdown more than smaller companies.
Overseas clients are also concerned about the impact of the coronavirus to their local entities. Therefore, as the local broker, we would keep the latest information of our clients’ business status and be aware of any problems they may have.
BAZZI: Our clients asked us whether it would have been possible, for those companies which remained open, to provide some sort of insurance coverage in case of COVID-19 infection. What they wanted was some sort of indemnity coverage that the employers could show their employees, in order to win the resistance to go to work. We were able to negotiate this sort of coverage which later became available to all brokers and there has been an interesting level of acceptance. Another question of course was whether there were some sort of coverage for the business interruption they could face because of their shutdown or their clients.’
Clients’ requests are definitely reducing, we are taking advantage of this situation to reorganize our database and make new developments to our IT system.
ZAN: Some of the issues had to do with support on sterilizing their businesses where Assiteca has agreements with disaster recovery companies. From an insurance standpoint the questions have been mainly around business interruption insurance, which although in most cases does not exclude pandemic disease, is triggered by material damages and the courts are not as insured friendly as in the U.S. in terms of what constitutes material damages. Assiteca provides a wide range of consulting services and we offered initial response consultancy workshops.
Aside from commercial insurance, we also pay attention to local government supporting policies and share them with our clients, including tax reduction, government-sponsored policy insurance and rent reduction.
ZAN: Italy has one of the better public health systems in the world, however a pandemic such as this presented issues from a perspective primarily of intensive care beds. Italy having the second oldest population in the world has presented issues from a hospitalization standpoint and unfortunately a vast majority of the deaths are the older population.
Regarding the market, European insurers started last year to see a hard market (not in the same way there is in the U.S.); I don’t know whether this potential financial recession will affect the financials of the insurers so deeply that the hard market will move more strongly towards us.
ZAN: It will take time to see how this will change the market. Consulting in areas such as business continuity will become more important and there needs to be a market offering for business interruption insurance which directly impacts the company closures and will force many businesses to close. A government back stop solution such as TRIA would make sense.