Following weeks of instability, unease and remote working, during what feels like an unending time-lapse since the start of 2020, many businesses have re-opened their doors to a new reality, where work practices have changed, and the future is hard to plan.
For insurance leaders MAPFRE Middlesea, the transition towards a return to a new form of normality began around mid-May, following a few months of complete change for employees and clients alike.
The Chief Executive Officer of MAPFRE Middlesea, Felipe Navarro, shares that, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in Malta, the company has had to monitor the situation closely, reviewing information provided by the World
Health Organisation (WHO) as well as all the measures taken by the local health authorities.
“The first thing we did, in the beginning of March, was set up a management committee to deal with the impact of this crisis. Since then, this committee has been meeting twice a week to discuss all those measures which needed to be put into action for the safety of all our employees and clients,” says Mr Navarro.
“Apart from the safety aspect, our priority was to ensure business continuity, and, primarily, to continue delivering an efficient and effective service to our clients. We have also been following the guidelines set by MAPFRE, thus providing another layer of security. These guidelines apply to all countries around the world in which MAPFRE has a presence, and are administered taking into consideration local circumstances and exigencies.”
On a micro level, Mr Navarro asserts that the first measure the company undertook was to identify which staff members could work remotely from day one. “Members of staff who were considered to be more at risk or had someone vulnerable living with them were given priority to work from home. Subsequently, we started implementing the automation of processes and made them accessible remotely, so that more staff could work from home.”
Keeping staff informed of every decision along the way has been a priority, and, in order to keep employees motivated and engaged, the company has organised regular online activities, including mental health sessions, and continues to do so. This is to ensure that staff does “not feel alone and is empowered to cope with the crisis. I have personally written a note to all staff members every week to keep the line of communication open and to encourage them to reach out for help whenever needed.”
On the business front, Mr Navarro asserts that MAPFRE Middlesea has also upgraded some of its services to better meet clients’ insurance needs during these difficult times. “We understand that many people today are facing the challenging situation of being unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” he explains. “For this reason, we decided to support our clients who have found themselves unemployed by giving a 25 per cent discount on home, motor and health policies. This benefit is also available to those sole-traders and self-employed who qualify for COVID-19-related Government assistance schemes.”
The process of the lodging of claims for home and health policy clients has also been simplified, and clients can now file a claim through the online portal in a matter of minutes. “Moreover, customers who have had a car accident and are eagerly waiting for their vehicle parts to arrive, can now check the status of their vehicle parts via the MAPFRE Middlesea chatbot, Emma, by visiting the website,” Mr Navarro adds. “Apart from all the above measures, which are still in place, we have opened our offices to meet clients by appointment. We have decided to return to normal operations gradually to avoid unnecessary risks to staff and clients.”
Assessing the impact of the crisis on MAPFRE Middlesea’s business and sector, Mr Navarro states that, considering the magnitude of the crisis, the company has managed to protect most of its business.
“Naturally, COVID-19 had a strong negative impact on many sectors, such as the hotel industry, car hire, and many other companies that rely on tourism. As a result, the insurance industry will face some challenges,” the CEO explains. “The first phase, in its response, will depend on the exposure to the direct COVID-19 claims we have on our books that will be partially offset, for certain lines of business by a much lower claims frequency due to lower activity levels. What could be more of concern would be the long-term consequences of the impact of COVID-19 in general on the economy, and how this will impact sales activities for the market at the renewals stage.”
Beyond Malta’s shores, the impact of COVID-19 on the world economy is believed to be immense, albeit still hard to measure. Given the unprecedented characteristics of this crisis – closed borders and airports, grounded fleets, countries under lockdown – some reports have considered the aftermath may be worse than the 2008 financial crisis.
Sharing his thoughts, Mr Navarro says, “I believe it is too early to say what the final toll of COVID-19 on the world’s economy will be. For sure we know that there will be a general contraction in all economies, to various degrees.
Tourism is an obvious victim due to the implementation of national lockdowns around the world, but global trade has also started registering strong contractions, as are manufacturing industries such as those of aircraft and automobiles, and all industries in their respective supply chains.”
The human and economic costs of the crisis witnessed over the past months have been overwhelming and sobering, but the global response from companies and organisations willing to help mitigate the devastation caused by the virus has been, at the very least, inspiring. Through Fundación MAPFRE – a non-profit organisation created by MAPFRE Group in 1975 – the company has extended a helping hand within and beyond Malta’s shores in the fight against COVID-19.
Mr Navarro explains that Fundación MAPFRE has been operating in Malta for the past eight years, creating awareness about road safety, instilling healthy living habits in young children, and helping the less fortunate by working with various NGOs. “In order to help mitigate the effects of the current crisis in Malta, Fundación MAPFRE has donated 100,000 professional masks to be used by front-line health care workers who are helping us fight the virus. Fundación MAPFRE has also donated €35 million worth of medical equipment worldwide and as a contribution towards research in finding a vaccine for COVID-19.”
Looking back over the last few months, the weeks were fraught with challenges that also brought about a unique set of opportunities. For Mr Navarro, the biggest challenge was undoubtedly trying to keep all employees safe and healthy, both physically and mentally, while at the same time continuing to deliver the services their clients deserve. “I must say that I am very proud of our people and the results achieved.
"We all did our very best; the staff worked as hard as ever to keep the business going and to deliver the best possible service to our clients,” he asserts. On the positive side, “the crisis made us realise that we could improve further on our processes and on our ability to conduct more of our business online. All the new procedures implemented during these months have proved to be very effective and will remain in place.”
On a personal level, Mr Navarro says that having worked from home for several weeks meant he had more time to spend with family, “which has also been important for us, and we’ve been able to support each other during these times. Having my extended family living in another country has meant that I have been more in touch with them to ensure that they are fine and coping well with the situation. This experience has definitely brought me closer to my loved ones, both here and abroad. In the midst of all this, I have also found the time to indulge in hobbies such as cooking, reading and catching up on a couple of good movies.”
Beyond the limits of his household, Mr Navarro expresses similar sentiments for all his work colleagues. “During these months I have come to appreciate more the regular human contact I had with my colleagues. It was, as always, thanks to them that my role was greatly facilitated and that we could get through this together.”
This interview was first carried in the July edition of the Business Agenda