Executive insight

Insurance has moved on and so too the story we need to tell

Bart De Smet, CEO Ageas

Someone once said “We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present.” On the cusp of my 60th birthday, it feels like an ideal moment to pause and reflect on the past and the opportunity for the next generation of insurers. It is a very different world to the one I joined. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of human resources.

When I started in the insurance industry we were all specialists in our areas and there were less generalists as we have today. If you came in as an actuary, you did actuarial work. The more generalist view was less obvious at that time. That said, specialists of today have an expertise at a much higher level. The level of complexity in every single role has increased tremendously whether it is in data analytics, actuarial roles, digital marketing or communications. As a consequence insurers are seeing a very different mix of people compared to earlier decades and increased diversity across gender, age, nationality, skills and mind-set.

A second trend I observe is that a specific university degree matters less. Back in time, if you did not have a relevant diploma, you could not enter the insurance industry. Today, at Ageas, we are looking more for young talented people with grit. Of course, the educational background still matters, but the personality and motivation of the person even more. I am looking for enthusiastic individuals who show signs of flexibility, communications skills, the ability to work in a team and a level of interest in people among others. I am drawn to people with the capability to be multi-disciplinary, who are combining work with studying ‘real life skills’.

For those persuaded to dip a toe in the insurance pool, my advice would be to start your journey at the base working alongside those with greater experience, preferably in a co-creation capacity and to be exposed to every corner of the business as early as possible. It helps build knowledge, credibility and it will make you a better leader. People will respect you as they know you know the field, because you were in their place once.

The breadth of opportunity and the extended variation of roles mean the future has never looked brighter. But a survey conducted in 2014 by the Chartered Insurance Institute begs to differ, with some 53% of university students viewing insurance as “uninspiring.” In the most recent Randstad HR report financial services now ranks No.9 in the list of most attractive professions, below the construction and food industries!

Within the financial services sector, insurers have traditionally been labelled as “conservative, old school and poor communicators”. That’s not the reality I see.  Despite the 2008 crisis, insurance is also still considered the “poor relation to banking”; however bankers switching allegiance to insurance have a very different and more positive perspective in our experience.

As an industry we need to do a better PR job on ourselves. We have to be more proactive in telling our story and not just to the usual suspects. Every time I speak to people about what we do, they have the same reaction: “We didn’t know that there were so many variations in your business”. Academics too need to stimulate greater interest in the insurance sector by exploring internships and other work/study opportunities.

There is strong competition for talent within and outside of the industry particularly from the disruptor brands; our challenge is to embrace this and to sell the insurance story more persuasively to top talent but also to the general public. Progress in changing the perception of insurance is the legacy this generation should be leaving behind. My call to the insurance industry would be: Come outside and spread the word by sharing your experiences!