Specialist skills are in demand in today's insurance jobs market - with a pay packet to prove it

Insurers and brokers looking to achieve the holy grail of offering an expert-led service to clients are pushing up salaries as they aggressively bid to attract the best talent.

Senior candidates with specialist expertise are commanding the best packages, including lucrative ‘golden hello’ payments of 80% of starting salary.

The closer focus on specialist products and services is a growing trend as brokers and insurers seek to differentiate their offerings in a competitive marketplace.

Pointyheads are also in demand. Actuaries with Solvency II expertise are so sought after by insurers in a desperate race against the clock to comply with the new regulation by 1 January 2013 that their salaries have sky-rocketed. A London-based actuarial partner is likely to earn on average £284,500 a year, the highest of all industry salaries.

Other consultant and in-house actuarial posts consistently dominate the top spots in a new ranking of insurance industry salaries produced by Insurances Times’ analysis of the Hays Insurance Salary Guide 2010/11.

The guide offers indicative salary ranges for a variety of posts in nine regions of the UK, based on 5,000 vacancies handled by Hays during the year ending March 2011. Insurance Times has taken the mid-point average of these ranges to produce typical salary rankings by region and industry sector.

Specialism pays

Actuarial roles speak for seven of the top 10 highest-paid jobs in the industry, including chief actuary, deputy chief actuary, and associate partner. With just 17,000 actuaries in the UK, demand for their skills is far outstripping supply.

Hays Insurance director David Carr says: “Solvency II is inflating salaries in insurance. There are nowhere near enough actuaries.

The more specialist you go, the more complex and precise the role, the higher the salary. It’s like the difference between a GP and a brain surgeon.”

Others in the top 10 best-paid insurance jobs are senior underwriters, paid on average £126,250 a year, broker chief executives, on £121,389, and international claims adjusters, typically earning £105,000.

Carr recently placed a senior specialist financial underwriter in a regional business for a six-figure salary, with 80% of the starting salary as a ‘golden hello’.

By contrast, the higher volume of junior jobs in claims and underwriting make these the Cinderellas of the industry.

“The number of claims and technician jobs means that salaries tend to stay lower. Insurers, like banks, began outsourcing their call centres to India four to five years ago looking for cheaper deals, but many are now bringing them back.”

Four out of 10 of the lowest-paid jobs in the industry are claims roles: adjuster (£26,883), domestic adjuster (£26,333), negotiator/handler (£26,167) and internal adjuster (£22,167); and five are underwriting jobs: package underwriter (£25,194), underwriter (£25,198), underwriting analyst (£25,111), underwriting technician (£22,611) and underwriting assistant (£20,494).

“Claims is definitely less well paid, in general terms. And for underwriters, there haven’t been bonuses because of the state of the market. The business hasn’t been profitable enough,” Carr says. The salaries in Hays’ guide exclude underwriters’ bonuses, but include on-target commissions for brokers.

Bonus benefits

Separately, Hays surveyed 510 insurance professionals about their attitudes to benefits: of these, 84% said that they valued an individual, performance-related bonus; only 67% percent received one; and 39% had their bonus reduced last year.

Flexibility over benefits emerged as important, with 82% saying that they would like more flexible benefits. For example, 88% valued generous parental benefits, but only 28% received them. Flexible working hours, working from home, paid overtime and time off in lieu are all rated highly by employees, but not necessarily received. That being said, the majority of respondents (61%) claimed to be ‘fairly satisfied’ with their benefits package.

Retaining talent was revealed as a likely future challenge for insurers, as 43% of respondents felt that they lacked sufficient opportunity to progress with their employer, and 46% said they had stayed in their job only because of the recession.

A weakness in attracting top talent continues to dog the industry. Carr pointed to an ongoing skills shortage and the challenge of promoting insurance careers to talented graduates and school-leavers, “in competition with slick campaigns run by accounting firms and banks”.

“Insurance has always had image issues. However, the global shake up changed the portrayal of bankers, and therefore we might be getting more individuals into insurance,” Carr says.

The Chartered Insurance Institute’s Discover Risk outreach campaign has been running events targeting sixth formers, college students and undergraduates since October 2010, using an interactive board game and examples from celebrity culture and film-making to promote the variety of insurance careers.

“Insurance is the ‘I never realised that’ profession to end all professions, because it has spent so many years not explaining itself to the outside world,” CII relationship manager for education Caspar Bartington says.

Bartington has been fronting the CII’s campaign, which will have delivered 50 events by July this year. YouGov research commissioned by CII in 2009 found that only 15% of sixth formers, college students and undergraduates would consider a career in insurance, with the rest perceiving it as ‘boring’, and even ‘untrustworthy’.

“For most, the only experience they have of insurance is bad adverts on TV – Admiral, Churchill, Endsleigh. Whether the reward is working in Hong Kong for three years, or earning loads of money, or working with great colleagues, we need to communicate that.”

Bartington was sceptical that bankers’ loss of reputation was necessarily insurers’ gain, however. “It goes both ways. Some people lump financial services all in together.”

Lagging behind bankers

Still, insurance industry salaries lag behind their counterparts in the banking industry.

In insurance, a head of claims can expect an average salary of £81,944, while a claims director gets on average £70,000. The managing director of an underwriting firm is paid on average £93,056 a year, and a head of underwriting £85,500.

By comparison, a finance director with 12 years’ experience based in the City can expect typically to earn £150,000 a year, with 100% bonus. A City financial accountant with 3-8 years’ experience is typically paid £51,500, with between 20% and 60% bonus.

A corporate tax partner in the North West or Midlands could expect £150,000 a year, and in Scotland £120,000.

However, Carr insists that insurance salaries have risen for specialist skills, particularly specialist financial products, specialist broking and actuarial, and he says the outlook for job seekers is brightening. “There is a lot more activity now than there was last year. Activity doubled in January this year compared to 2010 – there were a massive number of jobs.”