5 ways for insurers to win over tech talent

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I was talking to the CIO of a Midwestern insurance company this week who complained about having his budget approved for tech recruitment, but no real talent interested in coming through the door. His company is embarking on a project that will obviate two core systems in favor of customized, end-to-end cloud-based software. This project will require a project management office, agile developers, integration specialists, quality assurance specialists and other tech professionals.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “When it comes to recruiting top talent, the brightest minds out there don’t necessarily consider insurance the industry of choice.”

(I guess he’s assuming that the brightest minds are technology minds, which may not be a good assumption to make – but for the sake of this discussion, we’ll agree.)

We know that carriers are prioritizing technology talent. Results of a study conducted earlier this year of Novarica’s Research Council CIOs noted that “talent” is the top IT-related challenge for 2017. According to The Institutes, the pending retirement of baby boomers will result in the insurance industry needing to fill 400,000 positions – in technology and elsewhere – within the next three years.

This means my colleague above is in a scramble, looking at recruitment, acquisition, management and retention of superior technology professionals while also identifying future needs and fueling the company’s pipeline.

It’s an interesting dilemma for sure, because the recent onslaught of attention around the insurtech archetype has excitement written all over it, as insurers become involved with incubators, accelerators and startups to forge innovation. So what gives?

According to futurist Chunka Mui, who spoke at at IASA’s annual conference in Orlando this summer, getting top tech talent is akin to making a marriage work — it’s about finding the right circumstances for the right talent. “We are now talking about change that is happening much more rapidly than ever before,” he said. “Insurers that open a research lab for artificial intelligence or robotic program automation may not necessarily be the businesses that these workers want to work for or have the skill sets for.”

Rob McIsaac, who authored the Novarica report, admits “there is still work to be done on how to make these kinds of programs attractive to this potential talent.” Here are just some of the opinions I’ve heard:

Be more like Silicon Valley: This represents the “I want what the guy who works for Google gets” philosophy, which could involve, among other things, free breakfast and lunch, no dress code (except you can’t come to work naked), foosball, fun crowdsourcing contests, remote work options or, if at work, open (I mean outside) or self-designed work spaces (including pods for naps), and a bring your dog to work policy.

Design a cool building: If you’ve visited Schaumburg, Ill., Zurich North America’s new office is the best thing going there. Comprising three very large offset Jenga-like bars supported by internal cross-bracing, Zurich’s new US headquarters is pretty cool – at least in my opinion. Workspaces built for collaboration, balanced with private and teaming areas, are the result of crowdsourcing and collective ideas. “Our spaces are designed to delight the people who work there,” says a website ad, and the building even won a “Most Intelligent HQ or Campus” Award.

Let your workers rebel: This method involves the opposite of crowdsourcing and social pressure (such as being more like Silicon Valley or working at a place that others deem cool). Harvard Business Review author Francesca Gino surveyed 2,000 employees across a wide range of industries and found more than half didn’t question the status quo. In another survey of 1,000 employees, less than 10% said they work at a place that encourages non-conformity. “Workers and their organizations both pay a price: decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation,” she says. Gino adds that businesses should allow — even promote — what she calls constructive nonconformity: behavior that deviates from organizational norms, others’ actions, or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization.

Recruit “encore career” hopefuls: MetLife’s Act2 return to work program targets mid-career professionals who have been out of the workforce for a while, and offers a 10-week paid internship during which time both the intern and company can evaluate interest and progress. I’m not sure how suitable this program would be for technology professionals, but who knows (see below)—anything is possible.

Recruit from the trades: Speaking of encore careers, insurers may even want to consider looking at the trades for decent tech talent. A web developer writes on freecodecamp.com that he transformed his career as a plumber to a web developer.

In all of this, we fall back to an old and repetitive discussion: As an industry, we seem to be confused about whether to focus on attraction or promotion. We are challenged to be regarded as an industry that helps people, or one that can be counted on during a crisis. Instead, the core of the problem is the essence of the insurance industry’s reputation – as a lackluster industry that is perceived by the policyholder as charging exorbitant premiums for less value. Until this changes, it’s going to be pretty hard to attract great tech talent, even with pods, foosball and a free lunch.

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