How Argo Group planned for COVID-19
In the last few weeks, the way we work, live, and communicate has shifted entirely. Remote work is the new normal. While our digital team was able to shift to completely remote within two hours, our entire staff of more than 1500 employees took about 48 hours over one, seemingly long weekend. After that, our entire company was completely transitioned to a remote workplace. This is a testament to the work Argo has done over the last five years and to the flexibility of our employees, who moved quickly and were transparent with their needs. This is a history-altering pandemic, and it will change our industry and businesses forever. At Argo, it has taught us a lot about what we can plan for, how digital can change the trajectory of our business lines, and how at the heart of digital solutions will always be a dedicated workforce.
Building the Ship before the Storm
A pandemic like this one really challenges an organization’s business continuity planning (BCP) and its digital/IT capabilities. Long before I took over operations in December, Argo had done a lot around BCP, but more recently, we also brought our digital and our operations teams together. This critical part of our strategy allowed us to do what we needed to very quickly, and as seamlessly as possible. Of course, it wasn't perfect, but at the end of the day, because of the digital tools we have built and the capability of our IT team and incredible support, we were able to very quickly standup our entire workforce remotely.
It's worth emphasizing that we did not start planning for this in March. We had been planning for any situation like this one for quite some time. Some of that planning was training staff on what digital solutions look like and how they can help us do our work more efficiently. We created training sessions on digital tools to help our underwriters understand what digital means and how AI and Machine learning can help. We built and utilized new digital tools like Cybersphere to help our brokers issue cyber policies with a few questions on an iPad or a browser. Part of the fear around digital is that people think it might take away their jobs. But in this case and thanks to the way we use digital, it has helped us to keep our employees moving forward.
Lessons from the Journey
As we work remotely and more employees use our digital tools, it is more obvious what aspects of work can be streamlined digitally. The tools that helped us move most quickly were tools that we had built before Covid-19. One such tool that is used by our Argo Pro underwriters is Insights, which uses machine learning and AI to collect and gather information about public companies and automatically drives information to the underwriters. In the past, when an underwriter had to consider the company, they had to spend a couple of weeks gathering information, then go back and forth with brokers looking for information. That process is hard to do and time-consuming. It's hard enough to do in an office, but it's harder to do when you're remote. Insights provides the underwriter with every piece of information they need automatically, and they can quickly make a decision around the pricing of that risk.
Those kinds of automated tools – whether you're in at home or in a Starbucks or in the office – they seamlessly work wherever you are. By having the right infrastructure, our employees have found it easy to “lift and shift,” because we'd built digital tools like this one. As part of our current planning process, we are building out more digital solutions to support automation and our customers digital experience.
We’ve learned that handling digital solutions during a pandemic is one part digital and one part human. From the digital side, we’ve learned to try things out with the beta version, to work with teams with whatever tools we have. Now more than ever, we are aware of our capabilities and our ability to provide our staff and employees with solutions. Having a good workflow system is essential. It's vital to see remotely what's going on in your workforce: submissions coming in, claims, renewals. That data is important to get a sense of the health and capability of the business. Of course, things like automated declinations or having enough monitors built up for a remote workforce could have saved a lot of time and effort, if we’d already built those solutions. Thankfully, we were able to get the monitors we needed, and we're building tools to make things move faster in the coming weeks.
On the other side, the human side of digital is just as important. We are making sure our staff and our employees feel safe, supported, and that the tools that accentuate our employees’ and clients’ needs are working. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from employees on our ability to move quickly, and appreciation for the flexibility and resources we are providing. Now, we rely on digital tools like Webex conferences or Microsoft teams to communicate our human needs versus the past, where we used digital tools as part of our human process.
Advice to Insurance Innovators
When we go back to normal, whatever that may mean, businesses need to look at: what they were and were not able to do because employees were working remotely. Think about the automation of tasks that employees don't need to touch at home. Make sure that data is flowing through to employees without them having to look for it. Make sure that we have a proper, cloud-based data system. Make sure that we automate as much as we can and have appropriate digitized workflow systems, so that we can see what's going on in a remote workforce and manage that. Whether it's in the U.S. or in any country, it's important to have that viewpoint from a leadership perspective. Then we can effectively manage the entire organization on a real time basis.
What happened that weekend in March was a result of years of planning. What will happen over the next couple of months/years is more planning and a whole lot of experimenting to find the digital solutions that help us all work remotely together. As an industry, we’ve seen over the last month that digital integrations have been absolutely necessary for us to succeed.