Ahead of speaking at Insurance2025 on 3 July, Sam White sits down with Insurance Times to discuss the changing company culture and what needs to be done to attract the next generation
Is the insurance industry agile enough to face the fast changing landscape of technology and changing customer needs?
I don’t think it is. But I also don’t think that is limited to the insurance industry. The pace of change in technology is catching a lot of traditional industries off guard, and we have seen that more prevalently in the financial services sector than anywhere else.
To me, it is exciting, and I think it opens up opportunities for new players to come in and do things differently.
With a lot of different companies coming to insurance like Amazon, Google, insurtechs and auto manufacturers, what kind of company will prosper in future? And what kind of company is in danger of being left behind?
Within any sector, businesses that are capable of providing a consumer experiences that are seamless and engaging , will far surpass any of their competition.
The insurance industry, is currently not performing very well in this regard – it’s falling well behind.I am sure that some players will catch up and overcome some of the obstacles of the overall journey.
But also, the next generation isn’t just demanding good products and good consumer journeys, they expect businesses to have a much broader sense of purpose and to have a very different attitude towards customers and employees.
You mean social responsibility and being involved with social issues?
Yes, absolutely. The generation which is coming up is much more educated on what is going on in the world in terms of environment, or potential injustices, or abuses of power.
I think it is an absolutely fascinating time to be in business., as the whole construct of business is being challenged for the better.
I was looking at a lot of evidence around organisational design. How we choose to work is really coming under fire at the moment and insurers are still very traditional in that respect. I think that the propositions that they put forward to consumers will be a real challenge for them in the next few years.
The word ‘millennial’ is used quite a lot nowadays. But as you said this generation coming, they are very concerned with the environment and different social issues. How would you say the work force is changing and how is the make-up of staff going to be changing?
I think that the whole concept of corporate hierarchy is under fire and it’s actually the cause l of this kind of conflict.
You used the term ‘millennials’.I hate this phrase as I think it’s often time used in quite a derogatory way. I don’t see it that way.
I think the traditional corporate environment was very hierarchical, and the organisational design was very much separated into two categories - the “thinkers” and then the “doers”. The “thinkers” of course being the decision makers and the “doers” being the workers.
I think that the millennial generation are the first generation to call time on that. They want to have input in the working environment and make decisions which enable them to genuinely make a difference.
I think that is exactly as it should be, and I think that in order to be able to cope with the sheer speed of change from a technology viewpoint, you need to empower people to be able to make real time decisions.
They need to be able to use their intelligence, intuition and on the ground information in the right way. So, I think the workforce themselves will demand that the balance of power between management and staff is severely shifted.
So hierarchy is something that needs to change, and the millennial generation will be a force of change in the upcoming years? For people who have been in the insurance industry for a long time, do you think they, if they fail to adapt, are in danger in falling behind?
100%. You can see it already in some of the new tech startups and what they are able to offer and the way in which they are able to engage consumers.
There is very little loyalty in insurance companies as there is very little emotional connections.
People don’t feel that their insurer is a trusted brand. So if a brand new player comes up with a product that is easier to engage with and fulfils the need in a more personalised way, than the way their consumers are getting at the moment, then they will switch. Just as Blockbuster customers switched to Netflix, they just wanted to watch films.
People don’t really care about insurance, they just want to make sure they are protected.
Do you think that the skillset that the insurance industry will need, will be much more tech-based?
Absolutely. The technology is really important, but I also think the thing insurers are offering should be emotional. It should take away fear, a sense of calm and safety.
And in the instance of making a claim, it is about stepping in and providing security to the individual. It is going to be much more important to hire people with emotional intelligence to make that.
With some graduates saying that they find the insurance industry boring, and with the potential changes in the skillset leading to a younger workforce, could that improve the image of the industry?
I don’t think that alone would do it if I am honest. A lot of insurance brands play it very safe and don’t think out of the box and are not trying to be different and clever.
One of the big projects that we are looking to undertake in the next twelve months is around smart working, because you know the people that you need to recruit, technology people etc., can be quite creative personalities and they don’t like being restricted to having to come to an office environment and having to work from 9 am to 5pm.
We have data scientist,s and their preference is to work algorithms at 2 o’clock in the morning. That’s what works for them. When you ask them to work office hours, you completely turn them off. If you work to make your business environment flexible and able to accommodate at any location, then you start to be able to attract people whose work-life balance looks slightly different and want to engage with their employers in a completely different way.
With these new younger people coming into insurance, how do you think demands from work life will differ from the generation before apart from you mentioned about their attitudes towards social responsibility?
My generation as well as the older generations older feel that you have get your head down and do your job, even if you hate it. If it is secure and it pays the bills than that’s all that matters. I think the next generation say, ‘Well I don’t want to live like that. If I am a person who cares about homeless people, I want to be able to spend some time contributing to that cause as part of my day-to- day job’.
Flexible working, allowing people to take time to potentially explore other areas of their lives and be their whole selves and allowing people to be who they are at work, is really important. A lot of insurance companies are still really stuck in this ‘you have to dress in a certain way in the office’, which I personally find ludicrous.
Telling somebody to homogenise their appearance when they come to an office, makes no sense to me at all. I want people who work for our businesses to feel that they don’t have to pretend they are something that they aren’t and speak in a language that is disingenuous.
There are so many elements that contribute to an authentic workplace that people genuinely feel connected to. There is a lot that the insurance industry can do better. Much better.
How is the industry going to attract these younger people who may be suited for another industry?
By being honest and transparent about what they are doing to change. We are very lucky that we are getting a lot of young and old talent interested in engaging with us. It is mostly because they find the culture appealing and I think it is all of these things that we are discussing.
We have to look at the environment that they are coming into. We have to look at the freedom and flexibility we are giving them, and we have to give them a reason and purpose so they want to go that extra mile for your business and choose you over all the other options in the market.
Finally, are you excited about Insurance2025?
Yes - Absolutely!. I think it is brilliant that everybody is having these conversations now and starting to break down these barriers.
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