Who will be doing the industry’s work in the months and years ahead? It can’t all be done by AI systems and robots. If anything, there will be more people working in the industry than ever before. That’s why insurers are increasingly relying on contingent workers and services as they move forward into the digital world.

That’s the word from the authors of a recent study of 800 organizations conducted by SAP Fieldglass, in conjunction with Oxford Economics. They find 82% of insurance executives say that finding high-quality resources at the right time and in the right place is really or extremely challenging. At least 75% expect to use on-demand, online marketplaces for freelancers in three years.

This means increasing reliance on an external workforce, “including technology consulting firms and call center outsourcers, and non-payroll labor such as data scientists, programmers, financial analysts, and claims adjusters,” the study’s authors point out, calling this the “multi-channel workforce.”

This seems to be an acute issue for companies in the insurance industry. A majority of insurance executives, 78%, state that their external workforce is critical to operating at full capacity and meeting market demands—significantly higher than the average of 65% for all industries, the Oxford study finds. A higher number of insurers also report that they would be unable to conduct business as usual without an external workforce (51% of insurers, versus 46% for all respondents).

At the same time, there are mixed results when it comes to how well informed insurance executives are about their external workforce options. Only one-third (33%) of respondents are “highly informed” about who is doing work for their organization when it comes to non-payroll workers.

Many insurance executives are applying data analytics and artificial intelligence to stay on top of workforce requirements. Three-fourths use data and analytics to inform their workforce strategies, and 55% report using AI and machine learning. In addition, 51% say they use predictive analytics to anticipate talent shortfalls, while 45% use AI/machine learning to anticipate talent shortfalls.

The research also shows that “approximately 43% of workforce spending in the insurance industry goes to contingent workers and services providers, close to the cross-industry average of 44%.

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