[Opinion column written by John Huff]
Bermuda’s Premier David Burt, Cabinet Ministers, career government leaders and other public and private-sector executives have done a tremendous job of managing the unmanageable COVID-19 pandemic. A debt of thanks is owed to all of them—as well as to front-line workers—for protecting our community’s health, families and well-being in this uncertain and fast-changing environment.
From pro-active efforts on testing and contact tracing to its commitment to transparency, the government’s approach has been impressive and the dedication of the island’s essential workers vital. Bermuda has fought to keep infections down, to ensure residents are healthy and fed, and to maintain business continuity of one of the largest re/insurance markets in the world.
Calling upon our collective Bermudian spirit, local and international business, including ABIR member companies, have rallied to raise money for critically-need equipment for our hospital, bring our Bermudian students home with privately-funded rescue flights, house the homeless, and support the “Third Sector’ through unprecedented generosity.
Bermuda re/insurers, which manage over 35 percent of the global reinsurance property and casualty market, may have shut their physical offices, but they have kept commerce open. Our ABIR workforce, made up 74 percent by Bermudians, has met local and international payrolls, adjudicated global claims, and underwritten new business. Bermuda-based IT teams in the private sector and at the Bermuda Monetary Authority have kept technology, transactions and financial reporting humming in a near-seamless fashion, all while working from spare bedrooms and kitchen tables. Bermuda has proven we are adept as a largely digital economy.
As highlighted by the recent Standard & Poor’s ratings agency assessment, however, our economy will be challenged by COVID-19. S&P has changed its outlook for Bermuda from positive to “stable,” due to an expectation of increased debt and negative growth in tourism.
Our health professionals and elected leaders will soon decide when the time is right to gradually re-open the island for the ‘new normal’ of local and global commerce. Just as Sept 11 forever changed the global economy, the catastrophe of COVID-19 is negatively re-inventing our economy. But managing catastrophes—man-made and natural—is where ABIR business leaders in Bermuda excel. And, just as re/insurers stepped up to lead after 9/11, ABIR is committed to leveraging its global expertise for the benefit of Bermuda’s economic recovery effort.
What are the right first steps? How do we guard and grow the Bermuda market’s unique advantages against the challenges of competing jurisdictions that will emerge in the new economy? ABIR stands ready to create jobs and increase financial investment in Bermuda, as priorities. Further ideas to help Bermuda get started include:
-  Call on global executives and job creators, such as re/insurance leaders, to join the national effort to rebuild Bermuda’s economy
-  Leverage the expertise and international perspective of these figures to enhance Bermuda’s competitiveness in the global market
-  Retain committed Bermuda companies and add new ones: grow our existing business footprint by adding companies, people and investment
-  Incentivize job growth
-  Manage a gradual reopening: ABIR companies could voluntarily stagger the physical return of staff to allow the island’s retail economy a head start, if needed
-  Facilitate a restaurant-business partnership to jump-start our local food & beverage industry. International business can stimulate this jobs-rich sector through support of catering, curbside and takeout
-  Reopen and enhance immigration policy and processes to address the backlog and support recovery. Doing so will add jobs and payrolls to our economy
-  Recruit a full-time, economic recovery project manager as an in-kind donation from a global company with world headquarters in Bermuda
-  Use our stable government leadership during COVID-19 as an example of a positive attribute to promote Bermuda around the world
-  Design short-, mid- and long-term goals and objectives of the global “new normal” business environment
-  Be ready to compete with global jurisdictions prepared to exploit recovery efforts to build their own markets and lure our companies and talent
-  Be sensitive to the cost of doing business in Bermuda. We need more companies, more employees and more investment, not a heavier burden on existing companies
Bermuda still has a long way to go to weather the COVID-19 storm, but the re/insurance industry excels in time of disruption and catastrophe.
Managing risk is our strength—and we stand ready to put that experience to work for Bermuda’s future.
– John Huff is CEO of the Association of Bermuda Insurers & Reinsurers [ABIR].