Allison Johnson, CPA, is an Audit Manager specializing in the insurance industry. She is the Education and NAIC Update Specialist for the Insurance Practice Group.

For insurance companies, preparing for disaster and “expecting the unexpected” may seem to be the norm. But after 2020, planning for the unexpected, even for insurance companies, may never be the same again. Nobody knew going into 2020 that there would be a pandemic which would impact every person and organization worldwide. As we enter month five of the COVID-19 pandemic, we surveyed a sample of insurance carriers on what they have learned through the last couple of months.

What has been the biggest challenge relating to COVID-19?  Most companies found that leading and making decisions with so much uncertainty has been the biggest challenge. Having to make quick decisions to keep up with changing circumstances, but not being able to gauge the impact on employees or on the company financially has been extremely difficult.  For some companies moving their employees to working remotely was a significant challenge. Where trainings and collaboration used to happen in person, companies were forced to figure out how to maintain those interactions while going virtual.

What was the most unexpected obstacle you faced relating to COVID-19? While companies may have anticipated that employees were going to need to be able to work remotely, most of the unexpected challenges were side effects of that transition.  For one organization the challenge was making sure there were enough laptops and other equipment to transition people to working from home.  For another company, the challenge was maintaining relationships and staying connected with the limited virtual interaction.  Employee productivity while working remotely was also a common challenge.  Companies had to learn how to support those employees in the transition to working remotely while providing clear guidelines and feedback.

What was the biggest positive impact of COVID-19? While many of the impacts of COVID-19 have been challenging, we inquired about what positive changes have resulted from these challenges.  One company noted that they were seeing increased problem-solving ability from their employees. As employees have been faced with new challenges and less traditional resources to solve those challenges, they have been forced to utilize their research and communication skills to find solutions. The other consensus of a positive benefit of COVID-19 was having the ability for people to work remotely.  The pandemic forced organizations to build the necessary infrastructure of having a remote workforce.  This provides flexibility going forward for companies to decide what their approach will be in the future.

Any other lessons learned from COVID-19?  The companies we surveyed had some lessons they had learned as byproducts of the last few months. One organization noted that their disaster recovery plan had been helpful in the transition to people working remotely. The plan served as a guide for how business could continue with as little interruption as possible. Another organization was reminded of the importance of being proactive and thinking outside of the box. A pandemic does not have to be the catalyst to look for new solutions. The final lesson shared was the resiliency of people. With all the changes and stress of a pandemic, most companies are finding that their employees have stepped up to the challenge and continued to provide quality service to their customers. Companies have also found value in having highly trusted business partners, including IT specialists, outside accountants, and asset managers, who have helped the companies adapt quickly and effectively.

As these times of challenge and uncertainty continue, companies will continue to show that they can be resilient and move forward. The lessons we have had to learn quickly during COVID-19 have been great training for adaptability in the future. If you struggled with technology or automation in the past, you have probably implemented or researched products to bridge that gap in the future. If meeting virtually never appealed to you, you have probably learned by now there can be a high level of participation in an online meeting. Insurance companies will continue to protect everyday people from disaster and hardship, but now they may be a little more confident in utilizing new tools for everyday operations when the unexpected occurs.