While the pandemic has provided an entirely unwelcome education, if we choose to, we will profit from its lessons. After all, no crisis should be wasted.
The first of many lessons can be attributed to the work-from-home movement.
Almost overnight, the workforce transitioned from cubicles and offices to living rooms, bedrooms, dens and kitchens. While the shift may not have been seamless, management and staff deserve credit for the way they quickly reimagined the workplace without any time for rehearsals. There was no learning curve; this was a right angle.
Lessons learned from this rapid response can be applied to a wide range of unexpected business challenges, including a key client’s or employee’s defection, supply chain interruptions, disruptive technology, or an accident or event.
Even after COVID-19 has been conquered or at least managed through a combination of herd immunity and a vaccine, a portion of the workforce will continue to work from home in the future. This reality can be attributed to the desire to, among many factors, permanently reduce real estate costs and improve headcount, as well as the realization that a COVID-type event will likely occur again. More frequent and more extreme weather events are also a catalyst to force a change in operations.
Another lesson still not fully understood is the lesson that reflects on the divide between insurance carriers and some insureds regarding business interruption coverage due to the pandemic.
As reported by Carrier Management, more than 700 business interruption lawsuits were filed by insureds by mid-summer. This number has surely risen during the following months.
These lawsuits have been filed even though most business interruption policies include language clearly stating there has to be “direct physical damage” for a claim to be covered. It speaks to the deep emotional trauma many business people have experienced in the last six months. While the facts are one thing, the sense of unfairness relating to the insurance contract matters more to the layperson.
The need to carefully detail the extent of coverage for insureds should not be missed or overlooked. As insurance professionals, we have a responsibility to educate and inform our clients even when the news isn’t good. Similarly, clients have a responsibility to “engage” in the discussion. Far too often, too many “check out” when there is an insurance discussion.
Business interruption lawsuits have caused insurance to be judged harshly in the court of public opinion. It’s a one-sided discussion. As an example, retailer Century 21 stated its insurance providers had not paid about $175 million owed “under policies put in place to protect against losses stemming from business interruption such as that experienced as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Of course, the retailer did not offer coverage language from its policy. The layperson hears only one side of the story.
Each time a company puts a new person in charge of insurance, it is a great time to review coverages. The coverages in place should be described so as to be understood. By making the effort in a meeting to explain how exposure gaps can be filled by additional coverages, all parties gain knowledge and decision-making insight. Insureds will benefit from broader coverage. Carriers might receive more premium and brokers benefit from the knowledge they properly mitigated their client’s risk while also reducing their legal liability.
The fact that many insureds have felt blindsided by this event isn’t entirely puzzling. It is understandable insureds are desperate to rescue their businesses from financial ruin. One of many strategies is seeking relief from their insurance companies.
As a going forward strategy, brokers should routinely work with their clients on being prepared for other unforeseen events. Discussing these scenarios and potential responses with insureds is invaluable to insureds. The need for a robust systematic communications strategy at every level—industry, carrier and broker—is the lesson to be learned here. If you are a broker, man up and share bad news. Don’t deflect or wander from the truth of the terms and conditions. Clients deserve a full explanation of the truth.