Q: How has the general insurance sector been affected by COVID-19?
A: The direct impact of the pandemic on the general insurance sector was not to the extent of the adverse effect on travel and tourism – this in turn had implications for the economy and broader insurance sector eventually.
However, the sector did feel the indirect impact of restrictions on vehicle imports and in the long run, it will not record the desired growth as motor insurance accounts for almost 65 percent of general insurance. As a result, competition has increased in motor insurance although claims may have reduced.
Import restrictions also extend to other goods, shrinking the insurance business further. Weak business activity, salary cuts and job losses faced by cus- tomers will also impact the sector’s sales. Lastly, the col- lection of and defaults in premiums will continue to be major challenges.
Q: And how did Ceylinco General Insurance sur- mount the challenges posed by the pandemic?
A: The prime concern for the company was to protect its staff. More importantly, not a single staff member was retrenched nor were there any salary cuts or reduced benefits despite the challenges faced. The company fol- lowed all the health and safety protocols to the letter to protect employees.
Apart from this, we allowed staff to work from home (WFH) and provided transport for essential employees so they could avoid using public transport. Only 30 per- cent of our team was called to report to the office while another 40 percent are working from home. The remain- ing 30 percent are not actively involved in day-to-day work but we continue to provide them with all the bene- fits they enjoyed before.
We re-engineered our business model, digitalised many aspects and realigned distribution channels to suit changes in lifestyles during the pandemic.
Although business confidence is rising with the ongoing vaccina- tion drive, we will continue to identify potential areas that could deliver results in the short to medi- um term. The companies that are sufficiently agile to adapt to the ‘new normal’ will enjoy a sustain- able future.
Q: What strategy did the company adopt to serve cus- tomers last year?
A: Even at the height of the lock- down, the company’s hotline was accessible on a 24-hour basis for greater customer con- venience with claims being paid directly to their accounts.
Moreover, they could renew policies or obtain new ones online through our website, while online payments and transfers were facilitated by way of popular digital platforms and to bank accounts.
Furthermore, Ceylinco General Insurance sustained its superior service, launching the ‘Ceylinco VIP Drive Thru Claims’ facility for Ceylinco VIP customers who had not obtained ‘On the Spot’ claims for various rea- sons. This included owners being unavailable at the time of accidents or the case of vehicles being under leasing facilities.
Customers who have not obtained claims using the On the Spot facility are notified in advance by SMS about any pending items and the required documents. Once the documents are handed over at Drive Thru centres, they receive cheques or cash within a few minutes. The advantage is that customers receive claims while they’re in their vehicles and leave in the shortest time possible.
Located in Nugegoda, Kandy, Kurunegala and Galle, all four centres offer ample parking and specially reserved slots for Ceylinco VIP customers using the Drive Thru Claims facility.
Q: So what is your stance on WFH?
A: The main advantage of WFH is the reduced expo- sure of risk for employees, greater flexibility and abil- ity to enjoy a more optimal work-life balance. However, some staff members – such as assessors – had to visit accident sites to settle claims and assess damages.
On the other hand, WFH could affect the speed of decision making, lead to employees being less engaged and give rise to technical issues.
Q: In your assessment, what are the urgent concerns for the country?
A: Vaccinating the population against COVID-19 will be key and thereafter, Sri Lankans should embark on a concerted drive to stimulate business activity to uplift the economy.
The government will also have to reschedule local and foreign debt, while increasing fiscal revenues and eliminating wasteful expenditure.
And finally, I hope that export oriented industries will receive the support they need.