Sep 2020

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Be prepared

Source: Middle East Insurance Review | Aug 2020

Businesses with a strong foundation will have the capacity to adapt and deliver in times of crisis.
Gautam Datta, CEO, Watania
My daughter is 11 years old. She is a Girl Scout. I learnt from her that the Girl Scout motto is ‘Be Prepared’. The 1947 Girl Scout Handbook explains its motto: “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed. Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency”. 
The same holds true today for all businesses.
Our company went into work-from-home (WFH) mode in mid-March. Business continuity plans are usually tested in a controlled environment. In our case, it was a trial by fire, and after almost four months of WFH, I can say that we came through unscathed. It was an exemplary instance of commitment and teamwork. Girl Scouts would have been proud to have us in their club if their by-laws allowed admission of us oldies.
Simple and robust business process 
Textbooks tell us that all business strategies should have allowances for contingencies. But planning for a black swan event is nigh impossible, especially when the world changes in a matter of days. What we have learnt in these past four months is that the foundation of any business needs to be strong and flexible. It needs to have the capacity to adapt and deliver. In Watania, when we started our new journey in 2016, the focus was on getting the basics right. 
Identifying our customer segment and establishing an efficient delivery mechanism for our products at a competitive level through extensive use of data analytics, and following it up with a no-nonsense and hassle-free claims service through a team that inculcated a sense of belonging to the mission was our aim. None of this changed during the crisis. 
It was fortunate that we had four years of lead time to implement a robust technology platform and business process that was not tied to any physical location. The ability to provide our services through virtual modes without any disruption helped us to grow our business in these challenging circumstances. 
Effective communication is crucial in any crisis. We launched an awareness campaign on COVID-19, partnering with local health authorities, to educate our employees and our business partners about the virus and recommended practices for maintaining health and hygiene. This information was constantly updated through our website, social media and direct communication.
The employees were informed that the company will not consider any redundancies unless the business levels reached a critical point. This took away the anxiety of job loss, and helped them to focus on their business and, in most cases, improve the level of engagement. This has led to improvements in our retention of renewal business and conversion of new inquiries resulting in year-on-year growth which is quite unusual during these challenging times.
The level of communication thanks to platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom has increased significantly during this period. While facing people across a virtual medium and virtual backgrounds does not make up for face-to-face interactions, we learned to adapt and soon discovered the efficiency and the economic advantages.
Going forward 
As businesses begin to open gradually, we are beginning to put the lessons learnt into our future strategy.
We can all WFH 
There was always a group skeptical about the effectiveness of WFH. That has been put to rest. We now have the maturity to take on the responsibilities of WFH. We have come to appreciate the advantages of flexibility, being close to family, avoiding time spent on commuting and most importantly focus on our and our family’s health and well-being.
Reduction of operating costs
The full impact of this reduction is still being assessed and this will be significant. Almost every item in our general and administrative expenses will see a reduction and, with some planning, the level of savings can be further increased.
We are waiting for data to give us a better understanding of the change in our consumer behaviour pattern. We believe some changes will be fundamental, and it will allow companies that are nimble to innovate and provide out-of-the-box solutions that will address a whole set of new requirements for financial protection. M 
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