Insurance industry has ‘a real fear’ around employee burnout, while insurtech investment indicates sector-wide ‘digital first’ focus is here to stay

Broker CEO Forum 2021: Insurance businesses have “upped the ante” around staff mental health and welfare as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic because there is “a real fear” around “burning our people out”.

Attendees at this year’s Broker CEO Forum, hosted by Insurance Times on Thursday 21 October 2021, admitted that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed employee mental health “so much higher” on leaders’ agendas because there is “a real fear we are burning our people out” due to a lack of separation between workers’ home and professional lives.

Laptops left open on kitchen counters, for example, mean staff could end up working more hours, giving them less time to rest and recharge. “They never stop,” a delegate explained, pinpointing senior executives as particularly guilty of this habit.

With this in mind, one attendee said that many insurance firms have “placed a particular focus on that aspect of running businesses and caring for people over the last 18 months”, which includes developing a “brand new set of skills that need to be applied when you are not in front of a colleague day in, day out”.

An example of this is businesses facilitating conversations around mental health and ensuring that the subject is not “a taboo in any way” – this includes conversations with internal staff as well as external partners.

Training individuals to be mental health first aiders or providing leaders with the know-how to spot the signs of poor mental health are also useful. Many companies also strive to encourage work-life balance, reminding employees to take regular breaks as part of their working day.

One leader added that he advises staff not to book meeting around lunch time, to ensure employees have a lunch break. His firm also uses a business psychologist as an additional support.

No step back from digital focus

How businesses use technology has also drastically accelerated when compared with pre-pandemic times – one speaker noted its customers’ utilisation of self-serve technology had increased by at least a third at their business over the last year, with new technology-focused habits being forced into reality because of previous Covid-19 restrictions.

“The habit has been potentially forced, but certainly created and I don’t think there’s any great step back there. I just cannot see a step back,” the delegate explained.

Another attendee in the session pointed to insurtech valuations as a clear indicator of the sector’s direction of travel and its revised “digital first” focus.

He said: “[Digital] acceleration was happening, but it’s suddenly gone ridiculous how quickly people have had to move to a digital first emphasis.

“You just look at some of the crazy valuations that are going on at the moment. Yes, the market is quite ‘frothy’ – there’s lots of [venture capital] money, particularly coming across the pond. There’s a huge interest in investing in insurtechs.

“You might look at the valuations and you will baulk at them – I’ve thought that a good valuation for an MGA business was three or four times its current run rate. It’s now [typically] between nine and 12 times its run rate.

“There’s a business in America that’s currently been valued at 20 times its gross written premium run rate. It’s gone off the scale, it’s gone completely ridiculous.

“But then you look at some of the businesses that are making those investments – it’s some of the shrewdest investors in the world. The valuations are ridiculous at the moment. They are a statement of the importance of digital first.”

Despite this ramped up concentration on all things digital, attendees agreed that there is still a time and a place for face-to-face and more personal interactions – in some instances, these conversations can provide greater worth and value depending on customers’ needs.

A good example of this is if a company operates a branch network, however ensuring that each branch has the necessary skill sets within it can be a challenge, one commentator noted.

Security risk

Not all insurance businesses were completely ready for prime minister Boris Johnson’s work from home mandate in early 2020 – one attendee shared that his organisation initially spent a lot of time and money buying laptops for staff.

As a result, many employees started homeworking using their own devices, which posed a security risk due to phishing emails – despite the firm sending a test scam email to staff once a month, leadership found that many employees were still taking the bait and clicking on potentially dangerous links.

Phishing is a form of social engineering that tricks victims into revealing sensitive information, or deploying malicious software.

However, another commentator in the room remarked how much the insurance sector achieved in terms of its sudden technology adoption in response to social distancing – this “struck” him, he said.

He noted that the industry had been over cautious with its previous approach to digital adoption and that staff had, in fact, embraced the greater use of technology – he added that more businesses had to trust their people and let them lead the way when it came to introducing more digital processes.

Onboarding staff remotely was still deemed a challenge by Broker CEO Forum attendees too.

Although homeworking has opened up the sector’s potential pool of job candidates, successfully onboarding staff without face-to-face contact has proved difficult in lockdown. Some delegates said online training and mentoring or buddying schemes had helped with the process, although many businesses still need to “up their game” around this.

Juxtaposed with the recruitment opportunity is salary discussions – one industry participant said that typical “London salaries” were now being offered for jobs centred around homeworking, providing another financial consideration for leaders.

Sponsors of Insurance Times’ Broker CEO Forum 2021 include: Ageas, Applied, Close Brothers Premium Finance, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, EXL, RSM and Wiser Academy.