Marsh on the new opportunities in the insurance sector

"We're an industry that has woken up to the fact that we have to grow our own"

Marsh on the new opportunities in the insurance sector

Insurance News

By Mia Wallace

It is a daunting time to be venturing out into the world of employment with the ONS revealing that, as of June 2021, the UK unemployment rate of 4.7% is 0.8 percentage points higher than it was pre-COVID.

Young people are clearly being disproportionately impacted by the crisis, with monthly unemployment figures showing that they account for nearly two-thirds of job losses since COVID. Yet, as recently noted by Steve Woodhouse (pictured), HR director, UK & Ireland, at Marsh, for the discerning insurance business, now is the time to access a pool of talented, dedicated young people and to educate them on what a career in financial services actually entails.

“It has been a tough time for young people,” he said, “especially as the job markets and industries that traditionally employ a lot of younger people at the start of their careers – retail, hospitality, etc. – have been really hard hit. Luckily not so much in financial services, but in other industries when companies hit troubled times, it is often the junior or less-skilled end of the population that gets affected the most.”

To a certain extent, Woodhouse said, insurance, and financial services more widely, seem to have fared better as an industry than many and so they are not coming under the same pressure to make staffing cuts. However, some companies have seen fit to freeze their graduate schemes as they feel it is too difficult to implement these virtually. Meanwhile, Marsh has gone the opposite route. This year, its graduate scheme, which is set to start in September 2021, will take on 65 graduates, up from 50 last year and 40 the year before that.

“When there’s more talent on the market, it’s the time to go recruiting,” he said. “And what I would call the great, forward-thinking companies are actually expanding their early careers and their graduate and youth programmes, because they’re saying ‘right, we need to fund the talent pool for the future’. And the best time to fix a roof is while the sun is shining, not while it’s raining.”

Marsh has received a record number of graduate applications this year and Woodhouse highlighted that he has seen a broader range of people applying for these opportunities. People tend to see financial services as something of a safe haven in troubled times, he said, and Marsh is not prescriptive on what degrees it accepts, as it’s about the person rather than the qualification.

Another interesting trend he has seen is the rise in people who are interested in a career in financial services opting to explore insurance opportunities. When he first started leading the grad programme at Marsh, Woodhouse saw that most top graduates wanted to become investment bankers. That trend is now shifting as, even in a tough job market, graduates are being more discerning about where they work and more focused on the value set of the organisation they are joining.

“In MMC, we talk about being there for the moments that matter for our colleagues and when I talk to graduates at assessment centres or when they come in, that’s the thing they want to talk about,” he said. “And it’s interesting because, when I started my career, the [main questions] were about ‘where I am going to be working?’ or ‘how much am I going to get paid?’ and now it’s more about what the company does and how that fits into society, about ESG strategies, etc… So the challenge for organisations is to be able to match up to those values-based decisions that graduates are making more and more.”

Insurance is an industry that people are usually pleasantly surprised about when they join it, he said, which is reflected in the retention rates throughout Marsh’s two-year structured graduate and apprenticeship programmes, which run between 95% and 98%. A role in insurance broking means that most of your time is spent thinking about your clients and their businesses, so people tend to find that whether their passion is technology, or cyber, or fine art, they get to explore that and spend their days working within that sphere.  

“I think we’re an industry that has woken up to the fact that we have to grow our own,” he said, “because when I look at the demographics and skill set of the insurance industry, it’s just not where it needs to be. In insurance, we have an obligation and an opportunity to change that demographic and we can only do that by bringing new people through.

“So, in insurance, and definitely at Marsh, we’re becoming less about just going out to hire talent from somewhere when we need it and more about actually developing and growing and keeping that talent. Because that’s how we get our competitive edge. [Of course], there are experienced people around the market that we will go for to fill a particular role but if we don’t grow our own, we’re never going to have the type of diverse organisation we want going forward.”

Speaking from his personal experience, Woodhouse said, he classes himself as incredibly lucky to have ended up in the right role at the right company at the right time, and he is passionate about leading Marsh’s forward-focused talent trajectory. The insurance sector is facing a time of significant change and opportunity and companies have to be prepared to face that.

“If I look back 10, 15 years, we were a very different organisation, with quite a different culture,” he said. “But that coming together of a seismic industry change, an organisation the size of us with the scope and obligation to make that change and the right leadership culture within the organisation do it - those three things have come together at the right time to create a really interesting time to be in this industry and in our company. And it’s not just about us, it’s about the whole of the insurance sector and companies that have got the right culture will thrive in the environment that we’re in.”

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