In the war for underwriting talent, can better tech attract better talent?
In the war for underwriting talent there is usually one winner, the company that pays the highest salary or offers the best financial incentives, particularly during a time of economic recession. We know there is a wealth of skilled insurance professionals out there, but as an estimated 50% of the London market is set to retire within the next 10 years1, there is a pressing and immediate need to start bridging the talent gap. And this means building a talent pipeline that not only encourages new and diverse employees through the door and importantly focuses on the growth and development of existing teams. But how can smaller companies, MGAs for example, without big balance sheets to lure talent in, ensure they have a robust and resilient pipeline of talent?
Could technology be the talent magnet those businesses are looking for? Is it that straight forward? We spoke to Hélène Stanway, non-executive director of EDII (educate, develop innovate and inspire), the insurance industry’s first innovation and creativity company for business practitioners, to find out whether she felt implementing smarter, more user-centric technology could be a differentiator in terms of growing strong, skilled teams.
The trouble with technology
On the face of it, tempting underwriters with systems that allow them to concentrate on the art of underwriting without all the other manual and admin-heavy processes associated with legacy systems seems to be a no-brainer. We are all so used to friendly, intuitive technology in our day-to-day lives, it’s natural to want that simplicity and efficiency to carry over into our day-jobs. This is a particularly important draw for Gen-Z, the so-called iGen. This generation entering the workforce now doesn’t see smart, intuitive technology as a bonus, it’s an expected part of the modern workplace.
New technologies and new data sources have exploded onto the scene in recent years, all promising to simplify the exchange of information, the ingestion and interrogation of data, and streamline workflows leading to time-saving efficiencies for hard-working underwriters, and they certainly do deliver. Our own Underwriting Workbench frees up over 50% of processing time, giving underwriters at least 30% more time to focus on core work.
While Hélène believes providing the best possible systems is a draw card, she encourages companies to think beyond the tech: “Many, if not most, transformation projects fail. It’s a difficult fact to swallow but change is hard. Companies need to do more to consider the impact on teams, and to bring people along on the change journey as they onboard and upskill. Implementing new technology is only part of the challenge. Successfully embedding these systems and processes, and ensuring teams understand and feel confident in using these skills is critical, not only for personal career growth, but to help companies build resiliency.”
While there are challenges for remote workers to learn new systems from home, without the benefit of their peers at the next desk to troubleshoot or bounce ideas off, she said there are creative ways around this. She even goes so far as to say that she’d like to see more companies “look to reframe the business model with underwriters working four days a week, dedicating one to training and upskilling.” Underwriters operate within a dynamic market, and as the nature of risk changes, so too are the solutions that need to be developed in response. It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that the way we structure our business models needs to change and adapt to facilitate the creativity needed to keep step with the market.
A changing market
Another shift Hélène is seeing in the market, partly accelerated by the pandemic, is a move towards underwriting becoming more generalist, yet also more specialised. It sounds like an oxymoron, but the two approaches are highly complementary. “We’re seeing underwriters increasing the breadth of their knowledge to become specialists in a more generalist sense. This is also in part supporting the market trend towards more multi-line underwriting.” Whilst a move away from more specialist knowledge can feel scary for some, who have perhaps spent many years honing their niche, the good news is that technology is making this shift easier, as sophisticated platforms can increasingly handle more complex risks without as much human intervention.
Another benefit is that with the support of this sophisticated technology, underwriters can be freed up to focus on the work they love, underwriting, rather than sinking hours into manual data wrangling: “This gift of time could in turn fuel further innovation, perhaps the underwriter of the near-future might use their ‘spare’ week day, focusing on creativity, and looking for increasingly client-centric solutions that can keep their business ahead of their competition.”
The technology magnet?
If approached carefully and with the proper support and guidance from the top-down, new technology can certainly be a powerful draw for entrepreneurial underwriters who want to be able to quickly react to an evolving market and focus on the challenging risks they love. We’ve seen it ourselves; one client proudly told us how her team of underwriters were actually vying to be the first to use the Underwriting Workbench. That level of enthusiasm to innovate is often unheard of, particularly in the insurance market, but we see it as a great sign. Today’s underwriter and the underwriters of the future see the value of innovation and want to work with the very best systems available to them.
But Hélène reiterates, there is a “critical” need for training to be accelerated (she cites the fact that 95% of Apprenticeship Levy funds go back to the Government as evidence that training budgets aren’t being used as effectively as they could be, if at all). “We build 100% productivity time in team planning, when in reality, we should be planning for 80% in order to support a continuous learning culture that would better facilitate upskilling.” The talent gap will only continue to widen within the next ten years and without planning for the future now, businesses will face casualties in the war for top talent. Technology could be a key differentiator for businesses that embed the latest, highly-friendly systems and they must prioritise a robust approach to training and upskilling in order to support the future development and growth of their people.
If you’d like to get in touch with Hélène, you can find her on LinkedIn.