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Insurance leaders – time to change the conversation

Written by Scott Vincent for The Insurer

The current talent shortage has led to a growing number of voices calling for the sector to recognise that it has a brand problem in relation to talent. The issue is long-term, deep and – unless addressed – will I believe seriously constrain the success of our industry.

A humorous but depressing post on LinkedIn recently showed video clips of young people being asked if they’d consider insurance as a career – their replies were telling. All saw it as “boring” or “just about finance”, with the priceless line from a little boy at the end: “Insurance? Erm… No.”

At the Insurindex Leading Underwriter Awards last week, London Market Group CEO Caroline Wagstaff asked who in the room had chosen insurance as a career. Of the 80+ attendees only one person put up their hand. Wagstaff went on to quote some scary stats that the percentage of over 60s in the market had increased by 30 percent while the same number for under 35s was contracting.

Gracechurch’s research conducted earlier this year shows that insurer and broker employer brands are viewed very negatively by those working in the industry itself, meaning that the market has a low level of internal positivity. If we don’t value it, why should anyone else?

And yet, despite the dire warnings, there was a truly positive vibe at the awards event – I happily announced that the number of female leading underwriters had increased (for the first time in seven years) and all the winners I spoke with were refreshingly youthful and very upbeat! Lesley Harding of Liberty Specialty Markets, accepting the Fastest Riser award, gave a wonderfully uplifting speech about what an amazing career she’d had and what fantastic opportunities there are in our industry – if only we could get that sort of inspirational message out to the talent pools outside of EC3…

So why the gap? It seems industry participants (especially insurers) have fallen into bad habits. Our language is all too often inward-looking and very dull (rate increases – yawn). Our jargon excludes, we create barriers to understanding and often imply that our customers are predisposed to dishonesty, for example by over-celebrating fraud cases (or supporting the media’s prurient interest in wrongdoers in “Claimed and Shamed”!) – while forgetting to mention the 99.9 percent of customers who are honest and pay our bills.

Strategy is about understanding how to compete by convincing customers to want to buy our product. But in insurance we invariably speak and behave tactically, by publicly and self-interestedly celebrating short-term rate rises over the long-term value of our brands and the loyalty of our customers. Too often CEO speeches simply set out a target gross written premium number as if this is the key determinant of success and not a byproduct of the hard work and commitment of a company’s people.

The conversation needs to change and be led from the top. The mention of COR needs to be strictly limited to analysts’ meetings, and CEOs must start selling the ‘why’ not the ‘what’. Leaders need to spread the word about people and opportunity, sustainability, the value of the product, how we can help save the planet and show that we are building trust by investing in our brands, people and customer service. And an easy one – ditch the jargon, talk in plain English and encourage diversity in its widest sense.

And we need some practical initiatives. At the Insurindex event, Frank Streidl of Zurich set out a range of ways of creating a flexible, diverse workforce – for example, by focusing on helping people to ‘learn how to learn’ in a changing world and by easing our rigid working practices to make sure we appeal to different talent pools, such as working parents and remote workers.

Thankfully some are getting it – Dan Glaser, CEO of Marsh McLennan, said last week that

“As an industry, we need to amplify our talent’s potential and enable their ambition.”

A light in the gloom.

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