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Virtual site visits escalate amid coronavirus lockdown

May 12, 2020

Zurich’s Remote Collaboration tool helps its Risk Engineers connect with customers without leaving home.

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With shelter-at-home orders in place across North America, millions of workers have been forced to rely on live video streams to communicate with colleagues, customers and vendors.

The same is true at Zurich North America, where employees in the United States and Canada have settled into a routine of video meetings that often include casual wear, untrimmed beards and welcomed interruptions from playful dogs and curious children.

But what if Zurich’s Risk Engineers need to conduct site visits for current or prospective customers?

Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

Zurich Remote Collaboration was in development long before anyone knew it would be an essential tool for risk managers, insurers and brokers during a global pandemic. Part of the Zurich Risk Advisor app, it allows Zurich’s Risk Engineers to conduct virtual site visits without leaving their desks.

Norman Eng, Director of Innovation and Digital Solutions for Zurich North America Risk Engineering, led this global initiative, which involved piloting multiple vendor products before deciding to build it within the Risk Advisor app, which can be used by Zurich’s Risk Engineers globally.

Eng said Remote Collaboration was launched in June 2019, but adoption was slow. “Then, COVID happened. In February, customers started cancelling site visits. Remote Collaboration offered Zurich and our customers a viable alternative to onsite visits.”

Although the tool was not created in response to coronavirus, the subsequent government and business lockdowns caused by the pandemic have forced Zurich and its customers to consider alternatives to face-to-face site visits.

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The how-to of a virtual site visit

It was a long and exhaustive process to develop the Remote Collaboration tool, but it was well worth the time and effort to get it right. The end-user experience is greatly enhanced by its simplicity.

Following discussions with the customer, broker and underwriter and securing an agreement to conduct a virtual visit, the Zurich Risk Engineer uses the Remote Collaboration web portal to send an invitation to the customer. Once a virtual visit is scheduled, the customer downloads the Risk Advisor app on their mobile phone or tablet computer.

After that, it’s like a regular video call. But there is a learning curve for both the Risk Engineers and the customers, as Jarrel Kadavy, a Zurich Risk Engineering Consultant based in Dallas, found out. Kadavy was among the first in North America to use the Remote Collaboration tool to inspect a high-rise building. But he first tested it out with some of his colleagues, conducting virtual visits of their homes in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana.

During a virtual visit, the customer activates the camera on the phone or tablet, allowing the Risk Engineer to stream live video to their desktop. Then, the Risk Engineer can guide the customer to key areas of interest to learn more about the risk.

The video quality can sometimes be blurry when the Wi-Fi or cellular data connection is weak. But the app allows for photos to be taken, and those high-definition images are automatically uploaded to the desktop app. These photos can be marked up and annotated in real time by the customer and the Risk Engineer.


Remote Collaboration in practice

Soon after most Zurich employees were instructed to begin working from home, an underwriter asked Kadavy to inspect a 31-story mixed-use building in Dallas to provide critical information to supply an insurance quote. With the building’s general manager on the other end of the Remote Collaboration tool, Kadavy was able to tour several floors of the building.

“We looked at common areas, the lobby, sprinkler risers, the emergency generator, fire pumps and the fire alarm panel,” he said. “These were the most critical areas I needed to see.”

Kadavy was able to confirm that the sprinkler valves were open, there was adequate water pressure on the system and that it was functioning properly. “If I wasn’t able to collect that information, I would’ve had to assume a worst-case scenario, which would be a loss estimate of nearly $400 million instead of a loss estimate of about $14 million,” he said.

Mark Johnston, Senior Risk Consultant for Zurich Canada, was called upon to conduct a virtual site visit of a warehouse in Ontario that was scheduled for annual policy renewal. Using the Remote Collaboration tool, Johnston was able to assess the entire sprinkler system in the building.

“They only had about 55 percent of the property protected by sprinklers,” he said. “That was a big issue that was not previously addressed.” Johnston also discovered an elevated conveyor system that was not adequately protected by sprinklers.

With this new information in hand, the underwriter has a better understanding of the probable maximum loss to the property and can price the coverage accordingly as well as advise the customer about how to minimize their risk.

Nick Fabiano, Underwriting Team Lead, and Everett Avery, Senior Risk Engineering Consultant, of Zurich North America paired up to conduct a virtual site visit of a hotel that was being converted to temporarily house homeless and unsheltered people in transition. When there is shift in exposure, like how a facility is being used, it’s important to understand how that can affect the risk.

Using the Remote Collaboration tool, the two were able to observe the condition of the hotel common areas and guest rooms, identify potential risks and controls and share guidance with the location manager. Avery noticed that the water shutoff valves in the guest rooms were more residential-style than commercial. Because water leaks can cause serious damage to a hotel, he emphasized the importance of knowing how to turn off the water in case of a leak.

Fabiano said the Remote Collaboration went smoothly. “The location manager was able to speak directly to our concerns. The dialogue flowed extremely well and continued throughout the facility review,” he said. “While sitting at my desk at home, I was able to watch, listen and contribute to the visit as if I was physically there. It was an extremely effective process, and we achieved exactly what we set out to do.”


The future of customers relations

Most insurance professionals agree that the industry is a people business and face-to-face meetings will remain an essential part of it. But the spread of COVID-19 has forced underwriters, Risk Engineers and brokers to temporarily rethink how they connect with customers.

Zurich’s forward-thinking approach is paying off in ways that were not anticipated when the Remote Collaboration tool was first conceived.

“It was really ahead of the curve,” said Adam Hurley, Head of Property for Zurich North America Risk Engineering. “The coronavirus just accelerated its use.”

Eng echoed this sentiment, adding that the development of the Remote Collaboration tool was designed to help make Zurich and its customers more resilient.

“Remote Collaboration wasn’t built for a pandemic,” he said, “but we knew it would help Risk Engineers be even more responsive and flexible with customers than usual. We’re glad the tool can help our customers in these uncertain times, and we’re hopeful it will bring value post-pandemic.”



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