Balancing working from home – Does it improve insurance outcomes and customer experience?

The way we work has changed dramatically after the COVID-19 pandemic. The insurance industry has been one of the last to catch up to 21st century workplace trends, particularly in respect of flexible working arrangements. It appears this acceptance is both lasting and widespread. Current figures show that 34.3 per cent of new jobs advertised in insurance enable working from home (WFH), the highest by any sector in Australia.

The question is whether flexible working improves insurance outcomes for customers?

The insurance industry is one regarded as relying on deep relationships, whether it be between customer and advisor, or advisor and insurer. Relationships, knowledge, and trust are key to leverage and negotiate the best possible outcomes.

As most of us have experienced first-hand, even the most well-crafted email will lack the same impact as in-person communication.

Videoconferencing for workplace meetings enabled businesses to “get on with the job” during the pandemic and continues to have many benefits. That said many have experienced the downside of meetings held virtually: low engagement by some participants, multitasking, failings in technology and security issues. Many also report not “connecting” in the same way they would in person.

Working from home has many positive social and financial impacts. It is a desirable benefit for many employees. Recent data shows that some employees may forgo salary increases to ensure that they retain flexibility. The data demonstrates that some middle to high income earners in white collars jobs can sacrifice between $12,000 to $24,000 of their annual salary for the benefit of hybrid working conditions.

Also working from home has generated increased opportunities for community members who have been marginalised by traditional office working arrangements, including people with disability and primary caregivers. In Australia, 48 per cent of people with a disability are employed, and between 2019 and 2022, this number increased 6 per cent as a result of increased WFH/hybrid work opportunities. For primary caregivers, hybrid work resulted in an 8.5 per cent increase in people being able to find employment between 2019 – 2022, as they were able to participate in the workforce to the same extent as those full time in an office.

But what of the customer experience? Customers are starting to benefit from mandated return to “office” across the industry. Bellrock has observed, that insurers who work from the office are generally more responsive delivering better turnaround times to Bellrock’s customers.

Expertise in the insurance industry is built on direct exposure to learnings. Skills develop almost as a form of “osmosis” wherein developing staff observe their seniors.  For a developing team member, working from home may present obstacles to this form of learning.  Senior staff are also working remotely, exacerbating the issue. Many have reported that arranging a meeting to discuss an issue is not the same as simply bouncing ideas or questions off your colleagues in the office.

Many large insurers, intermediaries, and service providers to the industry, have moved to offshoring arrangements. Many of the tasks that had in the past been provided by incoming, junior personnel. Operational efficiencies such as technology systems have continued to be implemented to digitise tasks junior staff would perform.

These efficiencies have reduced exposure that entrants have to administrative tasks. Whilst somewhat mundane these tasks often inform their knowledge, skills and technical ability.  It follows entrants have less exposure to technical aspects and ‘process’ of insurance.

From the customer’s perspective, the expectation is for their intermediary to negotiate the most appropriate insurance programme priced competitively. We consider that achieving that objective is a little more difficult absent in-person negotiation.

Australian businesses continue to grapple with getting their teams back into the office. Mandated office attendance and return to office policies are becoming more widespread. The extent and speed with which this return is expected varies by employer and sectors. Hybrid working arrangements are expected to remain for the foreseeable future.

In reflecting on both methodologies one should consider whether working from home leads to improved education and upskilling of junior staff, better service levels, more active and motivated renewal negotiations and overall improved customer satisfaction. Many consider that the answer to these questions is a resounding “no”.

It remains that there are many compelling arguments for hybrid working arrangements, including improved work-life balance, participation (especially for employees who are care-givers or have special needs), not to mention efficiencies gained by reduced commute times.

Bellrock CEO, Marc Chiarella says

To be acknowledged “as experts in commercial risk because of our people” requires trust. Our people understand the positive and negative impacts of hybrid working arrangements. In the context of our value proposition, it is inherently dependent on each person’s circumstances and their own choices as to what suits them. The result is that we have significantly high attendance in the office, but also experience that those working from home manage tasks efficiently and effectively in the best interests of our customers.

Stay informed with our latest articles

* indicates required