“We will come out of this stronger” ⁠— Charles Brindamour: CEO of Intact Financial Corporation

Published by Speaking of Business Podcast on

Transcript

Goldy Hyder:
I’m Goldy Hyder of the Business Council of Canada. Welcome to Speaking of Business. This is a challenging time for Canadians. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in millions of job losses and businesses going under. The country is starting to take the first cautious steps towards reopening the economy, but we know it’s going to be a long journey. So how do we build a stronger, healthier economy while also caring for those most effected by the shutdown? Charles Brindamour is the CEO of Intact Financial Corporation, Canada’s largest property and casualty insurer. What is he seeing and what is this prescription for a robust recovery? Let’s find out. Welcome to the podcast, Charles.

Charles Brindamour:
Thanks Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, talking to the CEO of an insurance company, let’s start with risk. Did you ever see this one coming?

Charles Brindamour:
Well, I think pandemic, or preparation for pandemic, is certainly part of some of the things that we think about in terms of preparing our own operations, but one that is global in nature, and that is impacting pretty much everyone on the planet and most, if not all, businesses certainly far more pervasive than anything we would have prepared for. That being said, Goldy, 99 per cent of our people are at home, 16,000 people service is strong and we can continue to help Canadians in good and in bad times. So to a certain extent we had a number of tools in our toolbox to be prepared for this and help Canadians in good and bad and in very bad times.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, that’s good to know. I guess 99 per cent is a fantastic achievement on your part, but as you know, there are many businesses, many of whom are customers of yours or partners of yours that are going through a really challenging time. Tell us what you’re seeing in terms of business but also what you’re learning about people and their resiliency at a time like this.

Charles Brindamour:
So clearly Goldy, we protect one in five Canadian families, one in four small to mid-size businesses and present in the SME space across North Americas. We have a good lens on what people are going through and it’s hard, very hard. I have to applaud our governments for moving very quickly to help individuals across North America and in Canada in particular. But I’ll tell you, the SME space is in my mind, the one that is most impacted in Canada and put yourself in the shoes of an entrepreneur who does not have clarity as to what the next month, the next years will be. It’s hard, then they have to make decisions daily to stay alive. So what we’re seeing in the area we’re focused on is really helping entrepreneurs stay afloat, keep running their businesses when they can and then coaching them to reopen.

Goldy Hyder:
You mentioned the role of governments and I agree with you, I think much must be said for those of us who understand how governments move, just how quickly they did move and to get relief and put a floor underneath this thing so that we can have a foundation to build on. So what have you been doing when you’re engaging with government? What can government and business do together now, as we head into this restart and recovery phase?

Charles Brindamour:
Well, Goldy, let me first, maybe, touch upon what we’ve done for customers, because this very much informed how we were able to advise governments on reopening. We’ve helped so far 800,000 Canadians with about $245 million of either financing or premium reduction and allocated about 700 of our employees, we kept all the jobs at Intact to help people and businesses keep on track. We’ve also doubled [inaudible] in Alberta with the oil and gas sector, so introduced a number of relief measures in that province specifically as well, to deal with the fact that it’s really hard in the energy sector. And, not only did it make the big difference for people, but we have a very good lens of who needs relief and who’s used relief. And we spent a fair bit of time with governments on that very point, Goldy, just to make sure that as we think about the next steps here, who needs more help and where should we re-open, we were able to provide governments with a picture.

Charles Brindamour:
When it comes to the discussions we’ve had with government and the input we’ve been giving we’ve helped them on kind of make observations and put on relief as I’ve mentioned, we’ve offered field support for tracing as well as data management. We have yet to take us up on the offer. We’ve also worked with governments to talk about re-opening strategy because, as we map our customer base, our view is that 80 plus per cent of SMEs can work in a very safe environment to limit transmission. Our message to government, really, speed is good. So clearly, that was one of the strengths of the response, but risk management needs to be embedded in the steps we take. And what is risk management? Well, risk management is preparedness, first. We’ve got to be prepared for a second wave, whether it’s regional, whether it’s provincial, whether it’s national in nature, we need to learn from what we’ve done in the first wave to prepare for the second wave. And our second area of focus with government, Goldy, is to say, the efforts need to be based on risk.

Charles Brindamour:
In other words, we need to take a more robust step to protect our vulnerables. We need to leverage all the no downside measures that we can. But then as we look at curtailing transmission on the industrial base or the economic base, we need to be far more surgical in shutting down parts of the economy and speed up the reopening. And that’s very much about leadership, Goldy. Our leaders need to continue and step up the efforts to inspire confidence because people make decisions on the basis of trust and confidence. And I think that government have played a role there, but we need some more inspiration when it comes to confidence going forward.

Goldy Hyder:
Yeah. I think those things add up to hope, don’t they?

Charles Brindamour:
They do. They do. Absolutely.

Goldy Hyder:
Now of course, in your business, you interact with both the federal government as well as provincial governments. What are you seeing? How’s Canada working?

Charles Brindamour:
Well, I think the provinces seem to be working well together. And I think the province has very much recognized that, yes, it’s very important to protect the vulnerable, but there’s a socioeconomic cost that’s very significant. The fed understands that as well, but I would say informal relationships between the provinces seem to be good. That being said, I think that the federal government who’s also moving fast and doing a good job. We need to ensure there’s a greater degree of coordination between the federal and the provinces, because coordination, when businesses are thinking about the future and are thinking about reopening, ideally there’s some consistency, which of course takes risks in mind. But I think between the fed and the provinces a bit more cooperation would be helpful. But I think the country is working through this in a very constructive fashion. The dialogue is open. People are accessible and very constructive.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s good. Good to hear. There’s always room for improvement. I think the coordination consistency is certainly the point I hear the most, but overall we’re lucky certainly with where we find ourselves. Not everybody is lucky of course, there’s a lot of people out there who have beyond businesses have been taking a personal toll the situation has. What is Intact doing in its ongoing CSR community support programs to help people navigate this crisis?

Charles Brindamour:
So Goldy, I think that helping society for us is not CSR, helping people, businesses and society is our mission. So the first step is what I’ve talked about earlier, it’s to date, 800,000 Canadians, 245 million of relief and this is by far the biggest area of help that we’re providing. The second thing is that life goes on, natural disasters goes on and our operations are up and running, ready to step up as we’ve shown in Fort Mc last month to help Canadians. On the community impact front, we’ve allocated and given about $3.5 million to two key areas. First, helping those in greater needs in particular on food support and in particular with an organization called Meals on Wheels, our own people called our customers that were being vulnerable to ask how they were doing from a food point of view and whether we could provide help.

Charles Brindamour:
So that’s an example, but we’ve supported the number of programs across the country on that front and across North America. And we just we’re in the process of finalizing a support program with hospital network around the plasma treatment to help fight COVID-19. So we’ve been helping on a number of fronts but food security has been a big area of focus for us.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, thanks for that. I mean, obviously in a time like this, everyone who needs the help is grateful for it. A lot of that going on across the country. Of course, we can’t continue in terms of what we’re seeing. We know that we’re going to have to coexist with COVID for a period of time. How do you see things evolving in terms of both the restart and ultimately the recovery? Where are the opportunities here?

Charles Brindamour:
I think Goldy, when I’ve shared my perspective on restart, which is one that is risk-based, in other words, be more bold, and aggressive, and protecting the vulnerables and enforcing measures that will reduce transmission, but we need to be far more surgical and risk based in reopening the economy and ensuring we don’t shut down the economy down the road in the broad brush fashion. I think that is key. The bigger question for me is, how do we come out of this stronger as a nation? And I would say that when you look at crisis of that nature, when you look at natural disasters, which obviously this is not a natural disaster, but from an economic shut down point of view it certainly mirrors that, what is clear to us is that it’s not like there’s a ton of new trends emerging out of crisis, but the trends that’s were in place before the crisis tend to accelerate.

Charles Brindamour:
And therefore, our perspective is that Canadians will want more for their money. Savings rate is likely to go up. Canadians will want more for their money. Digital engagement will become increasingly important and that’s businesses. We need to make sure that we meet and exceed those expectations going forward. If we look at the business side of things, when we look at the SMEs, we will lose a number of SMEs in this crisis and that’ll take a long time to recover. So supporting small businesses like we will see, we think a polarization between small and midsize businesses where the midsize businesses will become greater.

Charles Brindamour:
And in my mind, turning our attention to winning with small and supporting consultation of midsize businesses will be really important. And I think in all of this, Goldy, businesses like ours, big businesses who have played an important part in the development of the country need to step up our game to find solutions to society’s problems, which will be exacerbated as a result of this, income disparity, skill gap, big businesses need to step up to address a number of these issues where they can and need to step up as well to support funding for smaller businesses and emerging industries here in Canada. I would say the thing we need to do a better job of as a nation and I believe everybody now gets it, is that prosperity requires a kind of make resilience and a kind of make resilience requires risk management that is being prepared and thoughtful about where we take risk as a nation.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s very well said. I think the hashtag these days is, in this together. And I think a lot of people think about it as in the crisis together, but the fact is we need to be in it together, coming out of it as you’ve noted and a real opportunity for business to lead and work with others to build back better as we like to say here. So thank you for that. Let me just ask if I can, as a final question, part of this podcast is to help leaders learn about being a leader and about what leadership is, crises of course present their own challenges. And I’m wondering if you can share with the listener, what have you learned about yourself as a leader? What are some of the lessons that you would think you want to share with leaders who may have to manage their own crises down the road?

Charles Brindamour:
Well, Goldy, one of the blessing I had myself as a leader was that I’ve been to a number of crises we’ve created [inaudible] its current form in a way, right in the middle of a massive crisis. My first leadership experience was in Eastern Europe, in years where the inflation was above 100%. And I’ve learned tremendously from those experiences has helped here in COVID. But one indeed has to make sure that you don’t miss the opportunity to learn from those historical moments. And I would say, one key point that comes out of this as you see your top talent step up, like there’s no tomorrow. And the lesson there for me as leaders and as Canadian leaders is that we need to take risk on top talent. In other words, promote our top talents faster and expose them to a much greater extent then the response is phenomenal.

Charles Brindamour:
And you see it very clearly in crisis. I’d say that behaviors that are really important and what I’ve been working with over 2000 leader at Intact over the past three months is a number of behaviors that are key. One, being calm. People look at you, there’s a lot of anxiety, it’s unsettling, you ought to be calm. Two, it’s very important to be fact-based and objective. We’re getting all sorts of information from various sources. There’s a lot of emphasis on the bad scenarios, but the context is kind of lost and people are exposed to the bad things and the objective that is sort of out of what people are exposed to. As leaders, people look up to you, you ought to be objective and fact-based. The third thing is very important to be present, to be out there, to communicate so that people feel like you’ve got their back and you’re looking ahead.

Charles Brindamour:
And the last thing I’ll say is that being optimistic and hopeful is so critical. We will be out of this in relative terms, we’re in good shape as a nation, and this will pass. And therefore, as leaders in my mind, it’s very important to give a sense of hope as well because people look up to us. And I would say, I looked at the leaders that Intact, the 2000 people I was talking about, and they’ve done a phenomenal job displaying those behaviors in the last three months and I think we’ll come out of this stronger.

Goldy Hyder:
I can’t think of a more hopeful, factual, optimistic place to conclude than to commonly say, “This too shall pass.” And thank you Charles, for helping shed some light on what you’re doing to make it so.

Charles Brindamour:
Goldy. Thank you very much. It was my pleasure to be your guest and I’ll wish you good luck. Stay safe. Good luck to all.

Goldy Hyder:
Charles Brindamour is the CEO of Intact Financial Corporation. If you would like to hear more of our speaking of business conversations about the COVID-19 crisis, you can find them all wherever you get your podcasts, or simply go to our website, SpeakingOfBiz.ca, that’s biz with a zed. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder, Thank you for joining us. Stay safe.

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, we’ve temporarily suspended our regularly scheduled series of conversations with Canadian CEOs. But we’re not going away. Instead, we’re going to pivot to the health emergency itself. We’re going to explore the impact on companies and workers across the country. And we’re going to find out how business leaders are responding to crisis.

“We will come out of this stronger.”  Charles Brindamour, CEO of Intact Financial Corporation, reflects on the need to build confidence as the economy restarts, what he has learned from dealing with other crises, and how Intact is helping the most vulnerable with food support.

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