By Susan Rose
Without a doubt, Lancer Insurance is among the most recognizable names in our industry. Since its founding in the 1980s by the Delaney family, this legacy company—still family-run today—has become part of the chauffeured transportation industry’s DNA, largely due to its mantra of being an ally to its clients every step of the way. Insurance tends to be one of those bottom-line expenses that you don’t truly appreciate until you’re having a bad day, but having someone in your corner during a tough bout can make all the difference in the world.
When the pandemic brought everything to a standstill in March 2020, Lancer was among the first insurance companies to offer a lifeline to a rattled industry with a vehicle suspension program that allowed for a cut in insurance premium rates up to 70 percent, as well as an option that permitted operators to add a vehicle for a day or two as needed. Sharing information and advice, always at its core, was only enhanced with a robust website full of detailed articles, training courses, and the latest news on financial relief programs that operators desperately needed. Of course, that was in addition to the coordinated phone calls, recurring emails, and an employee-manned customer hotline as the Lancer team developed individual solutions for policyholders along the way.
We spoke with Vice President of Safety & Loss Control Bob Crescenzo, Vice President Matt Mushorn, and Assistant Vice President Steven O’Shea about what the past year has been like for them, what Lancer is doing to continue to assist the industry, and where they see signs of recovery.
Chauffeur Driven: How has your company changed in the past year?
Steven O’Shea: We’ve increased the amount of communication that we have with customers to replace the person-to-person interaction we previously had with them. It was a big shift for operations, and we’re still implementing new ways to engage both our client base and brokers. Our primary goal has been to help policyholders get through these hard times, and we’ve been very flexible and adaptable, working with customers on a case-by-case basis to provide solutions. We were the first insurer to come to market with a vehicle suspension program to help alleviate policyholders’ financial stress. The low watermark for us was about 72 percent of vehicles that we insure were suspended.
Bob Crescenzo: One thing that hasn’t changed has been our commitment to our policyholders. We just enhanced it, changing the way we deliver it and providing more resources and additional training information to them. That commitment always will be our driving force here, and I’m proud of the way we’ve proven that commitment over the past year.
SO: Since day one of the COVID shutdown, Bob’s loss control team has been on the phone with Lancer customers nonstop. What may have been handled previously in person shifted to a virtual or phone interaction, but we didn’t lose that sense of intimate, focused-on-your-company service while doing everything we could to support our policyholders in dealing with these challenges.
CD: What were the first few months of the pandemic like for you guys?
Matt Mushorn: At the onset, we had a lot of leadership calls with the [Lancer] owners trying to find ways to help our policyholders, not knowing how long this crisis was going last. At the same time, our offices went remote. Thankfully, our systems enabled us to do so successfully, basically overnight, but it certainly was a shift.
BC: What we learned immediately just by calling and talking to our customers was that it was assuring to them that we were here to help, even though we, like every other company, were still figuring out the best ways to do that. We reiterated that we were fully operational because of our ability to work from home. The last time we had this experience was after Hurricane Sandy (in 2012) when our headquarters building was compromised, and it took us about two or three days to be up and running due to the flooding conditions. With the pandemic lockdown, we never lost a beat. In that first week or so, it became apparent that our policyholders were having a difficult time simply grasping what was happening and they were desperate for guidance on what to do. That’s when we decided to dedicate much of our communication and website to information about federal programs through the CARES Act and the latest health news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Simultaneously, our claims team geared up to manage and settle claims in a way we hadn’t be able to do before because now we had fewer claims coming in. This has been especially helpful in reducing the out-of-pocket expenses of customers who were already experiencing the economic fallout of the COVID shutdown.
SO: It was a matter of parsing through all of the data that was coming out [about COVID], understanding what was happening in terms of economic relief from the government, and really digesting it so we could pass that information along in an easy-to-comprehend way. We painstakingly combed through the CARES Act and passed along the parts that were applicable to our industry. In fact, the resources on our website are available to anyone in the industry not just our policyholders, and anyone can subscribe to our e-blasts. With trade shows canceled, we stepped up our involvement with associations whenever we could. We just wanted to be sure that everyone had access to the information, and we could help them as much as possible. That was the scramble. We were constantly looking for ways to be productive and useful.
CD: Post-pandemic, do you see a scenario where insurance is written differently for our industry?
MM: That’s a deeper discussion especially as the world continues to change. With the high limits (up to $5 million in coverage) we provide, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the nature of the operations and the vehicles being used to provide those services.
SO: Businesses are still operating. So, we’re trying to evaluate each case individually and understand what we can do to help them get through this in the short term. It’s hard for us to project what things will look like after [COVID is under control] as so much still remains uncertain. But for right now, while the situation continues to evolve, we’re just trying to do what makes sense for our customers.
CD: Where are you seeing bright spots for operators?
BC: I would say things are looking up for operators with employee-type shuttles and packages with larger vehicles. We’ve been seeing more work in smaller vehicles with medical transportation. Also, there are individuals who don’t want to use public transportation and, instead, opt to use reputable companies where they know there will be consistency with sanitation practices.
MM: We agree with all that. I’ve also seen a shift from corporate to retail with such trips to wineries depending upon the region. In addition, some of the larger vehicles are moving because they’re able to offer a bit of separation between passengers. This industry has always been remarkably adaptable and we have no doubt that these recent obstacles will be overcome as well.
SO: I’ve noticed that many of the owners I’ve been speaking with are putting me on hold to book a reservation. That’s very good news, but it’s also a change. These owners used to have a team to handle those operational functions, and now they’re doing that on top of running the rest of the business. I can’t imagine the weight of taking on those responsibilities, sometimes for the first time in many years. In a lot of cases, owners are going to be rebuilding their companies from the ground up. It’s an opportunity to fine tune your operation, but it’s also a good reminder that you can burn yourself out.
CD: Have you heard anything regarding passengers and COVID claims?
SO: Our advice to all of our clients is a focus on the company policies that they have put in place to protect workers and customers, and to communicate those procedures to everyone. We recommend including these policies and procedures in their contracts so that customers understand the measures the company is taking to keep clients safe. We feel that, ultimately, it’s imperative that operators follow the measures they’ve implemented to reasonably protect their passengers and employees.
BC: Our strong recommendation is to follow CDC, World Health Organization, federal, state, and local guidelines, and to be aware of updates, so operators don’t assume some information from March 2020 is useful today.
CD: What has the year been like for you personally?
SO: I find it funny that it took Rudy Gobert [of NBA’s Utah Jazz] joking with reporters about COVID and then the next day testing positive to shut down the NBA and really the entire U.S. in March. A few days later, my sister gave birth to my nephew, so we had that worry. My wife was pregnant and gave birth to our second child during the pandemic as well, so we were also concerned about that. We live in a 1,000-square-foot apartment with our other son, who is now a toddler, so we went for a lot of long walks outside. But seriously, the experience of having a child during this crisis and doing what we could to limit everyone’s potential risk of exposure was challenging. My family is close, and it was difficult not being able to see them. However, I’m extremely fortunate that working from home affords us the luxury of being with our kids so much during the day.
BC: Of course not seeing people face to face has been difficult. This is the first time in the 32 years that I’ve worked at Lancer that I haven’t been on the road ... I’ve been at home since March. I had a grandson who was born last year on March 5 who I didn’t get to meet until August. I haven’t seen some of my other grandkids in a year, so we’ve had to forge new ways to stay close. One of the ways I do that is by giving my 8-year-old granddaughter virtual piano lessons, which also lets me spend more time with my music, an outlet for me. Some good things have come out of it; there have been positives. And it’s important for companies to think the same thing. My view is that we’ve all had new opportunities, and life goes on.
MM: I was out of town when the pandemic was first declared, and was worried whether I could get home. Fortunately for me, my kids were in high school, so I didn’t have the teach-at-home issues that parents with younger kids had. But, we did have to deal with sports seasons being canceled, and my daughter just started college in the fall. Then, over the summer a tree fell on part of our house during Hurricane Isaias, so it’s been a roller coaster of a year.
Senior Vice President, Passenger Transportation Underwriting Tim H. Delaney, and second generation of this family-owned company, offered some closing thoughts.
CD: What should operators know about Lancer as we move into a new year—and a new normal?
Tim H. Delaney: We’ve been here since 1985 and we’re not going anywhere. We’re doing everything in our power within every division of our company to get as much information as possible into the hands of our customers and brokers and to the chauffeured transportation industry at large, and to help as many people as we can make it to the other side of this. Lancer is a small family business built on transportation, and we remain committed to being a long-term trusted ally that has defined our company from the very beginning. [CD0221]