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What challenges do the insurance industry's rising stars face?

What does it take to attract and retain the best talent in the insurance industry? Three rising stars – Yasmin Carter-Esdale, account handler at Risk Management Partners, Sonia Habib, operational underwriting manager (wholesale) at Jensten Group, and Ola Jacob, broker success manager at FloodFlash, discuss the challenges they face as young people in the industry and how to fill the skills gap and ensure approaches are equitable.
 

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Paul: [00:00:19] Hello everyone and welcome to the latest edition of Insurance Business TV and a very different one than usual. Why? Because normally we're shining the spotlight on insurance CEOs. But today we're looking at the leaders of tomorrow, the industry's brightest talent who are set to take the sector into a whole new era. Yes, Insurance Business UK has once again launched its rising stars reports, with nominations being accepted until early April. The report has huge backing from the likes of the British Insurance Brokers Association, the Managing General Agents Association, the Chartered Insurance Institute, the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network and the African Caribbean Insurance Network. And why would five of the biggest bodies in the sector all be backing the same report? Well, simple, because this one is so important. Insurance has for so long had a talent problem. Attracting fresh faces to the industry has been tough. Whether that be because it has a less than stellar reputation or simply the bigger incentives are being offered elsewhere. So what can be done about that? We've turned to three of insurance business', rising stars of 2021 to find out. Yes, all three of these talented young people made the list last time around, and given their accomplishments over the past 12 months, may well be top contenders to make the list again. They are Yasmin Carter-Esdale, an account handler at Risk Management Partners. Ola Jacob broker success manager at FloodFlash and Sonia Habib, operational underwriting manager wholesale at Jensten Group. So welcome, everybody. Let's dive straight into it and talk about your experiences now. What would you say is the biggest issue or challenge that you face as a young person in the insurance industry? Yasmin, I'm going to come to you first.

Yasmin: [00:02:15] I would say one of the biggest challenges that I found in my career to date is actually finding the people to help you along your journey. There is so much value in mentoring, but sometimes we lack structured mentoring programs. Sometimes we lack knowing where to actually turn. So I found one of the biggest challenges is knowing where to find someone to help me along the way.

Paul: [00:02:36] Okay, great start. So mentoring is a big issue. Ola  is it something that you would highlight as well?

Ola: [00:02:41] Yeah, I think for me it would be what I call invisible barriers. So I think one thing that a lot of people and my friends say to me is they might point out things that they thought were wrong or that maybe this should have happened in a different way in my career, and I didn't really see it at the time. So I think that would be the biggest sort of challenge, I think, in my mind. But I think the way to overcome it was probably me being oblivious to it and just powering through regardless.

Paul: [00:03:09] I like the idea of powering through. And Sonia, what would you say is your biggest challenge?

Sonia: [00:03:14] I'd say leaving school. Opportunities are few and far between from a school leaver perspective. So when you're so young. Opportunities are scarce, especially starting out in London specifically. And obviously I can't speak on behalf of anyone else, but there isn't necessarily a promotion in the educational systems, especially from my upbringing, that insurance is a career and a variety of skills can be utilised relevant of your strengths and weaknesses and, and also what you ended up with leaving school. So I think actually promotion and knowledge enhancement or various forums and help groups to get school leavers on the ladder.

Paul: [00:04:02] Yeah, great points. Obviously a lot of challenges and but let's let's try and be proactive here. What would you say is the biggest area of improvement for insurance employers, both in terms of attracting and retaining young talent? It'd be great if we can get sort of perspectives on on both sides of that equation from all of you. Sonia, I'm going to stick with you for now.

Sonia: [00:04:22] I would say having a regimented process in place, so so actually having a development plan which is specific to that person. So as opposed to saying it's one size fits all, which we know everyone's got different skills and attributes that they can bring to the table, but actually saying, Right, I know what you're good at. So we want to focus and hone in on this. And with that you get X amount of your remuneration. This is what your career path will look like, but without selling the dream and failing to attain that, because it's so easy to say, Well, in a year's time we can give you this, but perhaps it can't be backed up with anything because they know it's unattainable. So being being smart with it and saying, right, this is realistic. This time frame, any obstacles that come about, we can cross that bridge when it comes to it and having an advocate that's there to support you throughout that process, because I think it's so easy to to feel alone and perhaps lack direction and clarity. So so definitely that just some sort of development plan.

Paul: [00:05:40] Yeah. So it's a great point about a career path, but Ola if I can move to you, I mean, it's it's difficult at times, isn't it, to know where young people will fit into insurance?

Ola: [00:05:49] Very, very good point. I think for me, I remember being at university or even going back with the desire to present on behalf of insurance. And there's no presence there. So there's nobody no companies, but there's investment banks. There's there's all sorts of other companies that have invested so much money into getting in front of university kids the best talent that there is and not in that facet or even going in front of of schools as well. Because I remember Barclays having some sort of arrangement with my school. So without knowing what insurance is, without knowing that actually depending on what subject that you might learn, it could. Whatever area that you're focused on is probably a place in insurance for you in terms of it could be a particular class of business that specializes in that area. It could be research that is done at a high end at Lloyd's of London into different areas of emerging risks. They do a lot of work with universities already, so it just feels as if that isn't that has never really been promoted, which I'm not sure why. So then that happens. You don't really get that that sort of kind of that comes in and they don't think of it as as somewhere where they would go to. So there's just it's almost like lack of transparency into. What what can insurance do for me? And then in terms of retention, once you do get that that talent through the door from school or from university level, everybody needs a different level of support. And the support that you provide a school leaver versus the support you have at a university level, plus the individual support for every person is going to be different. And I feel like there is hopefully it's not the same as it was back when I joined. But there's the stigma of this old school mentality that if you're young, you have to work your way up and you might have to be in a company for a long time before you progress. And and I remember seeing it wouldn't happen to everybody, but I remember seeing some young talent that probably could have done a lot more, but was stuck to doing things like photocopying and and just admin and not that you shouldn't be doing that kind of thing, but I just felt like it was a bit of a waste of, of, of what they could do. And I think there's so many little things that can be done like that. Oh, it could be leadership opportunities and and managing a cohort of people that are coming in from universities and experiences to make sure that that that time that they have there is actually valuable and doesn't take. So it's there's so many ways in which you can empower and grow people and give them a chance. So I think that is, first of all, you're not you're not you're not promoting it in the right way. And then once you get that talent in through the door, you just you want to make sure that you're you're getting the best that you can out of it for not just for them for for for the company.

Paul: [00:08:26] Yeah. So it's such a great point. And, and Yasmin, if I can just pick up on what Ola said there. I mean, he's talking about putting across what insurance is, but I guess companies need to sort of put across themselves as well.

Yasmin: [00:08:38] Yeah, you're absolutely right. So a big driver for younger talent is company culture and how that company culture is conveyed as well. I know I mentioned earlier about invisible barriers. Well, of course, they're invisible barriers that play here. Even if we look at the example of first generation professionals in terms of a company's culture that is so important, how they are fitting in amongst their peers and companies have to take the extra step to make sure they're included. So company culture is a huge thing. That's something we can always improve on. It's continuous, there's no end date and it's something that really needs to be strong and conveyed strongly as well.

Paul: [00:09:16] Yeah, a great point. So I noticed that a lot of you as well so far you've talked about mentoring and sort of the role that perhaps the more established professionals can play. So just to explain to me a little bit more about how you think that collaboration between younger and older generations could be improved. Ola I'll come to you first this time.

Ola: [00:09:36] So my experience in this has been just entirely positive. I remember like sat in my office one day laughing my head off because someone made a joke and then someone quite senior pops over and says, Can I speak to my office? For I was in trouble, but I wasn't. And you just foster these relationships with with people that have influence in the company and you learn so much and they learn so much from you in the most humble way of putting it. But I think the way in which you can foster teams, whereby you can match up experience with young new ideas and the experience, then you can get both A and B to to see a lot quicker. So that could be joining together to come up with new lines of business, new ways of approaching new markets. And it's that diversity of thought. So it goes beyond you can talk about and whole and a whole lot of different spectrums. But just from the old to young perspective, I think having that diversity of thought when you're looking at a particular problem is really, really helpful. So I think from that perspective, it's something that can only enhance. And if you look at classes of business like cyber, when you give young people a chance to run teams or if you look at in short text as well, they do very, very well. So I think if a traditional broker insurer isn't empowering the right young people, they're only shooting themselves in the foot.

Paul: [00:11:00] Yeah, it's absolutely right, I'm sure. And obviously all of us had a really positive experience there, Sonia. But, you know, do you think that perhaps the older generation truly understands the the need to bring in new blood?

Sonia: [00:11:14] I've always been of the mindset that age is just a number. And for someone that's quite an old head on young shoulders, I've never necessarily seen age as a barrier for me personally, because I've always brought the knowledge to the table, irrelevant of my age and what I look like. So for me it's always been quite, quite black and white. I personally haven't been subject to anything in terms of discrimination knowingly because of my age, because I know that the outputs of the work are of high quality and that and that's how it's been taken. So I don't think that there's necessarily been. Nit picking or, I don't know, prejudice per se. But I know that just from from working in my current company. No question. No answer is is left unheard. So it is it is very diverse where we work because we've got all ages from 18. So school leavers all the way through to retirement I guess. But I do think there should be more promotion around how can we exchange information but from a two way street perspective. So what can you tell me and what can I tell you and benefit from it without it being well? Because you're young, you should be heard. Because you're old, you should be heard. I should just be put to one side and any idea is a good idea.

Paul: [00:12:51] I like the idea of a sort of a two way conversation. But but Yasmin, I guess we've got to actually find time to have those conversations as well.

Yasmin: [00:12:59] Absolutely. It has to be facilitated somehow. So I think there is sometimes a fundamental misunderstanding that collaboration happens just by being in the same physical space together. That's that's not the case. You have to actively work at collaborating together. Now, when we look at the past two years and obviously agile working has been pushed forward, we've been pushed because we've been faced with adversity. So we have all the tools there. We have teams, we have virtual boardrooms, we have physical space. It's actually just pulling it all together. And that's something that really needs to be driven from the top, ensuring that there is appropriate, structured time for collaboration to happen. And it's also making sure that the facilities are available as well, because at the end of the day, we don't want to be in a scenario where knowledge transfer just doesn't happen and the older generation need the workplace and the younger generation haven't learnt from them. So there definitely needs to be a push for structured collaboration.

Paul: [00:13:55] Yeah. And of course we're talking about sort of age diversity here, but of course you're all from a diverse background, which is great to see. But it's fair to say if we were walking around a conference room, for example, the sector might not look as diverse as it does on this call. So how do we fill that skills gap and ensure approaches are equitable? Sonia, you talked about diversity earlier, so I'll come to you first.

Sonia: [00:14:19] I think the key thing for me is putting pioneers and advocates in the industry, like the three of us on this call who really want to push diversity forward. But that could be for different reasons, not just gender or race. It could be such a plethora of things, but it's making it known to up and coming people in the industry or even people of the older generation that have started out with career in insurance later on in life, that it's okay to start late and that there's so much to learn with such a wealth of knowledge, so many churches in the industry that can really adapt and better your your outlook on life. I know just from the stint that I've had in insurance so far, you learn so many ancillary things about life in general. So it really does. It relies on interdependency when you go about your day to day life alongside obviously working in insurance. So I would I would say that really pushing for that that image of it doesn't have to be a middle aged white man, which, you know, everyone can probably agree on in the industry. It can be anyone from all different backgrounds.

Paul: [00:15:43] Yeah. Middle aged white man here not offended by that comment. Yasmin, if I can come to you as well. I mean, a lot of companies sort of speak very well about this idea. It's a little bit different to put it into action, though, isn't it?

Yasmin: [00:15:58] It's hard to put measures in place, but I think if you have the right idea and you start now, then we're going to be so much better for it. So part of your actually alluded to it in part of your question, you said, how can we make things equitable? And that's a very important point because a lot of the time we stay focused on how do we make things equal and there is a difference. You've got to remember, we can offer opportunities equally to people. We can treat people equally when they come into the workplace. That doesn't mean that they have had an equal start in life. That doesn't mean they've started on an equal footing. And so we have to adjust our approach depending on who we're dealing with and what sort of support they need. And that's the key difference there.

Paul: [00:16:37] I like that. But I mean, Ola from from your experience as well. I mean, do you think that some companies are still looking at diversity and think, okay, sounds good in theory, but what's the point? How does this benefit me?

Ola: [00:16:49] Yeah, really good point. I think for me, it's diversity should be celebrated. It's it's the different people we have in the call including. The old still white man. I think everybody should be part of that conversation. It's just about bringing more people into the conversation. And sometimes it's how do you showcase that? So we have I mean, I remember in the beginning of our career, we set up a young members network  for everybody, and we ended up having a board that was mostly women and and was quite diverse. And I think when, when other businesses saw that even sort of like when I was at Gallagher, they liked that and they wanted to work with that and they wanted to hear from us. So I think some of that needs to be done more. The the power of diversity. When you're dealing with a global economy and different markets, you kind of want your team to kind of reflect that team as well. Diversity could be sending the the white male to to Africa to do business. It could be it's it's whatever however you want to look at. And that's on the flip side. So I think how we connect with the world and the more we can learn from each other and have that diversity brings more innovation. And and that is that's the way I want to sort of look at our diversity. And it's it's having rising stars that look like the lovely ladies we have on this call is brilliant because it changes the mentality of people that are looking on and hopefully they make it to the very top and they'll be in positions where they can bring in more diverse talent into the industry and make an influence that way. I think that's where we can make a real change and everybody will have the role in this. It's nice to be in a in a senior at FloodFlash where I now have an effect on on the team. And you look around at the team we have and it's just so diverse, which is which is nice to see, but also means that we get to foster a lot of innovation.

Paul: [00:18:40] Yeah, I think there's going to be a lot of people inspired by all of you on this call today. I have one last question for you. Very simple one. Leave us with a tip for a young person thinking of entering the insurance industry, maybe something that you think they should know before they get involved or or maybe just something that would help them in their careers. Yasmin, I'll come to you.

Yasmin: [00:19:04] I would say my well, my number one and number two tip would be, first of all, ask lots of questions. The majority of people out there, they want to help you. So you should 100% learn from them, ask lots of questions. No one's going to say, you shouldn't be asking that many questions. Please stop. Learn from the people around you. And then the second one would be be your biggest advocate. No one will fight your corner as hard as you do, and you have to believe in yourself. That would be my two part tip.

Paul: [00:19:31] And there we go, two tips for the price of one. Sonia, you're up next.

Sonia: [00:19:35] I would say carve your path as well as you can. Make the mistakes because no one climbs up the column without making a few mistakes along the way. If in doubt, always ask someone because someone's always got a better idea than you. And then I would also say, don't put pressure on yourself or timescales on attaining a certain role, being in a certain position at certain times a month. Just ride the wave, absorb as much knowledge, and the rest will follow.

Paul: [00:20:08] Ola, the ladies have set the bar pretty high here, but the final tip is yours.

Ola: [00:20:13] Yeah, great. Great tips that those probably probably been my first two. But I think for me, it's it's finding your passion and not being afraid to push in that direction because I think when you start your career, I mean, I felt as if I was sort of supposed to be on my team and it was a pressure to leave. And so maybe another team that might want to join or another area of insurance that I found interesting. So look look outside to find that passion and then go for it with your with your full heart and surround yourself with with like minded people. So I'm pretty sure I've got two new friends now.

Paul: [00:20:47] Well, we're finishing with positivity. I like it. Fantastic tips from everybody. I think the insurance industry has a lot to learn from you all. My huge thanks to Sonia, Yasmin and Ola for their time. Three names I'm sure we're going to be hearing a lot more of during the course of their careers. Remember, if you know an emerging talent in the insurance industry, get your nominations in now for our Rising Stars Report 2022. And we'll see you next time here on Insurance Business TV.