Swiss Re, State Farm and The Hartford Weigh In on How COVID-19 Exacerbated the Insurance Talent Gap

From more flexible work arrangements to diversity and inclusion, here’s what the next generation of insurance talent is looking for.
By: | December 6, 2021

When the pandemic sent many to remote work in March 2020, Victor A. Terry remembers feeling like he was getting a very personal glimpse into his co-worker’ lives.

Terry, who is VP of public affairs and chief diversity officer at State Farm, describes the culture pre-pandemic as one where employees came into the offices and largely left their personal lives at the door. Sure, they may share the occasional personal detail — an office birthday party, a photo of their kids on their desk — but the conversations they had were largely work-related. 

When people started working from home to avoid the COVID-19 virus, suddenly everyone’s personal lives were on display. 

“We basically invited everyone we work with into our homes,” Terry said. 

Gone were the impersonal cubicles. Now, workers saw each other’s kitchens, their bedrooms and their home offices. This new insight changed company culture in a permanent way. “We made it okay to say, ‘I’m not doing great today’,” Terry said. 

Terry’s company culture isn’t the only one facing major changes in the wake of the pandemic. Workers across industries began demanding more flexibility, more compassion and, above all, more support from their employers. 

Terry shared his experiences during the session “The State of Talent in the New Normal” at the Insurance Information Institute’s 2021 Joint Industry Forum.      

During the session, he spoke alongside Lisa Butera, head of P&C client markets, U.S., at Swiss Re; Andrew N. Mais, speakers commissioner, for Connecticut Insurance Department; Deepa Soni, executive vice president and chief information officer, at The Hartford. 

They discussed how the battle for talent has changed during the pandemic and what the insurance industry can do to set themselves apart. 

How the Pandemic Changed the Battle for Talent

Though the insurance industry’s talent gap isn’t anything new, COVID-19 has significantly upped the stakes. 

Labor shortages are now rocking the American economy at-large, with labor data revealing that there were 10.4 million job openings in August. Job seekers are becoming more picky, with record numbers of people exiting the workforce in search of better benefits and more flexibility. In August, 4.3 million people in the U.S. left their jobs — the highest level on record since December 2000.

The next generation of talent has high expectations for their employers. Employees want increased flexibility, better benefits and remote options. Sixty percent of recruiters believe employers will lose out on talent if they don’t transition to a remote-first culture, Forbes reported in October. 

“It’s a crisis, but also an opportunity,” Mais said.  

“Insurance is really at the cusp of transforming itself,” Soni added. 

For the insurance industry — long a laggard when it comes to embracing both technology and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts — proving to young people that they are both socially conscious and technologically savvy, especially when it comes to competing with big tech for analytics talent.   

“We’re seeing [the need for] changing skill sets,” Mais said. “Ten years ago nobody in insurance would have said regulators need data scientists, but now we do.”

Embracing technology and remote work can be key to tapping younger, more diverse talent and pushing the industry into the future.

“We’ve actually seen people have been more productive [working from home],” Mais said.

“Technology allows talent to be creative and innovative,” Terry added. 

If You Don’t Prioritize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion You’ll Get Left Behind

In addition to seeking out more flexible work arrangements and high-levels of technological competence, younger generations are more diverse and more socially conscious than those that came before. 

Almost half of millennials are people of color, Brookings reports and Terry noted that Generation Z has more members that self-identify as LGBTQA+ than any other generation. It is imperative that the insurance industry learns to serve them both as customers and as employees. 

“We need talent that reflects the consumers that we plan to serve,” Mais said. 

“These are our future customers. These are our future talent. We have to serve them with empathy in both contexts,” Terry added. 

Part of better serving the needs of diverse talent is providing them with mentorship and opportunities to succeed within the industry. Terry shared that State Farm’s CEO has encouraged the C-Suite to mentor diverse talent by prodding them to take people from demographics who are different from them under their wings.  

It’s also important to make sure that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are integrated into every aspect of an organization and aren’t just off in their own silos. “DEI is not an add-on,” Mais said.  “It is part of the mission of the organization.”

At the end of the panel, Soni summed up the day’s big takeaway when she affirmed what a valuable resource talent is for risk management and insurance organizations. 

 “We said oil is gold. We said data is gold,” she said. “Talent is diamond.” & 

Courtney DuChene is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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