SME resilience in action
Tom Hill talks to Insurance Age on how brokers have supported SMEs in being able to adapt their business to continue to trade through the pandemic.
Aqueous’ Executive Director talks to Insurance Age about how brokers have been in a position to support their SME customers in being able to trade through the pandemic. Read the article below or here
As we approach the rather grim anniversary of the UK’s first national lockdown, it is clear that many of the SME businesses operating in the pubs, restaurants, and wider hospitality sectors in particular have faced challenges that none of us could have foreseen. And these challenges follow on from years of predictions of the impending death of the high street.
Yet many of our brokers’ customers, despite the huge challenges, have been able to adapt and not only survive, but are building flexibility into their businesses with a view to trading through the pandemic and onwards.
“Large swathes of the UK’s SME sector have been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, but many have also been able to adapt, survive and reshape with the support of their brokers”
Tom Hill, Executive Director at Aqueous Underwriting.
These businesses have had to adapt their business models over the last 12 months, and quickly; be that mothballing their restaurants in city centres and diverting operations to warehouses to focus on producing and distributing takeaways, setting up alcohol collect and delivery services for everything from beer to cocktail making kits, or serving alcohol only with food. Clients have responded in a myriad of different ways to continue trading. We have had clients switching to producing meal kits for people to make at home and exploring opportunities in the wholesaling of products such as signature sauces and recipes. Clients have also moved to embrace outdoor dining, in order to make the most of the loosening of lockdown measures, with the erection of marquees, the installation of outdoor heating, the opening of stalls at open markets and moves to using catering vans. Other changes have included the revision of menus more suitable for takeaways and the rapid revision of websites to compete and compliment the major delivery sites (Just Eat, Uber Eats, Deliveroo).
But switching the way you operate a business, at speed, in order to respond to the challenges of the on-off lockdown and tier systems, also entails having the right insurance in place that can enable that flexibility. Our brokers have been in the front line of this challenge, helping clients navigate these difficult times, providing advice and support on issues such as whether they can mothball their business for a set period and still be covered, or if they can temporarily switch to takeaways and still be covered.
Brokers have been working flat out – as have we to support them – spending long hours at the laptop or on the phone outside of the normal working day. They’ve needed fast answers to coverage queries from providers so their customers could follow through with their adaptive business strategies and carry on trading.
And all of this has been against the background of challenges to their own working environment, including having to work from home and not being able to have face to face meetings, or in many cases, visit their customers’ premises.
Brokers working to help their customers in the last year have also needed underwriters that are able to adapt and be fleet of foot, who are empathetic and knowledgeable and for example understand what clients, such as those operating restaurants and pubs are going through.
This need for speed in the search for clarity over cover is one of the main factors that has driven an increase in urgent enquiries from our brokers since last March. These calls are often to check specific underwriting positions with regard to the many variables, such as those listed above, driven by customers adapting to trading in a Covid-19 environment.
This combination of informed brokers and knowledgeable underwriters is helping those in the SME sector weather the pandemic storm. And whilst some businesses have sadly gone to the wall, the majority have survived, and demonstrated their resilience in these unprecedented times. And whilst the pandemic storm is still raging there is now a real prospect of clearer skies ahead due to the rapid roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, and those businesses that survive will be in a good position to revive and thrive.
There have undoubtedly been some very high-profile public battles over business interruption coverage, with many SMEs disappointed that they were either not covered or were but have had to push hard to have their claims recognised. But whilst BI may have grabbed the media headlines, it is not, as this article underlines, the whole story as commercial insurance plays a much wider role in underpinning economic activity.
Insurance is often seen as a burden on business, but the reality is that it is a facilitator and enabler. The pandemic has helped underline the key role insurance, insurance brokers and dare we say underwriters play in the economy; helping hard-pressed businesses that are making bold and imaginative decisions, to reshape and adapt and not let the sun go down on their businesses.
Tom Hill – Executive Director at Aqueous Underwriting
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