The performance and success of insurance companies is largely associated with the talent they have at hand. In an ever-competitive market, insurance companies have developed specific strategies and tactics to ensure the right talent is in the right place. In this feature, we have reached out to industry experts to identify the best practices adopted by insurance companies, the challenges insurance human resource (HR) departments are facing, and the advantages and disadvantages of working from home.
Many insurers are facing challenges such as rebuilding teams post-Covid, a competitive marketplace for recruitment, increasing customer expectations, and a sea change in the way people prefer to work, more often than not seeking the flexibility to combine working from home with being in an office, according to Jo McCauley, CEO of Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI). “One of the exciting things we have been able to do is reward those who have come through the thick of the pandemic with us,” she said. “Their support, and their efforts to help the customers we were able to service, has seen multiple internal promotions.
“In addition, secondments have subsequently turned into career progression. We believe this is evidence that the investment we have made in our people is working, and we are retaining institutional knowledge too. This is particularly critical as we know customers are seeking more clarity about what is and is not included in their travel insurance than they did before the pandemic, which is understandable considering the impact the pandemic had on the travel sector.”
Indeed, the pandemic changed the way companies work: remote working is now the norm, which presents challenges as well as opportunities, according to Joe Cronin, President of International Citizens Insurance, based in Massachusetts, USA. “During the pandemic, adjustments had to be made to allow all employees to work remotely. Once we were set up to work with remote employees, we were able to start looking more broadly for talent. We started hiring employees in several other states,” he explained.
“When we originally listed a job locally for in-person work, not remote, we got a limited number of candidates. When we reposted the job as a remote opportunity, we got more than 10 times the number of applicants. Hiring remote workers allowed us to source more qualified candidates throughout the country. We now have staff from Massachusetts to Florida, and California, which allows our team to be available longer than a standard eight hours.”
Seven Corners is focused on attracting and hiring individuals with the right skills and expertise for specific roles, said Paige Dyson, Talent Advisor at Seven Corners. “We rely heavily on online job postings and social media platforms to reach potential candidates. There are times where we may partner with recruitment agencies as well. In addition to that, we conduct thorough interviews, background checks and assessments to ensure candidates have the necessary qualifications.
“Seven Corners invests in comprehensive training and development programmes to enhance the skills and knowledge of our team members, such as Lessonly, Coursera, and ADVISA,” she said. “We also encourage internal employees to explore different roles and departments within the organisation. This provides employees with opportunities for growth and progression. While we believe that these practices have been very effective, we are always looking for more ways to ensure we are attracting and retaining great talent.”
Lauren Gumport, Vice President of Communications and Brand Strategy at Faye, said that the travel insurer seeks team members who are ‘doers’, as well as being transparent, adventurous and trustworthy. “Usually we seek out candidates who are travel obsessed, performance oriented, enjoy the challenge of shaking things up and doing things differently, and are keen to marry great top tech with superior customer service,” she said. “We have hand-picked experts to build out each team at Faye, meaning we have insurance and travel experts everywhere.
Remote working is now the norm, which presents challenges as well as opportunities
“We go beyond salary, meaning employees get autonomy when they work; can enjoy hybrid work schedules, flexibility, and stock options in the company. We want to make sure those that join the team genuinely want to help others, are entrepreneurial in spirit, and are up for the challenge.”
According to Gumport, in a post-Covid world, employees expect more than ever before, from more flexibility in the day-to-day, like through hybrid working, to better work-life balance. “For example, a good wi-fi connection means one can work from anywhere, whether it is the office, home or a cabin one is staying in for the long weekend,” she said. “The employees expect trust, both when working in the office and outside of it, specifically as remote work has become more of the norm. Today, many want a boss who understands it is not where one is but what one does that matters.
“Recruiting and retaining staff is more difficult in insurance than other industries, and all of this is made even a bit more difficult as many corporations are reverting back to 2019 hiring practices,” she added.
SCTI has been focused on how to attract and retain good talent in the currently difficult recruitment market, said McCauley. “We have had to rapidly more than double the crew in the last year, whilst maintaining an emphasis on quality to ensure to provide a renowned customer service. To do this we needed great people, so we knew we needed to stand out as an employer with a great culture, benefits and career opportunities,” she said.
“To this end, we have relaunched our employee value proposition, including benefits which really matter to our team, particularly as cost of living increases and ongoing disruptions in every aspect of our lives continue to bite. Enhanced benefits include five wellbeing days to proactively focus on being well; life insurance; health insurance for employee, their partner/spouse and any dependent children; and extended parental leave.”
For Cronin, one of the most significant challenges is meeting the hiring and compliance requirements of different US states where a company has employees. “Indeed, each state has different health insurance requirements and rules for paid family and medical leave (PFML),” he said. “To address this, we moved to utilise a professional employer organisation (PEO). We now can offer several health insurance options to our employees, along with a variety of additional benefits not readily available to a smaller company. These additional benefits help us to retain our best employees.”
As travel has returned since the pandemic, there have also been increased flight cancellations, and airports have faced challenges reconnecting baggage with travellers, explained McCauley. “In addition, in New Zealand and Australia, insurers have borne the brunt of extreme, and very unexpected, weather events,” she said. “This has seen us having to suddenly upscale capacity with very little warning, which is challenging when one’s base business is already upscaling in response to the return of international travel. Weather events add a layer of complexity.”
To address this situation, SCTI has focused on strengthening its internal data, pricing and digital capability, explained McCauley. “This has a two-pronged effect. First, it addresses an increasing expectation from customers who prefer to self-manage. Second, a digital approach helps reduce our need to rely wholly on expanding our team in these instances,” she said. “Our digital innovation is delivering customer service and is taking pressure off our customer service team, who are then able to support customers with more complicated queries or claims. While we have introduced more self-management for customers to purchase insurance and make claims when things go wrong on their journeys, we do now have more team members on board than pre-Covid. And the team is still growing.”
According to Dyson, one of the major challenges is a talent shortage in specialised or higher-up positions. “One of the many ways we try to attract candidates is by having a competitive compensation and benefits package,” she said. “We are always comparing our salary and benefits to other insurance companies to ensure we are being competitive. In addition to that, we also leverage the fact that we have a flexible working environment. We have noticed that most of our team members like the opportunity to work from home.”
The pros and cons of homeworking
Working from home affords advantages and disadvantages for both the company and employees, affirmed Dyson. “A few advantages of having a flexible working environment are having access to a larger talent pool, flexible work-life balance, elimination of commuting, and geographic flexibility,” she said. “A few disadvantages might be communication and collaboration challenges, lack of separation between home and work, and social isolation.”
Recruiting and retaining staff is more difficult in insurance than other industries ... made even a bit more difficult as many corporations are reverting back to 2019 hiring practices
According to Cronin, employees like the flexibility of working from home. “It is important to make a concerted effort to work differently,” he said. “We ask employees to join company meetings with their video on so it is more like an in-person meeting. Each employee is asked to present to the entire company at least once a year. This gives them a chance to interact with everyone else on the team and serves as good training for presentation skills. We use Slack to highlight accomplishments or to prompt internal communications. For example, we have a Fun Friday channel with a new fun topic each week, such as ‘favourite movie’.”
Indeed, employees now have increased expectations of greater flexibility around working from home, according to McCauley. “We have always strived to support and enable flexible working, and our people continue to declare in regular employee engagement surveys that hybrid working is important to them,” she said. “While we do encourage teams to spend time together in the office each week to support the development of a strong team culture, we also value the benefits that remote working brings to individuals’ everyday lives, especially when it comes to bridging the connection between their personal and work-life balance, managing personal commitments, and providing greater autonomy to our people as to how and when they work.”