Insurance leaders listen to tips on getting new recruits excited at 2016 WIL Forum.
Insurance leaders listen to tips on getting new recruits excited at 2016 WIL Forum. Matthew Glison

Finding and retaining IT talent starts at a very young age, according to insurance executives from State Farm, CNA Insurance and Travelers. That talent is ultimately swayed to join the insurance industry by opportunities to lead innovation teams at an early age in an agile work environment.

Those were among the biggest takeaways from a panel at INN’s Women in Insurance Leadership conference in Chicago, discussing how carriers fill IT personnel needs. The panel was comprised of Tacha Gregory, State Farm’s IT director; Jeff Hughes, SVP of IT transformation at CNA; and Vivian Chow, VP of human resources, technology, at Travelers.

“At Facebook or Microsoft, you can be one of hundreds of thousands of tech professionals working on a very small and focused project. Or you can enter our environment where we encourage staff to learn new technologies and not stick to one thing,” said Chow, adding that the insurer is after individuals with skills in data security, cloud, IBM Watson and robotics.

To attract talent, State Farm has set up recruiting offices in Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and Silicon Valley in the last three years. The company has also opened offices in those areas. State Farm also partners with universities to create cybersecurity majors within computer science. Unfortunately, universities are finding it difficult to get millennials to major in computer science, Gregory says.

“We’ve begun hackathons where we let children hack phones or their parents’ iPad’s to build interest,” she said. “Kids do not have a lot of guidance so we are trying to get them into technology early.”

Another challenge in IT recruiting is fighting the stigma that insurance is not a "sexy" career. Hughes, however, says that early on, millenials are looking for a range of experience in their careers. Carriers as a result do not have to sell them on the opportunity, just that insurance is an industry they may never choose to leave. Even if they move on, insurance offers millennials “skills they can take elsewhere, such as learning the financial workings of an industry,” he said.

A more prominent threat to insurers comes from insurtech startups, Hughes added. The industry newcomers are receiving boatloads of investment funding from venture capital firms and are after the same talent insurance companies are, he says.

“Startups present a challenge and opportunity,” said Hughes. “We can lose talent to them, but also need to leverage our relationships to adapt to changing times in the industry.”

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