Head of service performance and innovation says the insurance sector must be ‘more vocal’ about its diversity projects, however the nuances of hybrid working still need to ‘iron themselves out’

The insurance industry must “get better at spotting potential in a slightly different way” if it wants to retain “diverse talent” and address the “people challenge” that is due to “rear its head” over the next two years following 2021’s Great Resignation, according to Rachel Longbottom, head of service performance and innovation at The Ardonagh Group-owned Bravo Networks.

According to international lobbying organisation the World Economic Forum, the Great Resignation is “a phenomenon” that describes “record numbers” of employees who voluntarily left or changed their jobs in 2021 due to the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Longbottom believes “the people challenge” surrounding this ongoing economic trend “is going to rear its head” in 2023 and 2024.

Rachel Longbottom

Rachel Longbottom

She explains: “We had a lot of buzzwords around the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, but I don’t think we’ve seen that settle down.

“[As an industry,] we haven’t really got our heads around talent - [the] attraction of talent, retaining talent and also developing talent.”

A key component of mitigating a potential sector-wide staffing crisis, according to Longbottom, comes down to “the retention of diverse talent” – including attracting employees who may have transferable skills and less industry experience as opposed to years of tenure in an insurance-based role.

“We’ve got to get better at the retention of talent, but also the retention of diverse talent. We’ve also got to have the ability to recognise people in a way that we [currently] don’t as an industry,” she says.

“We talk about years of experience, but what we don’t talk about is people’s adaptable skill set, their personalities, their ability to think slightly differently. As an industry, we’ve got to get better at spotting potential in a slightly different way.”

Appealing to the next generation

Although Longbottom believes that diversity and inclusion (D&I) and the attraction and retention of diverse talent is “high on the agenda” of insurance firms, she also thinks more needs to be done around how the sector advertises and promotes itself as a place to work and have a career.

She pointed out that most Brits’ first experience of insurance is purchasing their first – often very expensive – car insurance policy around the age of 17.

While this experience often does not paint a very appetising picture of where young people can have an exciting career, Longbottom feels that if the industry can market the fact that the sector works to “insure the places that you go to eat, the things that you do at a weekend, your idols”, then “that whole diversity piece and attracting talent will follow”.

Another promotional lever the industry can pull upon to draw in new talent is its history, Longbottom notes.

“I absolutely love the legacy and the history [of] where insurance came from,” she says. “The insurance industry started in London, the coffee boxes - all the wonderful stories that come with that. Suddenly, it’s a really exciting place to be.”

Longbottom adds that recruitment is something a broker network like Bravo Networks – which includes Broker Network and Compass – can assist with.

As an example, she cited the UK government’s Kickstart Scheme, which launched in September 2020 to provide funding for employers to create jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit. The scheme closed in January 2023.

Bravo Networks facilitated the Kickstart Scheme for its membership between Q4 2020 and March 2021. Under the initiative, broker members could hire unemployed young people for 25 hours a week on a six-month contract, with the government paying the new starters’ minimum wage.

“The only caveat to it was that you needed to give [new staff] transferable skills, employability skill sets and a meaningful experience,” Longbottom explains.

To enable the scheme to flourish, Bravo Networks partnered with local job centres to signpost suitable candidates to its broker members. The organisation also offered brokers training around interviewing and unconscious bias.

Longbottom adds: “We did training [for brokers] on understanding how to interview slightly differently because when you interview somebody with no experience, you can’t really ask them a competency-based question.”

As for additional support given to the new recruits, Longbottom explains that they received access to online learning and development tools, as well as weekly workshops and webinars. These sessions covered topics such as office etiquette and dress codes, timeliness, communication skills and how to use Microsoft products.

At the end of the six-month scheme duration, the candidates could either leave their employer to seek new opportunities or stay on – in these latter cases, “we put them on our Bravo Networks’ apprenticeship scheme and funded that as well”, Longbottom says.

Longbottom described the Kickstart Scheme as “the one initiative that we did in the pandemic that I’ll always be the most proud of” because it led to having “30 young people in our brokers today on apprenticeships” and sought to improve social mobility.

Being yourself at work

Attracting diverse talent is only one piece of the D&I puzzle, however.

Although D&I is within the scope of the social element of firms’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies, it “does get missed” due to organisational time pressures and the warranted attention on the transition to a net zero carbon dioxide emissions economy.

Longbottom believes, however, that “if you get inclusion right, diversity will follow”.

She explains: “If someone can have the ability to bring their whole self to work on a daily basis and be celebrated for bringing their whole self, then the diversity agenda will only improve.

“The metrics that businesses are using [to measure D&I targets] are very good, but what it then turns into is a metric-based diversity agenda.

“Whereas if we help people to understand inclusion and bringing your whole self to work, I think that instantly opens every door because actually, then you’re starting to tick off all the metrics that you’ve been trying to gather just by naturally having a very inclusive environment.”

Longbottom emphasises that embodying and bringing to life this ethos should “not just [be] left to one team”, but must be on “everybody’s agenda” in order to be successful.

As a young woman herself climbing the insurance career ladder, Longbottom does acknowledge that “the weight of the world must sit on senior female leaders because they know they’re one of few and, therefore, they are idolised by many aspiring female and male talent”.

“They do get put on a pedestal,” she adds.

Noting that the insurance industry needs to be “more vocal” about the work it is doing to promote senior female talent, Longbottom says: “We’ve got to get better at that ability of understanding that sometimes female working patterns are a little bit different. Just because somebody works four days a week instead of five, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be an amazing ‘chief’ something.”

Mastering hybrid working

There is additionally more to do to integrate true hybrid working into insurance working practices, according to Longbottom.

She believes the industry has not “really got our heads around” hybrid working.

She continues: “We’ve got to work out what people want and I don’t think we’ve done that as well as we could do.

“What we’ve done is we’ve gone pandemic hybrid, but we don’t really know what that means - we haven’t really got a pattern of how that is going to flow.

“Have we got [true] hybrid [working]? Probably not. We’ve probably got three days a week in the office. It’s not really hybrid - it’s sometimes [I] go to the office and sometimes I’m at home.

“There’s a lot of things that have got to iron themselves out.”