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Much Has Changed
Joel Bergeron
President BMT Insurance & Financial Services
Kelly Thompson
President SurNet Insurance Group
Kristen Ha
Director of Operations Trigon Insurance Brokers
It’s interesting to look back on the moment when news of Covid-19 was first announced and visualize where you were, who you were with and how naive we were to think it would only last a short time. Now entering the second year of this pandemic, much has changed on how we do business. We spoke with three brokers who reflect on their experiences over this past year.
How have your priorities shifted during this time?
JB: We’ve always cared about our staff’s welfare and providing sound advice and protection to our customers, but with the pandemic, the need to keep our staff safe and provide an effective way to communicate and serve our customers became our priority. We also wanted to find new ways to help our customers and community—with customers, it’s become even more important to understand their individual challenges and needs and find ways to help.
KH: It was always our plan to adopt email automation for electronic policy delivery to our clients. The pandemic definitely expedited that process for us. We didn’t want to sacrifice the client experience even though face-to-face meetings were no longer an option, so getting our email automation and online self-service portal up and running for our clients became the top priority for us.
KT: This past year has forced us to rethink what matters most. Today, we’re focusing more on the well-being of our team—what they need and where they need to be in order to be successful. Not everyone is cut from the same cloth and what works for one person might not work for another. By recognizing this, we empower our people to bring a balance to their work and home life, creating a happier and more effective team.
If we can help ease some of the stress and anxiety of these challenging times by making sense of insurance, I think that speaks volumes.
How have you kept your company culture alive over the past year?
JB: We’ve kept our culture alive by doing what we’ve always believed in—working together as a team and finding solutions that work for us. We communicate with staff, encouraging them along the way, and together we put measures in place that work for everyone. The challenges of this pandemic have actually brought us closer together as a team. We’ve always treated everyone like family at the office, but the pandemic has raised the bar in terms of caring for each other and looking out for one another.
KH: While it’s been challenging to maintain company culture during the pandemic with most of our staff working remotely, I think by encouraging communication and collaboration between team members through virtual meetings, training and events, we’ve been able to persevere—all while avoiding the dreaded Zoom fatigue!
KT: A few years ago, we started using technology to keep our team members, regardless of location, connected through message boards and chat where they can share ideas and good news stories and ask questions. During lockdown, we started using it even more to host virtual business meetings and social events. Although not as effective as in person, it still gives us the ability to work together as a team, collaborate on ideas from a distance and gather socially to celebrate a holiday or host a cooking class.
Has the pandemic affected brokerage operations? What’s the biggest change from a business standpoint?
JB: With insurance on the essential service list, we had to make sure service to our clients remained uninterrupted. We quickly mobilized staff to work from home and provided them with the proper equipment to communicate effectively and serve our customers. We implemented safety measures at all our offices to protect staff, customers and suppliers. One of the biggest changes has been the way we connect with our clients—instead of face-to-face appointments, our brokers leverage technology to provide prompt service. We recently started taking appointments again but prior to any appointment, the work is prepared and organized ahead of time so clients have positive experiences and don’t spend too much time at our office, which saves time for both our clients and our brokers.
KH: As with most brokerages, we had to quickly pivot to set up work-from-home arrangements for staff in the early stages of the pandemic and we closed our doors to the general public. This affected the way we interacted with our clients, particularly for our commercial insurance policyholders, as in-person meetings were no longer an option. Refocusing our efforts on digitizing our processes and establishing new KPIs for remote work have been the biggest changes to our operations this past year.
KT: We were well prepared for this pandemic when it hit us last March. Our biggest change came when we were in a position to accommodate our employees’ desires to work more from home. Thankfully, we have such an amazing team at SurNet that this didn’t pose any real obstacles other than to try and remember who was in the office and whether or not we had enough treats for their dog!
How are you and your team staying motivated?
JB: By encouraging each other and by helping one another. We celebrate birthdays and milestones together. We hold a bingo game each month and one of our managers organizes an exercise challenge to keep our team moving. It’s become quite competitive and fun. Everyone gets involved in fundraising and that feels good—from gathering food for our local food bank to buying tickets for various charities. We also repainted and renovated some of our offices. And every Friday is jeans day and every now and then someone brings homemade treats to the office for the gang.
KH: As cheesy as it sounds, knowing that we’re all in this together helps. Our team, our families and our clients all keep us motivated to continue moving forward. If we can help ease some of the stress and anxiety of these challenging times by making sense of insurance, I think that speaks volumes.
KT: Our motivation right now is to stay safe and healthy so that one day, we’ll be able to meet our clients in the boardroom, play a round of golf with our company reps and attend industry events with our peers. The many social events typically planned throughout the year are very important in recognizing the efforts a team puts forth on a daily basis.
What are you most optimistic about in the industry right now?
JB: I’m optimistic about the many ways our insurance companies have helped our customers. For the most part our industry has remained stable and strong during these challenging times. Because of the pandemic, we’ve fast forwarded our combined efforts on automation and technology. These efforts will further improve daily workflows and should provide more communication and a better experience for our customers.
KH: I’m optimistic about the insurance industry’s resilience and ability to adapt to the changing economic landscape. Historically I think the industry’s been a little behind the times when it comes to adopting technology, but I think there have been some real strides in creating innovative products and insurance solutions in the past couple of years. It's exciting to see what will come next.
KT: We’re very interested to see how this new work-from-home strategy will help bring new talent to the industry, giving people the opportunity to have flexible hours to accommodate their family, and businesses the ability to expand their hours outside the normal Monday–Friday, 9 to 5.
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