In the wake of COVID-19, property/casualty insurance senior executives should consider deputizing underlings to completely take over if they become ill or incapacitated, a veteran insurance and InsurTech executive said.

Andrew Rear/photo provided

“I think what we’ve shown with this pandemic is you can be pretty young and pretty healthy and all of a sudden flat on your back and incapable of doing anything,” Andrew Rear, the former head of Munich Re’s Digital Partners business, told Carrier Management. “P/C carriers, like all companies, need to make sure they can handle that kind of thing.”

Rear, 50, who is also chair of the InsurTech Buckle, is speaking from experience. He started to become sick with COVID-19 himself at the end of December, right around the time he wound down his role at Digital Partners. After nearly a month that included a short stint at the hospital near where he lives in the UK, he is recovering at home with his family.

[Listen to Andrew Rear tell his COVID story on the podcast, “COVID-19 Hits Home: Buckle Chairman Andrew Rear’s Story.”]

Rear said he became so ill that he was grateful to completely disconnect from emails and other work-related concerns. He urged executives to consider making sure their companies run smoothly in their absence, regardless of how sick they become.

“Some of them are going to be badly affected. Some will not be badly affected. But your operations are going to be a mess. I think the industry really needs to get on top of remote working and working from home as a long-term thing,” Rear said. “We need to understand that having people in an office is a big deal, and I suppose the other thing is, you need to make sure you have your business continuity, your key man [and] continuity policies in place.”

Rear said he was glad he’d left Digital Partners when he did, which allowed him to focus on getting well and not be a distraction to co-workers.

“The one thing I wasn’t doing in the hospital was checking work emails, which I know I would have been doing if I was still running the company,” Rear said. “You cannot work” with a COVID case like he had, Rear reported. “For me, it was a real load off my mind knowing that I wasn’t letting my colleagues down by just laying in my bed.”

Rear admitted that an executive in a critical position often feels like no one can take over, but he said leaders must think differently now, especially in light of the pandemic.

“If I were running a large insurer now, I would be thinking about—do I want to explicitly put in place deputizing operations so that if my chief underwriting officer gets sick, I can turn off his emails and my deputy chief underwriting officer automatically assumes the responsibility,” he said, adding, “that’s not how we work today.”

Rear’s full interview will be highlighted in an upcoming Carrier Management magazine article.