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

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 magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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