Winning Talent Wars

As brokerages face a war for talent, they are recruiting more experienced candidates, including those outside of the industry.
By: | December 14, 2016 • 5 min read

Big data gets a lot of attention in the insurance industry, but attracting and keeping talent remains a top priority.

“All the data in the world is not going to help us if we don’t have the right people to do something with what that data is telling us,” said Meg Allwein, senior vice president and chief quality officer for Assurex Global.


But competition for top talent can be fierce.

“Despite all the changes that have happened in the industry, I still believe the cornerstone of future success of an organization is recruiting and retaining the best talent,” said Marc Kunney, Integro Insurance Brokers’ president of North American operations. “There is a war for talent.”

While the importance of talent is a constant, best practices for recruitment and retention can be a moving target.

Business schools, college risk management programs, and organizations like Gamma Iota Sigma remain important pipelines for young recruits, but some think recruitment should start earlier.

“We need to get our message out into the high school community and early-stage college communities about risk management being a terrific track for diverse candidates, for all candidates,” said Steve Keogh, Aon Risk Solutions’ U.S. president.

A number of new strategies are being used to recruit candidates further along into their careers, including a growing focus outside the industry.

“The insurance aspect can be taught or supplemented, but sales talent [is more] innate,” said Allwein, adding that some of Assurex’s partners use third-party specialists to recruit out-of-industry producer talent.

Insurance Industry is an Easy Sell

The insurance industry itself is an easy sell, they said.

“Insurance really is the best business in the world for sales,” said Kathleen Battle, vice president for talent acquisition at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“Insurance sales professionals don’t typically have territory restrictions, there is no ceiling on your income and we have a very strong service organization that allows us to retain our clients.

“Our strategy has really been to go outside of the industry and to create not only an attraction strategy, but a retention strategy,” said Battle. “We created what I think is a phenomenal end-to-end solution of attraction, selection and retention that will enable these out-of-industry producers to be successful in both the short-term and the long-term.”

Retention is increasingly viewed as integral to recruitment. Effective recruitment supports retention by finding and hiring people who will be happy and will stay.

But retention supports recruitment as well. Happy, long-tenured employees are the best recruiters. And many retention initiatives — job or geographic options, or flexible yet clearly defined career paths — double as potent selling points.

Increasingly, brokerages see the importance of clearly communicating their culture as central to recruitment strategies. It allows potential recruits to decide if the culture is a good fit, and helps both employer and employee avoid the disruption and cost of a bad fit.


Social media allows brokerages to communicate their culture and impact recruitment in a number of ways.

“It allows you to project who you are and differentiate your organization and culture, which may be attractive to some candidates and not attractive to others,” said Kunney. “It’s really important to get that cultural fit and certainly social media allows you to establish that.”

“LinkedIn has been a game-changer because you’ve got a lot more transparency in terms of who’s out there and where they’re at and what their connectivity is.” said Chris Duncan, chief growth officer at EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants.

“Five to 10 years ago, you had a tough time pulling together five candidates with five years of experience,” said Keogh.  “Today it’s pretty easy to pull that list together.”

Social media also allows recruiters to reach potential hires who may not even be looking.

“The insurance aspect can be taught or supplemented, but sales talent [is more] innate.”  — Meg Allwein, senior vice president and chief quality officer, Assurex Global

“Those are really the key types of employees that you’re trying to find … those who are content and most valued by their current employers,” said Kunney.

“It’s not a substitute strategy but it’s a complementary strategy that allows you to cast your net more widely and get a cross-section of candidates.”

But the importance of social media can be overstated.

Meg Allwein, senior vice president and chief quality officer, Assurex Global

Meg Allwein, senior vice president and chief quality officer, Assurex Global

“It’s all fine to … maintain awareness through social media, but when it really comes down to the nuts and bolts of recruiting … it’s got to be a person-to-person approach,” said Allwein. “It’s about establishing and reinforcing your brand, maintaining awareness, keeping things out there but … it’s not the end all and be all.”

Similarly, personality assessments are useful, but “rarely stand alone” as a recruitment tool, Allwein said.

Such assessments can “validate what your sense is, which is good,” but she noted the company will make hires even when results are not optimal.

Employee referral programs remain a primary recruitment tool.

“Your current employees, your current producers, are often your best source for referrals, particularly if you have a strong culture,” said Allwein.

They are the most knowledgeable and passionate about the company and its culture, and are invested in adding good people to the firm, she said.

“They’re going to be sitting in the desks around them,” said Keogh.

But employee referrals are naturally limited. “There’s a finite number of people who you know and who fit the organizational culture,” said Kunney, who has seen Integro’s growth outstrip its referral program’s ability to keep up.

“That expands over time, but it doesn’t expand and change as rapidly as the organization’s needs,” he said.

An over-reliance on employee referrals may also undermine efforts to bolster diversity and market to an increasingly diverse customer base.

“There’s the old adage that people like to buy from people like themselves, and there is certainly truth in that,” said Allwein. “Firms looking to continue to grow, and particularly to grow organically, recognize that … the diverse makeup of the buyers necessitates that you diversify your staff.”

A diverse workforce also brings fresh viewpoints. “What’s particularly attractive is getting people who think differently about our business,” said Kunney. “They might take a very different look at a problem and provide unique and creative solutions.”

Battle stressed that diversity in recruitment doesn’t count for much without diversity in retention.

“I can provide the best diverse slates in the world, but if we don’t have the infrastructure … to help retain diverse talent and be an inclusive organization, then the attraction and selection strategy doesn’t work.”


Keogh agreed. “It’s not just about recruiting diverse employees, but really making sure when you have a diverse workforce that you all know how to work together.

“So we actually have great training and development for our employees and managers around a business case for inclusion, the power of inclusion, and also how to manage inclusively.”

A diversified workforce can also provide untapped social circles to revitalize employee referral programs.

Ultimately, the most powerful tool for both retention and recruitment is simply being a great place to work. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]