PROTECTION has been the operative word for everyone for over a year now, protecting oneself, family members, co-workers and friends from the harsh and sometimes fatal effect of the pandemic. Consciousness for protection of lives and property is first and foremost in our minds as we traverse the difficult year that was. A previous column in this paper discussed the performance of the life insurance companies in providing their insured with the right products and services in the time of the pandemic.

What about the nonlife insurance industry? How did they react and provide protection to the insured? Nonlife insurance refers to insurance of property (residences, commercial buildings, factories, etc.), motor vehicles, airplanes, ships and cargo and personal accident, among others. Based on the data provided by the Insurance Commission (IC) website, the gross premiums written of the nonlife companies for 2020 decreased by only nine percent compared to the 2019 figures in spite of the difficulties experienced during the year. We had expected the reduction could be a lot more considering offices were closed for business for some time. The IC made representations to include insurance among the businesses exempted from quarantine in order that companies could operate even with a skeleton force to service the requirements of the insuring public. The companies relaxed some of their requirements on premium payments and claims servicing; thus, allowing for longer grace periods in paying the policies and simplifying claims filing procedures.

But the best response the companies made was to immediately install, or for some, fine-tune, the computerization of their operations. Before the year ended, many companies had digitized their sales servicing, collection of premiums and payment of commissions of their producers. Other processes like checking the status of one's claim online and getting quotes for new or increased coverage were also developed to make servicing of clients faster and easier.

With the availability of data, seeking reinsurance support from global reinsurers for the big and complicated risks is no longer a major issue.

Since the companies can immediately address the needs of the clients and the producers even if some of the employees are working from home, insurance protection continues to be in the clients' minds. They could do a live chat with the sales force and explain their respective concerns and problems. Issues are resolved fast online. In pre-pandemic times, one had to either visit the company offices or meet in some coffee shop to discuss terms and conditions. It will be no surprise at all if business will be transacted online in the future making use of the infrastructure installed by these companies. Face-to-face selling or doing business, especially insurance, continues to be the best way but we now have another good alternative.

Congratulations to the insurance companies and the people behind them for being innovative and immediately adapting to the changes brought about by the pandemic. Due recognition should also be given to our IC, the commissioner and his staff, for being very open-minded about the changes proposed by the industry. Realizing the initial difficulties of preparing the reports required, they extended deadlines for submission of said reports. The commission was quick to promulgate rules on online selling and servicing which made it easy for the industry to craft its own procedures.

All these efforts ensure we continue to get adequate covers for property and other insurance assets further improved if the taxes on non-life insurance covers can be reduced. The Philippine Insurers and Reinsurers Association (PIRA) continues its efforts to have the documentary stamp tax reduced by one percent every year for the next five years thus reducing the cost to the insured. PIRA is also working on the removal of the value-added tax on reinsurance transactions to facilitate placement of the large risks.

It is heartening to note in spite of the pandemic, the non-life insurance industry remains to be strong and stable as shown by the total assets and net worth of the non-life companies amounting to P280 billion and P106 billion, respectively, as of the end of 2020.