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Feeling Bulletproof

Insurance careers remain stable despite a wild 2020

December 25, 2020 Photo

The world has undergone an intense shift this past year. Businesses have adapted to new ways of working, introduced new technologies, and explored innovative methods for best serving their clients in a remote landscape. As we end the final quarter of 2020, a number of talent themes and potential trends have emerged within all areas of insurance, including claim.

Labor Market Overview

Teams are continuing to operate in predominantly remote environments, assess many claims virtually rather than in the field, and respond to shifts in workloads. Although ways of working have evolved, the insurance labor market has remained relatively strong.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ October 2020 report, the unemployment rate for insurance carriers and related activities is 2.7 percent, compared to the overall economy’s rate of 6.9 percent. Insurance unemployment is lower than the start of the year, when it was 2.9 percent, and we have yet to see mass layoffs in the property and casualty (P&C) space.

Additionally, the insurance industry has steadily added new jobs in the past few months and P&C employment has grown by 2,300 jobs since February 2020’s pre-pandemic numbers. In fact, the overall insurance industry employs nearly 28,000 more individuals than it did in October 2019.

In the recent “Q3 2020 Insurance Labor Outlook Study,” conducted by The Jacobson Group and Aon plc, 83 percent of insurers shared that they plan to increase or maintain their staff sizes in the next 12 months, continuing this momentum. Within P&C carriers, half plan to increase their staff sizes, and a third expect to maintain their current size. Just 17 percent plan to reduce staff in the next 12 months. The primary reasons for growth are expected increases in business volume, and hiring for areas that are currently understaffed. This is fairly comparable to pre-pandemic numbers; P&C carriers expecting to increase staff dropped just eight percentage points from the January 2020 iteration of the study, and seven percentage points from the July 2019 study.

Additionally, P&C carriers have an optimistic business outlook for the next 12 months, with 57 percent planning to experience revenue growth and about 28 percent expecting flat growth. The most common reason for anticipated revenue shifts is a change in market share, followed by economic expansion/contraction.

In spite of the pandemic, recruiting difficulty persists throughout the industry and insurers must continue to compete for top talent. Of the 11 insurance functions surveyed in Jacobson’s study, eight have become at least slightly more difficult to recruit for in the past year, including claims. Additionally, P&C companies looking to hire within the claims function shared that individuals in the earlier stages of their careers are more in-demand than executives. 

At the same time, the workplace is looking much different than it did a year ago. While many organizations switched to full-time remote work in March, the majority of insurers plan to maintain flexible schedules even as employees slowly return to the office. According to our study, almost half of P&C carriers will continue to offer full-time, remote-work options. Eighty percent plan to provide employees with the opportunity to work from home occasionally, and half plan to be flexible with hours. Employees are beginning to expect these kinds of benefits, as the past several months proved insurers can effectively operate and remain productive in nontraditional environments.

Talent Trends for the Next Normal

As the industry moves forward in a fluid and evolving business climate, claims departments are adapting to a number of changes. Leaders are tasked with engaging young professionals, effectively managing hybrid teams, and continuing to embrace automation and other modernization projects. There are several talent shifts and trends to consider in the age of COVID-19 and beyond.

Build a bench of young talent. As noted in the Jacobson study, entry-level and junior- to mid-level roles are much more in demand within claims departments than executive-level positions. Rethink your approach to the recruitment process to appeal to young professionals. Without proper exposure and positioning, it’s possible for claims roles to be overlooked as desirable options for those early in their careers. Enlist younger team members to help serve as ambassadors and assist in pulling out characteristics of the position that will resonate with your target audience.

Rewrite job descriptions to be compelling, and focused on how individuals can make a difference in the lives of policyholders and build a foundation for a meaningful career. Especially in virtual-interview settings, keep energy levels high and make sure to select interviewers who can help champion your company, teams, and roles. 

Flexible working hours, the ability to make an impact, and upward mobility are all sought by young professionals. Use the interview process to understand what else is personally important to them and share how the role and your company are able to help fill those needs. At the same time, discuss opportunities for near-term advancement and the potential longer-term career paths available within your organization.

Effectively manage a hybrid workforce. The pandemic—along with an extremely busy catastrophe season, modernization projects, and other special needs—has made it necessary for managers to accommodate and effectively engage a variety of employee types. Many claims teams now include remote, on-site, full-time, part-time, and contract employees. In order to operate most efficiently, claims managers must have a clear understanding of their needs and build teams that can expand and contract based on potential scenarios.

Within hybrid workforces, effective and clear communication is key. Skills such as empathy, agility, coaching, and project management are more important than ever before, as claims leaders are tasked with building a positive virtual environment that engages all team members.

Today’s leaders must also be able to communicate through a variety of channels and platforms—including video conferencing, messenger apps, phone, and email—because of employees’ unique work styles. They are responsible for uniting individuals across geographies and time zones to create comprehensive plans and set clear expectations. This may include working with a staffing partner to determine specific needs and assembling teams to support full-time employees during increased workloads and special projects.

Develop tomorrow’s leaders. Technology has been at the forefront of the industry for several years, with chatbots and artificial intelligence handling simpler claims, mobile solutions and IoT enabling real-time interactions between adjusters and policyholders, and much more. The pandemic has sped up the adoption of technology across all insurance disciplines and will likely inspire additional modernization projects moving forward.

Customers have higher expectations than ever before and have become accustomed to the immediacy delivered by technology. Insurers must adapt to meet these expectations and focus on providing exceptional customer experiences. Although automation is becoming more commonplace and can streamline processes, there is still a real need for personal connections delivered only through well-developed human skills. Communication, problem solving, curiosity, empathy, and a customer-service mindset are vital for successful claims professionals at all levels.

There are many unknowns within the claims landscape as the full impact of COVID-19 continues to unfold. However, the most successful leaders will focus on attracting young professionals, reevaluating how they promote their open positions, and adapting management and work styles to take a more human approach.

About The Authors
David E. Coons

David E. Coons is senior vice president of The Jacobson Group.  dcoons@jacobsononline.com

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