discusses the succession question with Swiss Re’s Keith Wolfe, president for regional and national property and casualty in the US and Monica Ningen, head of property underwriting for the US & Canada.
IB: Millennials are a different type of animal as a workforce. They are not like boomers who are likely to stick with one job for the rest of their life and value integrity and purpose in their occupations. How does a career in insurance fit in with this mindset?
KW: It might scare some to picture insurance veterans handing over the keys to the millennial generation, but I really am confident we can set the table for a successful transition.
Many millennials want a job that feels worthwhile. They want to work for companies that not only make a profit but also do good for the world around them. They want a job with purpose. Insurance is about protecting lives and livelihoods, providing the means to carry on following adversity. That’s an important mission and a very compelling reason for millennials to find the industry rewarding.
We need to appeal to those who relish a challenge, and insurance really fits the bill. There’s something for everyone, because it’s always evolving, dynamic and challenging. Consider how a millennial might answer the following questions:
- Are you inquisitive?
- Are you attracted to limitless challenges?
- Do you want to do good for society?
Insurance offers opportunities for continual personal growth and people of a variety of different educational backgrounds.
IB: The industry faces a workforce gap over the next five-10 years as professionals go into retirement. Apart from the obvious, which is recruitment, how can the industry maximize existing resources to address this gap? For instance, tap retirees as part-time workers, or provide training for those in other fields to pursue a career in insurance?
MN: There’s no single strategy that applies to the entire industry. Each company and organization is unique, depending on where it sits in the value chain and the markets it serves. At Swiss Re, we’re seeing situations where the nature of the work is changing so we are replacing those who have retired with professionals of different skill sets. Ours is a dynamic business—more so than people realize—so replacing talent is never a like-for-like proposition. We have several examples of employees working part-time as they near retirement as well as working in our Swiss Re Academy as trainers. We have two employees with years of technical expertise that have moved into more of a consulting role and are working with new hires that do not come from insurance backgrounds on our data and technology related initiatives.
I also think how we work is just as important as the work we do. Swiss Re has “Own the Way You Work,” which recognizes that everyone works differently so we give people the freedom to work remotely and at their own hours so long as there’s mutual trust with their manager. Given this flexibility, we can come up with some pretty creative arrangements that ensure we retain good talent in critical positions.
We all have to be as creative as possible to best utilize resources.
IB: Technology has great potential to revolutionize the industry. How can the coming changes be marketed as “sexy” to make an insurance career attractive to the younger generations?
KW: I think about technology as an enabler of innovation. Creating the best solutions to society’s problems is what makes me passionate about our work. The marriage of these two concepts clearly shows the direct link between technology and our mission of making the world more resilient.
This influx of innovation is absolutely necessary to ensure we can meet our obligation to extend protection to a rapidly changing world.
- Innovation brings technology to bear on insurance. Some companies are processing claims faster than ever, aided by Artificial intelligence, for example. At Swiss Re, R&D is more important to us than ever, aided by the new Swiss Re Institute.
- Innovation helps us better understand emerging risks. A generation that grew up with games consoles like Xbox and Playstation should have little trouble grasping the boundless possibilities of cyber risk and Big Data.
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- Innovation helps us evolve our distribution models. This is the generation that grew up in a mobile society — where access to everything is direct and easy. All of our frustrated attempts at understanding how to reach and sell to these consumers will be moot because soon this generation will be calling the shots.
IB: What are the options that you have tried to reach out to younger generations to market the industry to them as a career option?
MN: Swiss Re is active in many different ways when it comes to attracting younger generations. For example, my husband and I recently organized a math night at our kids’ grade school which was a great way to get students excited about a skill that is critical to the insurance industry.
Many of our employees also return to the colleges they attended and talk about their diverse background and skillsets and the opportunities the industry has provided them. We recently spoke to Gamma Iota Sigma, an international business fraternity for students of insurance, risk management and actuarial science.
One of our team members was asked by one of our clients to teach an MBA class on reinsurance and reinsurance solutions while several times a year we invite about 15 college students to spend a day with us at Swiss Re. Each student is paired with a mentor and sometimes those relationships last for years.
So over all we’re approaching this from multiple different angles which is what’s needed if we’re to address the perception problem the industry has.
IB: If I were a millennial considering a job in insurance, what would you tell me to get me over to your side of the fence as a professional?
MN: We are so much more than risk models and balance sheets. We do good for society. I work for a company that helps farmers in Kenya and Rwanda maintain their standard of living when drought destroys their crops. My company also replaces the income of small business owners in Guatemala when their business is shut down after an earthquake.
Re/insurers are always looking for new ideas. Swiss Re sponsors hackathons, partners with IBM’s Watson to harness the power of big data for life and health underwriting and recently launched an insurtech accelerator in India.
Re/insurers are always thinking about the next big societal development and the risk it brings—for example emerging market instability, internet fragmentation and human-induced earthquakes.
A recent Deloitte survey revealed millennials believe they can be an influence for societal good in the workforce. We need to tell them we will champion their passion by giving them a long runway and the tools to develop solutions for a better society.
I work with brilliantly smart people who collaborate to solve our clients’ needs. We build resilient communities.
IB: Insurers are adopting artificial intelligence in insurance operations. How does this change the human workforce requirement of the industry?
KW: Instead of fearing AI, we should acknowledge that it is helping drive a performance culture, making it possible for us to deploy talent on higher value initiatives that better serve the needs of customers.
At Swiss Re, we’re transitioning people to more value adding work while overcoming the friction of time-consuming, repetitive processes. The industry can improve its efficiency by programming robots to perform repetitive tasks so teams can spend time and energy enhancing their analytical ability.
In the end, we don’t believe robots or AI or cognitive computing will supplant people in the near term. Instead, they’re helping us pivot to address the needs of a changing world, which requires talented people who have the ability to harness big data, or the intelligence to apply behavioral economics to distribution, or the tenacity to tackle tough risks like cyber.
How do insurance companies get young people interested?
Insurers plan on hiring temps