We’re at the start of a technological transformation – and only an influx of outside talent can truly implement that change.
That is the verdict of Vibhu Sharma, CEO of UK General
Insurance for Zurich
. In an exclusive interview with Insurance Business UK
at the BIBA 2016 conference in Manchester, Indian-born Sharma, who joined Zurich
back in 2008 as its chief financial officer in North America, outlined that the industry needs a wave of new talent to help it deal with its current challenges.
“What we need is a continued influx of talent from outside the industry into the industry,” he said. “It’s bringing in individuals in their 20s and that thinking of ‘technology first’.
“I have three children in their 20s and they think ‘digital first’: they don’t think paper first and then digital – it’s digital first. We need, as an industry, to attract those individuals – it will be that which brings about change.”
But why is this change needed? According to Sharma, the need to embrace technology is growing by the second with consumers demanding more transparency and a more tailored service from direct insurers and brokers alike.
“This is an industry that is at the start of what I think is a real technological transformation,” he said.
“Everyone talks about big data and omnichannel and digital – those are nice buzz words to use. But the way I look at it is that data can be powerful in helping differentiate customer ‘A’ from customer ‘B’. People want something that is customised for them – and data can allow for that.
“For example, imagine if you have two properties and the only difference between them is one foot in elevation. If you didn’t have that additional piece of information you’d look at the two risks as identical – but the individual that might be one foot higher, their property is actually a lower risk: so data can be really useful in highlighting factors like that.
“The other factor is that more and more of the world has become digital. Whether its travel, social media, the print media, everything has changed – and the expectation for the industry is to be digital. For example, lots of people get mailings from their carrier that they don’t read – think about all the time and money that’s spent on things that people don’t value. From the consumer standpoint they think ‘yes I need the information and I want it – but can it just be in a digital vault that I can access when I want’. That way the customer is happy because they don’t want the mailing anyway, and the insurer is happy because they don’t have to cover the cost of printing and mailing.”
But how can an industry that rarely carries glamour with millennials attract these newcomers? Sharma believes it is possible: but only with a consistent and well thought out approach, such as the one that Zurich
is currently implementing.
“We are doing a number of things – first and foremost the apprentice programme,” he said. “We call it our early career program. We’re bringing in interns, graduates, apprentices and we’re looking to hire in the 100s. We allow them to come in and explore and get involved in different group areas. We create a work environment with an open floor plan and we’re introducing flexible working. Why should it matter where people work? It’s about outcomes. These are the things that are attractive to 20-year-olds – flexibility, the mindset, the tools. Not carrying a binder under your arm, and being in the office at 8:30am.
“I think – and I hope - organisations are waking up to that.”