The COVID Era: Finding Opportunity in Times of Hardship

By | December 20, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a short-term event. That’s obvious. But the question should no longer be — “when will it end?” As a practical matter, it’s not going to end.

When we ask the question “how long will it last?” which is what we have been asking these past 18 months or so, we aren’t asking the right question. We have been and still are missing the bigger picture.

That’s what I want to talk about.

A New Era

COVID-19 isn’t a crisis anymore — it’s an era.

An era is a period of time that’s usually fairly long and is only understood in retrospect. An era may be triggered by a unique event, but it’s usually subject to a period of preparation first. Living through an era changes the way people see the world, the way they act, what they value and how they interpret the future.

I’m going to get to how all of this will impact your agency in just a second, but some background is important. Stay with me a minute!

As an example, consider World War II — clearly a defining period of time in history. From the American perspective, it lasted from 1941 to 1945. But looking back on it as an era, it lasted much longer.

It’s undeniable that this event changed the way Americans viewed the world. It certainly changed their economic behavior, among other things. People who lived through it behaved differently afterward. They saw and interpreted their futures much differently. It’s also clear that all of this change was heavily influenced by the Great Depression that preceded the war.

Now, let’s look at the COVID-19 era. What parts of this experience have influenced us in how we are moving forward?

It’s clear that individual reactions, particularly in terms of vaccination, mask wearing, school and business closings have varied and unfortunately, led to division.

In my opinion, what paved the way for this division was a certain egocentricity that had been creeping into the culture long before COVID-19. This contrasts, obviously, with the spirit of self-sacrifice that the Great Depression set before the World War II era.

An increasing reliance on technology helped set the stage for the COVID era, as well as a very interconnected global economy.

In terms of insurance agencies, the looming crisis of employee aging, retirements and changing consumer behaviors all contributed to both how agencies were able to react to the pandemic, and how they will continue to navigate and contribute professionally to the COVID era over the next few years.

Societal Changes Borne of the COVID Era

So, what will the hallmarks be of personal and societal behavior in this period? Here’s what I think.

Economic conservatism will increase.

Individuals now know firsthand how quickly their economic world can turn upside down. This should lead to permanent increases in personal savings. People will become more conservative in personal, financial risk taking. We’re seeing this already.

In terms of insurance, the COVID era presents an opportunity to engage with clients about risk. It gives great agents a unique opportunity to increase their own value proposition beyond price. Products like life insurance will be top of mind for years. Disability insurance, especially those products that pay when someone is unable to work due to illness, will be more popular. In a broader sense, people will want to understand their risks and find ways to mitigate. This presents a huge opportunity for relationship building.

A rise in “Carpe Diem” behavior.

Seizing the day becomes more important in a period when the future is less certain. This means clients are less willing to accept inferior products and service, and more willing to move business away from providers who leave them frustrated.

We’re already seeing evidence of this trend with “The Great Resignation.” People are quitting their jobs, changing employers, or sitting on the sidelines. Already facing an aging workforce, the COVID era has also prompted retirements within the industry.

This trend creates tremendous risk for agencies that don’t recognize it and adapt.

Flexible work is becoming the norm. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for parents, and women have been disproportionately impacted in terms of work and career. With women making up the majority of the agency distribution system, it stands to reason that this continued demand for flexibility will significantly impact our business. Agency owners who consider flexibility will do better than those who do not.

Technology will continue to open new doors.

The use of communications technology was fairly old-school until the spring of 2020. Then, Zoom exploded during lockdown mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The universal adoption of video communication was presaged in my youth in comic books. While it was used somewhat in some larger corporations, video communication wasn’t taken seriously — until it was. Now, those who insist on just having a “phone call” are often taken less seriously. Agents therefore must become experts at video communications and embrace this and technological trends like it.

But, also critical to note in terms of technology is the geographic doors the COVID era has opened related to an agency’s opportunities for growth, size and profitability. Agencies are no longer limited to their local labor force or cost structures. This is a great opportunity but again, also a threat for those who don’t adapt. Already, business owners struggling to find qualified employees are learning, to their chagrin, that other employers competing for the same talent can easily come from anywhere and take their best people.

Global realignment of supply chains, manufacturing and travel mean permanent increased opportunity. Simply put, agents who are aggressive commercial lines producers could reap the benefits from the fact that these issues will lead to the creation of more U.S. based businesses. Even if your agency doesn’t write manufacturers, an increase in manufacturers will drive increases in all kinds of business.

So, while the short-term economic outlooks may be confusing, just as they were immediately after World War II, they are bullish for the long term. Now, is the time to prepare.

Finding Success in the COVID Era

COVID-19 will be with us permanently — both as a disease and as a stimulator of permanent change. Above, I’ve discussed those changes I think are the most obvious. Over the next couple of years, other changes borne from the COVID era will also become clear.

To keep your business relevant and growing, consider the following:

  • Pay attention to how larger trends are impacting you.
  • Adapt quickly to the needs of both customers and employees.
  • Experiment with work, marketing and products.
  • Be willing to let go of past practices that no longer work.

We are lucky to be living in a time of change. Yes, much of living in the COVID era is painful as was the Great Depression and World War II. But, as the famed 18th century banker Baron Rothschild brutally pointed out, “the time to buy is when there is blood in the streets.” Indeed, periods of profound change can also be the periods of greatest opportunity for growth, profit and wealth building.

Topics COVID-19

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