The true test of a leading organization isn't how it performs in good times--it's how it handles a crisis. With the arrival of COVID-19 in March 2020, the U.S. entered uncharted territory, but New York life was prepared.
New York Life has a strong history of providing support and leadership in turbulent times. Former CEO Ted Mathas pointed to the importance of this history in a message of reassurance he gave to our employees, policy owners, and the communities we serve.
He said: “What should make you confident is not just our longevity (175 years of service), but that we have chosen to stay true to the core values upon which our company was built (financial strength, integrity, and humanity) and to remain rooted in our unique identity as a mutual company with no shareholders so we can focus on our policy owners, placing our highest priority on you and your well-being.
“Nothing matters more than the health and safety of those we love. We deeply understand that, and know that together, we will get through this crisis.”
Drawing on lessons from the past
One of the signs of good leadership is good planning. And at New York Life, planning is in our DNA.
New York Life had run financial scenarios drawing from the lessons of many other crises the company had endured: the U.S. Civil War, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, two world wars, innumerable natural disasters, 9/11, and the recession of 2007-09.
The company knew that any of these catastrophes had the potential to cause severe harm to its employees, its policy owners, and its assets. Protecting them all was paramount. To be prepared, the company stress tested its balance sheet every year, modeling the impact that disasters from the past would have on the present.
“We’ve been informally analyzing the impact of all sorts of events on our in-force liabilities for decades, stress testing them to create a range of potential scenarios,” said Joel Steinberg, New York Life’s former Chief Risk Officer and Chief Actuary, and a senior advisor to former CEO Ted Mathas.
By the time COVID-19 hit, New York Life had already completed its annual stress test for a pandemic. That freed management to focus on helping people rather than worrying about the company’s financial strength--which was especially critical at a time of volatile equity values and near-zero interest rates.
Showing leadership through support
Providing leadership in a crisis meant, for New York Life, taking steps to help and support others, and set an example. This included:
• Creating, building, and launching the Covid hub on newyorklife.com in only a matter of days.
• Providing state-by-state FAQs for our policy owners so that queries could be quickly answered, and so that people had as much information as possible to inform their decisions.
• Transitioning 2,000 service professionals from working in an office to working from home within two weeks, ensuring clients could easily make changes to their accounts. The company also enhanced the digital service options available to clients on newyorklife.com.
• Protecting the health and safety of our employees by taking actions that included suspending all international and domestic business travel, and increasing the use of virtual communication capabilities across the company.
• Continuing to give back: The New York Life Foundation worked with Tuesday’s Children, providing a $1.2 million grant to combat the unprecedented magnitude of parent and caregiver loss during the pandemic. The Love Takes Action awards program was administered by the New York Community Trust and enabled New York Life employees and financial professionals to nominate extraordinary individuals serving their communities in response to the pandemic. Grants totaling $1.75 million were awarded. The Brave of Heart fund offered financial support to the families of healthcare workers and volunteers whose lives were lost to COVID-19.
Our mutuality, without the distraction of outside shareholders, allows us to maintain a long-term view and stay rooted in our core values of financial strength, humanity, and integrity. These values hold true even more so in turbulent times.
As former CEO Ted Mathas said during the global financial crisis in 2008, “We were built for times like these.”
Resilient leaders are able to help and support others. And we are proud at New York Life to take this leadership role. As we continue to face the impact of COVID-19, our priority remains that of supporting the well-being of our clients, colleagues, and communities.