Tackling the talent crisis in insurance

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how insurance can operate in a new way and excel, and it must now capitalise on new opportunities or risk losing out on a generation of talent 


Insurers across the world are in the midst of a talent battle as the industry continues to modernise. Businesses are launching a range of initiatives, including apprenticeships and partnerships with schools, colleges and universities, to help attract and retain talent, with a particular focus on IT and data analytics. This is in response to customers’ increasing demand for digital interactions with their insurers. 

Danny Harmer, chief people officer at Aviva, says: “The challenge for us, and for all organisations, is identifying the products customers want and need, and how we respond to that. 

“It’s about staying connected to customers because at the moment they typically only have contact with insurers when they have to.” 

AXA has invested £800,000 in a data academy designed to upskill its workforce. The academy, which spans all divisions of insurance including claims, risk, human resources and finance, is currently offering 18-month data analytics training programmes to employees who would like to develop their performance. 

Similarly, America’s CSAA Insurance Group last year invested in a six-month pilot apprenticeship programme within its IT department, which it’s now planning to roll out to other business areas. The insurer is also considering an apprenticeship scheme specifically for veterans.

Meanwhile, Aviva’s data science practice, Quantum, has partnered with the University of Cambridge to research data science and identify ways in which data can be used to support the business.

Nevertheless, Deloitte’s 2021 Insurance Outlook survey, published last December, reveals 79 per cent of respondents believe the pandemic exposed shortcomings in their digital capabilities and transformation plans. 

The industry’s image remains a major stumbling block to modernisation efforts. “Insurance has this stigma that it’s an old boys’ club and it’s still held back by that,” says William Gallimore, UK managing director of specialist insurance recruiter HFG. 

A number of insurers have pledged to diversify their workforce in response. CSAA is committed to increasing its proportion of female employees and recruits from diverse racial and ethic backgrounds, which Bruce Baumgarten, its talent executive, believes will enhance the ability of the business to relate to, and support, its diverse customer base. 

Baumgarten believes that a willingness by insurers to recruit individuals without an insurance background will further help to diversify the industry. “The typical insurance person is a white male and, if you keep saying insurance is a prerequisite to a job, you’re going to keep getting white male candidates,” he points out. 

UK insurers are also working hard to promote diversity across their businesses. Aviva is a case in point after recruiting Harmer, former chief people officer at Metro Bank, and Amanda Blanc as its first female chief executive officer. Harmer says: “It’s important as an industry that we look outside insurance; it’s a healthy thing to do.” 

As well as a diversified workforce, applicants are demanding more flexible working practices, including more informal office attire and the ability to work from home.

This is one thing insurers are already delivering on, says Gallimore. “I think the pandemic has really helped, perversely. The Lloyd’s of London underwriting floors were closed in March 2020 for the first time in the insurance market’s 334-year history. So until then, every day people had to go into Lloyd’s, they had to work in the City five days a week, nine to five, and they had to wear a tie, which I find bonkers. Insurance could never have worked at home, but it’s been forced to and it works; it’s had to work.” 

This has certainly been the case for AXA. Lucinda Charles-Jones, group human resources director, AXA UK and Ireland, says that the insurer has been forced to accelerate its efforts to adopt more of a hybrid way of working.

“For some employees this might mean more flexible hours, less time in our offices and only making the trip when there is a real purpose for doing so or for easier access to the tools needed to best serve our customers,” she says. 

But perhaps insurers’ biggest challenge is in tackling prospective applicants’ lack of understanding about the industry. Professor Brenda P. Wells, director of the risk management and insurance programme at East Carolina University, explains: “Part of the problem is people don’t understand insurance and see what opportunities are there and the insurance industry is not doing a good enough job marketing those opportunities.” 

Christopher Parsons, professor of insurance at Cass Business School at the University of London, agrees. “Banking and accountancy are fairly attractive. Kids think of lots of money and manipulating big sums. When young people make a career choice or choose a degree, they are very young and their contact with insurance will be virtually zero. Insurance will just be something their parents complain about. It’s always a grudge purchase,” he says.

In the United States, a national programme called Invest aims to educate high school and college students about insurance, financial services and risk management. A number of insurers, including Aviva, RSA Insurance Group and CSAA, are also working with schools, colleges and universities to help students learn how the insurance industry works and explore the variety of roles on offer. 

Clare Connor, professional development consultant (apprenticeships) at RSA, says: “People don’t understand that you can come and be a cyberanalyst or go into sports insurance.” 

Insurers also need to tap into, and showcase, the meaningful work undertaken across the industry. As CSAA’s Baumgarten says: “It’s a really noble industry of people who just love to help people. Our very purpose is helping our customers prevent, prepare for and recover from life’s uncertainties and I think that purpose really aligns great with what you hear millennials and Generation Z are looking for in a company.” 

Insurers’ modernisation efforts are clearly underway, but by their own admission there’s plenty of work still to do to drag the industry into the 21st century, and attract and develop the talent it needs.

Case study: RSA Insurance Group

RSA Insurance Group is considering launching a range of initiatives to attract new talent to the business. These include a graduate training programme, a returnship scheme for people resuming employment after a career break and a national work experience programme, while also expanding its current internships. These would run alongside the insurer’s 35 apprenticeship programmes, which were launched within every department in 2017. 

Clare Connor, RSA’s professional development and apprenticeships consultant, says: “The perception of the industry among younger people is something that we obviously need to change. We put a massive emphasis on bringing in talent through our apprenticeship programmes and I ask all our apprentices to go to their old schools and colleges and start telling their story, to get students to see the industry is not what they might think.”

RSA uses the apprenticeship schemes to develop and retain its existing talent, as well as to attract new talent to the business. There are currently 310 people, aged 18 to 62, some from in-house and others recruited externally, taking part in the schemes. 

Connor explains: “We know pay rises might not be as forthcoming as they once were. Employees are really looking for stability, for growth, to accelerate through the business and for professional qualifications that might give them the edge over other people. We try to get people to see there’s longevity in the business.”