Church Mutual weathering the storm of COVID-19 pandemic
As most could agree, preparedness is an essential element to response and recovery from most any adverse event. Preparedness certainly has proven instrumental to Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I., and its response to the COVID-19 crisis.
From the development of a disaster response and recovery plan, to making infrastructure changes to enable employees the ability to work from home if needed, Church Mutual has made preparation for the unexpected a high priority.
But as Church Mutual President and CEO Rich Poirier explains, disaster response hasn’t always been a top priority for the Merrill area’s top employer.
“The catastrophic tornado that struck the Merrill area in April of 2011 was a real wake-up call for the organization. We came to realize a natural disaster such as that could have shut our business down completely. Following that event, we became even more aware of the number of employees we had focused in the Merrill area,” he explains.
“What came out of that was creating the position of Chief Risk Officer. One of the key responsibilities of that position is to develop and oversee a contingency plan for when there are threats to our people, our community and organization. As part of those efforts, we also implemented a business continuity, disaster response and recovery plan, a plan that includes the option to deploy our employees to work remotely. Prior to 2011, very few employees had that capability.”
While a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic may not exactly have come to mind in the development stages of the company’s contingency plans, Poirier states the adaption to the current circumstances has gone well.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we ever think we would have to implement this in response to something like the Coronavirus,” Poirier said. “I am pleasantly surprised how well things have gone. The transitions and changes we planned for and implemented in response to Coronavirus have gone very smoothly, here and around the country.”
In fact, the company’s response to the pandemic began in mid-February, leading to the implementation of the incident management and recovery plan in early March.
“When the Governor issued the ‘Safer at Home’ order in late March, we were already winding down the re-deployment of our employees to work from home. This was due to us implementing our response plan several days prior. Transitioning our employees from onsite work stations to their own virtual offices at home was very seamless.”
Of the approximately 1,244 employees Church Mutual employs nationwide, 808 are located in the Merrill area alone. Approximately 770 of those employees now work remotely.
“If you walk into our headquarters building today, you would see a skeleton crew of sorts, around 30 people,” Poirier adds. “That crew consists of employees who are essential to maintaining operations that cannot be done remotely, such as maintenance, some claims and commission processing, and mailroom and distribution functions.”
Even though a vast majority of employees are now working from home, Church Mutual continues to take measures to promote employee safety during this time, including the ordering and deployment of several hundred masks, expected to arrive next week. In addition, several employees have recently volunteered to begin making masks, in accordance with CDC guidelines, to distribute to those in need. While the incident management plan and its measures have helped the company to keep employees safe, Church Mutual is also making plans for returning employees to its facilities. The company will be taking a thoughtful, strategic approach.
“We will start bringing employees back onsite gradually, in a staged manner, following state and federal guidelines to keep employees as safe as possible.” Poirier adds.
As for the future, Poirier is steadfast in not only assuring Church Mutual Insurance Company will keep the health and safety of its employees and the community first and foremost, he’s also firm on company’s financial stability and perseverance through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Church Mutual had a very strong first quarter, with positive earnings and good top-line growth,” he continues. “We headed into this crisis with some good tailwinds, and early indications of the second quarter are very encouraging. But we do expect the second quarter to be challenging for the economy. Even though there may be some challenges ahead, I want to emphasize that we are strong and able to meet our obligations. And we are committed to keeping all employees on the payroll.
“While these may be unprecedented times, it is business as usual at Church Mutual, or as close as possible given the current circumstances. As a company, we are financially solid, and we will weather this. Unlike many companies, we are blessed to not have to contemplate furloughs or layoffs during this crisis.
“There will be no layoffs. There will be no employee furloughs. We will keep our workforce intact and moving forward.”