There has been growing consensus among insurance industry executives that talent, capability and culture are every bit as important as technology in driving digital transformation.

Business trophy

Keeping employees safe and productive has been essential to sustaining operations throughout the pandemic, further highlighting that people are companies’ most valuable assets. Now, the war for talent has intensified as recovery and growth plans rely on an ability to retain and attract workers, even as they demand more flexible working arrangements.

The immediate priorities for most HR leaders are managing return-to-office procedures, defining new work models and designing the right people experience to support them. These challenges are linked because many insurers want to move on from remote-only work, while their people are eager to understand where they’ll be moving on to.

Defining a work model with the flexibility to meet both business needs and employee preferences will be challenging. However, it’s critical to achieving talent objectives. The EY Global Work Reimagined Survey 2021 of 16,000 people shows the extent of the demand for a new work experience. Nine out of 10 employees want flexibility around where and when they work. Employees generally want to work remotely two or three days a week, and the majority (54 percent) say they are likely to quit if they can’t.

Fortunately, even before the pandemic, many forward-looking leaders were introducing flexible working models to make their companies more attractive.

These efforts can now be supercharged by capitalising on this once-in-a-generation opportunity. The key is to enrich corporate culture by combining real estate, technology and HR policies to redefine the work experience and deliver the talent the business needs.

Hybrid models alone will not be enough to attract and retain top talent, which is increasingly scarce and expensive. All insurers are looking for data scientists and analysts, experience designers and app developers, and managers that are both tech-fluent and business-savvy.

Thus, more firms are exploring new approaches to talent acquisition, including joint ventures and collaborations with insurtechs and outsourcing functional processes to third-party providers. Such arrangements reflect the reality that not all insurers need all these skills, all the time.

Beyond cost savings, outsourcing may also boost effectiveness, offer access to the latest technology and free up internal talent to focus on core activities. Alternative sourcing models should be factored into hybrid working strategies. The ultimate goal is to create talent liquidity – the ability to move key skills and capabilities seamlessly around the business.

Organisations must also grow their own talent. Many insurers are investing more in capability definition and training – particularly in underwriting, solution and product development, customer and digital skills. Leadership development and learning management systems are also priorities.

Robust development and training programmes can complement efforts to address the risks of an ageing workforce. The goal is to retain vital institutional knowledge, particularly in areas like underwriting, product design and risk management – functions that sit at the core of the insurance business and that are being digitised.

Such knowledge must be embedded into AI-driven pricing models, for instance, based on proprietary models that have been built and refined over the years. This knowledge must be captured and passed along to younger workers who “think digital”. As insurers decide which type of work should be done where, they should recogniae how in-person collaboration may facilitate knowledge transfer.

The bottom line: balancing short- and long-term strategies

To thrive now and moving forward, insurers will need to adopt the right blend of short-term strategies to remodel work and change the workforce experience, with long-term strategies to construct a sustainable talent pipeline.