As we enter 2001, the insurance market is bracing itself for change as more brokers and underwriters are entering the playing field. During the course of 2000, we have witnessed significant change in the way business is conducted, and insurers are certainly taking the necessary steps forward. This progress is gradual and can not happen overnight, but opportunities within the industry remain extensive, recruitment has become more contracts driven and the role of IT and ecommerce is a huge component in this unpredictable era. A hectic year ahead is forecast as the insurance industry gears up for further growth and development.

London is the main European insurance centre and there is still an increasing number of insurance vacancies in a buoyant market where the skills shortage is inherent. Merger and acquisition activity has not had a huge impact over the past year and as a result, the industry is now more stable. Roles have become more specialised and the idea of the general adjuster is fast becoming a thing of the past. Companies are progressively seeking expertise, in many cases from outside the industry, in order to increase credibility. However, investment in existing staff is sometimes minimal.

This may seem like a sweeping generalisation, but on the whole, insurance companies are not cash rich and do not usually have adequate funds to spend on expensive recruitment, retention and training programmes.

IT to the fore

As the market becomes increasingly ecommerce driven, another factor, which has become prominent in recent years, is the role of IT. The potential benefit that technology can bring to business has definitely come to the forefront and people are becoming more and more in tune with the latest in technical development. The insurance industry is no different, with many companies turning to online systems to achieve greater accuracy and efficiency, making ebusiness top of the corporate agenda.

Kirsten Quarman, manager of temporary insurance at Joslin Rowe comments: “Certain aspects of the insurance business are still steeped in tradition, but the vast majority of insurers do rely heavily on software resources. Tapping into valuable customer bases, keeping up to date with competition and monitoring performance, are some of the ways in which insurers can stay informed online.”

On the recruitment side, quality, in terms of ability, experience and professionalism, is the key to success for insurers. Customers now require extra services from their insurers, such as risk management models or safety standards advice.

Quarman adds: “Recruitment consultants have seen a shift of emphasis in placement making, as the acceptance of contract employees has now become prominent. As industry-experienced personnel become more scarce, companies are hiring individuals on a contractual basis in order to solve their immediate staffing problems.

“Those recruited are generally people who have been travelling, have moved to the UK from another country or have just been made redundant.”

Earlier this year, Joslin Rowe Associates carried out a survey to establish how people working within the industry felt abut their career situation. The results were quite negative, particularly for respondents at junior level, who felt that their concerns were not being fully addressed. The majority saw their salary as below average and felt very undervalued in the workplace. In addition, they stated that training and development needs were far from being met. As we go into the year 2001, the situation for some junior employees has improved with rates of pay being increased and impressive starter packages proving to be an initial attraction. However, there still seem to be people who feel insufficiently paid in relation to their responsibilities.

Staff speak out

Mike Scott, a former underwriter who left the industry two months ago comments: “In my experience, some individuals are being paid the same salary as others, for completely different roles and levels of responsibility. Although I enjoyed my job as an underwriter and my employers treated me very well, I did not feel that my salary was rewarding enough.”

For those surveyed at management level, the main concerns were long-term prospects and salary. Several people indicated that lack of adequate training continues to hamper individuals' development and motivation, and means limited opportunity for promotion.

A vast number of insurance employees are moving from their present positions to companies where they can improve their career opportunities or find better job security. This further highlights the need for employers to address issues affecting stability for managers, such as running appraisal systems. It is evident that in order to retain skilled staff, companies must invest in their futures, offer career development opportunities and more competitive packages.

These and other issues can have serious implications for staff morale, but the general feeling is that improvements are predicted for the near future as the insurance market opens its door to new people, fresh ideas and a strengthened market position. The skills shortage is still prominent and therefore, many companies have had to rethink their recruitment process.

As we continue to ride on the crest of the IT revolution, the insurance business, like all other industries, is striving to become increasingly competitive. On the whole, developments in the past year kicked off this transitional period, and so for the immediate future the wheels of change and development are certainly in motion.