CEO Bill Hallan: Accepting a world full of risks

MRA President and CEO Bill Hallan
Bill Hallan, MRA President and CEO
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We live in a world of risk, yet for the past 12 months, the entire world has collectively locked down in an attempt to reduce the chance of contracting COVID. While certainly not a fool’s errand, it has undoubtedly changed our psyche and our perception of what constitutes reasonable risk. What started as a two-week pause turned into a year-long exercise of executive power. With businesses still operating under capacity restrictions, and children (including my own) still attending virtual school, the question becomes, what constitutes a reasonable amount of COVID risk, because the answer cannot be zero.

Despite the availability of several vaccines, COVID is likely here to stay and become an endemic (a disease that continues to circulate globally in certain areas for years). However, draconian government restrictions cannot last indefinitely, and our world must return to normal in order for our economy to thrive. But will individuals (and retail customers) be ready, willing and able to accept some level of COVID risk after riding out a global pandemic?

We accept risk everyday, whether it is driving, flying, scuba diving or skiing. Each activity could result in serious injury or death, yet we weigh the consequences and proceed. Usually we’re not even making a conscious decision, the risk is merely an accepted element of the activity. We take steps to mitigate danger, whether it is wearing a seatbelt, helmet, or in this case, a facemask, but life as normal proceeds.

Both Michigan Retailers Association and Retailers Insurance Company accept risk each day as part of their respective business models. For MRA, we accept chargeback risk. This fiscal year we’ll process approximately $1.4 billion in customer transactions for our merchants. Some transactions become chargebacks, and uncollectible chargebacks can be a liability for MRA. For RIC, we issue workers’ compensation insurance to our policyholders. By its nature, insurance is an assumption of risk. Both companies continued full operations during the pandemic, even though both chargeback exposure and workers’ compensation liability increased.

From day one of the pandemic we’ve reassured Michigan consumers that shopping is safe. Of course no activity is devoid of all perils, but shopping is a necessary part of our lives. As we emerge from a lost year, I hope all Michiganders will feel comfortable acclimating back to normal life and reassuming some risk.

Without accepting risk, it is impossible to enjoy all that life has to offer. For example, in early February, the Hallan family ventured to Florida for a few days to visit my sister and parents. While we were there, we took the kids to Legoland (for the boys) and to Universal so my daughter could get her rollercoaster fix (which she gets from neither her mother or me). The five of us crammed into a hotel room and spent more time than we should playing hopscotch around our suitcases. Upon our return, I remarked to my daughter that “wasn’t it nice that we were home and had our own space to spread out.” She replied, “yeah, but I kind of liked it.” She cherished the close quarters and that quality family time that we never would have had if we didn’t accept some level of risk.