SAIF: Stepping Up During COVID-19

Brand Story – How one workers’ comp insurance company is helping Oregon’s businesses through a crisis.

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 When the world momentarily froze with the arrival of Covid-19, workers’ comp insurance company SAIF did not hunker down. It stepped up…big.

In a matter of 10 days, SAIF deployed a coronavirus workers’ safety fund, allocating $25 million to help businesses purchase equipment or services to protect workers. Since then, the not-for-profit company has helped more than 3,400 employers of all sizes across 36 Oregon counties.

“The idea was to move quickly to get money into the hands of businesses who were hardest hit,” explains Kerry Barnett, CEO, SAIF. “We received tremendous feedback from companies about what a difference it made.”

Kerry thumb 7 16 20Kerry Barnett, CEO, SAIF

These funds covered personal protection equipment, cleaning services and supplies, mental health services and facility modifications, such as plexiglass shields or extra spaces.

Anticipating the financial strain that COVID-19 would bring, SAIF also announced flexible payment terms for policyholders.

“We placed a moratorium on cancellations of policies for nonpayment, and we did that in advance of the regulators,” he adds. “We also told businesses they would not need to pay workers’ compensation premiums on wages paid to furloughed employees.”

While hustling to support the continuation of its clients’ business activities, SAIF was adapting its own operations to COVID-19 too. Remote consultations became the norm. Field staff, from investigators to auditors, transitioned to using video and digital tools.

Workplace safety consultations expanded to incorporate new COVID-19 realities and guidelines.

“We’re not experts on infectious disease, but we are pretty knowledgeable when it comes to workplaces,” Barnett says. “So, when the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] releases guidelines, we can work with businesses to make it happen. There are so many nitty-gritty details that make the difference. For example, in a lot of manufacturing facilities, workers usually share tools, but all of a sudden, we need to worry about disease transmission.”

As a workers’ compensation and benefits company, SAIF also began receiving COVID-19-related claims, about 90% from health care, residential care facilities and first responders. Most cases involve employees who think they may have been exposed, forcing them to miss work as they quarantine and await testing. Without a roadmap, SAIF implemented a framework to resolve successfully this growing number of claims.

From financial support to guidance on workplace retrofitting to virus-related claims, SAIF has run at full throttle since the world changed in early 2020. The support it was able to provide its business clients during these critical months reflects a bigger story of innovation and culture that began years ago.

“You can’t wait until the crisis hits to prepare,” Barnett explains. “The key was creating strength in advance that we could draw on during a crisis.”

Kerry Mike Ian freeze(From left) Ian Williams, Kerry Barnett, and Mike Watters film a company webcast.

For SAIF, that preparation boils down to financial strength, sound technology, and a strong culture. To go above and beyond for its 54,000 policyholders, it relies on all three.

Strong fiscal management makes the company a source of strength for its clients and stakeholders during vulnerable times, allowing for initiatives like the worker safety fund and a $100 million policyholder dividend.

“We’re an insurance company, so financial strength is important,” Barnett notes. “Any organization that wants to go in lean finds they don’t have the reservoir to draw on when they need it. Again, it’s not so much what you do once the crisis hits, but what you’ve built prior.”

As many companies have learned, investing in technology and infrastructure during times of high demand triggered by a crisis proves challenging. Putting in the work in advance – for example, updating its document management system, securing equipment and transitioning to the cloud – let SAIF get ahead of the crisis rather than work to catch up.

Its IT efforts began four years ago with a complete system upgrade.

“You have to put these things on a schedule and not wait until it breaks in order to replace it,” Barnett adds. “Technology is an essential piece of infrastructure.”

With upgraded technology and a number of employees already working remotely, SAIF smoothly transitioned employees to their home offices 10 days before the stay-at-home order arrived.

Additionally, its newly built headquarters features an open layout that encourages people to work in public areas on their company-issued laptops, building a flexible workspace approach that has served them well during this time.

That agile outlook stems from the resilient company culture that SAIF has worked to prioritize during the pandemic.  

As nearly all of its 1,050-person staff began working from home, management set out to keep them connected with one another in small and large ways. Early on, it sent everyone a coffee mug and encouraged them to schedule a 30-minute virtual coffee break with one of their colleagues. For his part, Barnett aims to call a couple employees every day to check in.

“You’ve got to establish a very strong culture within the organization because eventually that culture will be tested,” Barnett concludes. “This is one of those times.”

Instead of turning inward, SAIF remains focused on its customers. In return, its customers serve as the company’s North Star, illuminating the path forward.


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.