There should be no overlooking the fact that the coronavirus pandemic caught the entire country off guard with its scale and duration. After more than 15 months of this crisis, the remarkable realisation remains the flexibility that was observed on all levels: individuals, societies and states, and also many businesses, were able to adapt to the new circumstances. If the state, society and the business community also tackle how they reappraise the pandemic, honestly and without blinkers, there is hope that we can manage the next pandemic crisis even better. What is more, the elimination of certain weaknesses will have positive implications not only in periods of crisis, but also in less troubled times.
Increased need for action
The reappraisal will likely be most difficult in those areas where it touches on ethical issues. If means of protection and treatment or indeed vaccines are a scarce commodity, the order in which they are used must be regulated. During the Covid-19 crisis politicians and medical experts were called on to decide this order and hence also the chances of people living or dying. In Germany, the question "Who first" was heavily focused on vaccination priorities and fortunately not on ICU beds as it was in Italy, France and Poland.
With any assignment of blame, it should be established how well the vaccination priorities supported the goal of preserving lifespan in the population. Was the vulnerability of an individual, their natural life expectancy and the potential risk that they pose to others sensibly reflected in the order of vaccinations and what can we do better in the next pandemic and thereby preserve more lifespan?
On the political level, a new balance should be struck between the competing concerns of data privacy, health protection and education opportunities under pandemic conditions. Is the right to informational self-determination more important than collective health protection or can it be curtailed for this purpose? Should parents be allowed – by citing data privacy grounds – to block digital transmission of a class and hence restrict access to education for their child's classmates? It is incumbent on politicians to come up with practicable and legally sound methods of implementation in order to better resolve such areas of tension in future pandemics.
There can be no doubt that teachers have shown special commitment to their classes during the coronavirus lockdown. They kept schools running under challenging conditions and they all deserve our thanks for these efforts. Nevertheless, appreciable technical shortcomings in our school system came to light. There is an urgent need for robust systems that can be used to provide digital tuition formats and learning materials. Educators and pupils alike should be provided with the technical equipment and receive extensive training in how to use them. It remains the case to this day that there are schoolchildren who were not able to participate in a single hour of online teaching because, for example, a computer was not available to them at home. That is unacceptable and to the detriment of coming generations. Not only must we ask ourselves why the system of education ministries and schools is so slow to respond, we must also translate the answers to this question into systematic action.
The digitalisation of the education system offers enormous opportunities that will pay off not only in times of crisis. Approached correctly, pupils can be given more individual support while at the same time boosting efficiency and quality. Bold investment in this area is worth our while.
The health system has similar ground to make up when it comes to digitalisation. Here, too, the technical infrastructure is often lacking. It must meet special security requirements given the highly sensitive nature of health-related data. Many public health departments reported infection data too late and only by fax, making interpretation and evaluation more difficult. Another example: if quarantine orders only arrive by post after the quarantine period is over, they are of no benefit to society but still cause costs.
Yet digitalisation in the health system should not be focused exclusively on the reporting infrastructure during pandemics. Standardised interfaces for the transmission of medical and patient data and security-certified networks for such data transfer are helpful not only in times of crisis. They can also improve the efficiency and quality of health services in non-pandemic times. There is no time to lose over this task because the demographics in Germany point to a sharp increase in healthcare costs.
Central task facing insurers
Analysing and mitigating risks, as has been urged for future pandemics in the context of this piece, is a central task facing insurers. It reflects their fundamental endeavour to assess and minimise losses for their customers. In so doing, they make a considerable contribution to the security of individuals and businesses alike. Looking back over the 120 years of our company's history, it is evident that times of crisis have been especially conducive to bringing about lasting learning processes that enable us to become more resilient and capable for the future.
The Talanx Group has similarly paid its dues during the Covid-19 crisis. Coronavirus losses incurred by customers took a toll of almost EUR 1.5 billion on the income statement. Members of staff also became infected with the coronavirus. The organisation of work had to be adjusted: most recently, 90% of the Group's more than 23,000 employees were working from home on a mobile basis. We were successful in reproducing the intimacy we enjoy with our customers not only physically but also through digital communication channels. The insurance terms and conditions in many types of contracts were specified more closely in order to make it more clearly identifiable what is and is not insured in future pandemics. The advice given to corporate customers on risk management was updated.
The exceptional situation enabled us, as a company, to learn a great deal more and to substantially advance our development in a short space of time.
Our learning curve has by no means reached its end. In many cases, it is only when losses are being settled that we gain new knowledge that can be leveraged for future risk management. We shall continue to work on ourselves. And that is something that we, as a society, should also do.
Jan Wicke, Chief Financial Officer Talanx
Guest article Börsen-Zeitung June 2021
This news release contains forward-looking statements which are based on certain assumptions, expectations and opinions of the Talanx AG management. These statements are, therefore, subject to certain known or unknown risks and uncertainties. A variety of factors, many of which are beyond Talanx AG’s control, affect Talanx AG’s business activities, business strategy, results, performance and achievements. Should one or more of these factors or risks or uncertainties materialise, actual results, performance or achievements of Talanx AG may vary materially from those expressed or implied in the relevant forward-looking statement. Talanx AG does not guarantee that the assumptions underlying such forward-looking statements are free from errors nor does Talanx AG accept any responsibility for the actual occurrence of the forecasted developments. Talanx AG neither intends, nor assumes any obligation, to update or revise these forward-looking statements in light of developments which differ from those anticipated.