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Insurance Roundtable: Treasurers Weather the Pandemic Crisis

  • By Andrew Deichler
  • Published: 1/5/2021

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It likely comes as no surprise that treasury professionals discussed their overall COVID-19 response during the AFP 2020 Insurance Industry Roundtable, sponsored by Fifth Third Bank. Practitioners provided examples of how treasury was able to maintain operations in a time of major upheaval.

WORKING REMOTELY

In the early days of the pandemic, many companies moved to an entirely remote working model. However, moving everyone out of the office at once can create issues. An assistant treasury for a major life insurance company explained that his organization began establishing a game plan in mid-February 2020 to prepare for remote working by the end of March. To minimize disruption, the team was initially split into shifts, which saw half the team coming into the office and the other half working from home for a week at a time.

This strategy gave treasury the time to ensure that each team member was outfitted with adequate hotspots and full stakeholder lists. They also made sure everyone had access to the office for any emergency purposes.

Since moving online, the treasury team uses frequent video calls to keep staff engaged and boost morale. “We have daily check-ins on my team every morning, just to see how everyone's doing, major topics for the day, what liquidity looks like,” he said. “We have also tried to have team building sessions at least once a month, whether that's a cocktail hour in the afternoon just to vent, or talking about things that are going on or bring in speakers from various parts of the organization just to add some flavor.”

However, frequent meetings over Zoom or Teams also have their disadvantages. He added that when in the office, he has the ability to stop by a staff member’s desk for a few minutes to check in. That’s more difficult to do virtually, especially with Teams showing so many people as being busy or in a meeting. “We've had a lot of people dealing with that as well. They didn't want to bother somebody, so you lose a lot of that extra face-to-face contact that you would have had in the office, at least in my opinion,” he said.

To remedy the situation, one treasurer explained that she does informal team huddles every single morning, just so that the entire team has contact with each other at one point during the day. “The meeting may be two minutes or it may be half an hour, but at least everyone has a chance to talk. And a lot of times, I find we just talk about other things other than work. It gives that connection and allows that to continue,” she said.

REOPENING STRATEGY

More recently, the assistant treasurer’s company has re-opened to 25% capacity. Not many employees opted to go back to the office early on, which management anticipated. But for employees who want to get out of the house, the option is there. “I think really 2021 is where we'll see a slow return to the new normal, but as cases continue to rise in the U.S., we'll see where that goes,” he said.

Another practitioner added that her team also has reopened its office to limited capacity and the experience has been similar. “We're about working at a third capacity, but it's completely optional if they want to come in or not,” she said. “The interest has been pretty low. So, that's kind of where we are.”

A third practitioner has seen analogous results. “We have our own building, so that's made it easier, but we are open but voluntary,” he said. “We probably only have 30 to 40 people show up out of 300 to 400 normally. So, it's been pretty low attendance.”

But reopening the office brings with it certain considerations that were never issues before. One attendee whose company has reopened only for critical and client-facing employees, asked the group how they were addressing elevator capacity. “I think that's one of the things that we're struggling with,” she said.

The assistant treasurer responded that while his building has a one-person-per-elevator policy, it only has three floors. However, this type of policy is a larger issue for companies located in large skyscrapers. “I know at our New York office, which is a shared high-rise in Midtown Manhattan, they have the same thing—a one-person-per-elevator policy and they have actually employees from the property management firm monitoring that,” he said.

And simply taking the stairs might not be an easy solution either. One practitioner mentioned that his building made its stairwells one-way. “You have to find a stairwell that is in the direction that you're going and then you make a little round trip,” he said. “It keeps things interesting and gets our steps in.”

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Whether you’re fully remote or you’ve moved some of your staff back into the office, it’s important to maintain strong communication with your team. Even if you’re back in the office, holding frequent face-to-face meetings in the current environment isn’t a safe idea. But your team needs to find a way to keep the dialogue flowing.

“The key is to just, under these circumstances, continue to communicate with your team and with other groups in the company that you work together with, whether it's legal or tax or controllership or other businesses,” said a treasurer for a major insurer. “You’ve just got to keep up that routine and continue to reach out.”

View more sessions from the AFP 2020 Virtual Experience here.


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