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Bridging the skills gap

Can London retain its crown in the insurance landscape of the future? Caroline Bedford argues that the key to the market’s continued success as an innovator lies in addressing the growing skills gap

Amazing London skyline with Tower Bridge during sunset
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London, as a hub of the insurance market, is centuries old and rooted in tradition. Firms packed tightly into the Square Mile have hitherto thrived on face-to-face business, but emerging markets and established rival centres are circling in a bid to take business from the London market.

London was in the digital age long before Covid-19 propelled it forward. Banks and other London financial institutions had already begun to adopt emerging technologies and shift their culture towards driving operational efficiencies and meeting customer demand.

But can the London insurance market keep up and, importantly, how can it attract, retain and upskill talent in the sector with the innovation necessary to thrive?

Wind back just a few years and the idea of AI calculating the full extent of damages following a loss was “out there”. Being able to make informed decisions in minutes by leveraging gigabytes of data and complex models in the background was unthought of.

But fast forward and the technology already exists. It’s happening. Deep learning now spots patterns in data faster than ever before. Robotic process automation takes over the mundane and repetitive tasks and machine learning iteratively improves our risk models.

Producers, agents, brokers, insurers, clients – they expect faster, real-time responses and high value returns. Let’s face it, the handshakes of the past can’t compete on their own.

Why age isn’t the barrier to growth

The London insurance market has been the global leader in the industry, but it’s been diagnosed with a plethora of skills gaps across all functions and the prognosis isn’t clear. The gaps are deeper than just people and knowledge. They are still many antiquated processes and ‘old school’ cultures which are even harder to change.

The insurance market cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Those who do nothing simply won’t be able to compete with rival hubs and the industry must collectively respond if it wants to retain the talent. So are apprentices, graduates and millennials the answer to the London market's creative skills gap? It’s far more complex than that.

The insurance landscape has many loyal, long-serving, highly experienced staff. They are brimming with knowledge and value. Now imagine if you took those existing staff and gave them the creative skills to apply new technologies and processes. AI and emerging technologies can automate manual tasks that would take a human years to complete. But technology doesn’t replace people’s know-how and experience. It’s a must-have tool, yes, but its deployment isn’t just for the new entrants, apprentices and graduates.

Domain expertise typically cascades from the top to the bottom, from senior management through to middle management, and on down to new joiners. But if only the old processes and knowledge cascades, we risk more of the same. Even new, digital-first firms aren’t ‘safe’. Whilst their tech may be shiny, they risk inheriting the legacy insurance culture and must invest in creativity and agility to stay ahead.

Now the pandemic has forced a shift to digital learning hubs, and people no longer learn by osmosis, we have to be even more inventive in how we develop – then organically cascade - those innovation and creativity skills.

So, what are leaders to do? First, accept that learning is not passive – it needs action to initiate. Second, recognise that investing in creative learning built around innovation not only enables individuals to thrive, but companies too. It allows the insurance industry and the London market as a whole to tackle the skills gap and simultaneously resolve its historic issues. Finally, put in place creativity learning programmes that jointly upskill and reskill the existing staff whilst also attracting new talent. After all, for many firms, the future workforce is already here.

Turning the creative lights on

We also have to look outwards to the external forces and themes at play. Younger generations are choosing to support and spend their budgets with companies that are environmentally conscious and sustainable. It would be no surprise to see this same mindset applied to their career choices. The insurance market must look at how it can consult, adapt and respond to such global themes and make a positive impact on both future generations and their future success.

According to the London Market Group’s London Matters 2020 report, just 4% of graduates consider joining the insurance market. Put simply, the market has failed to appeal to younger generations through a lack of technology, innovation and perception of vibrancy.

But it’s not just about attracting graduates and creatives to the sector. The existing workforce is well-versed in the old ways, the old processes and values, and employees old and new need to own and expand their role in a culture that supports them. The wealth of skills and existing knowledge will only improve with the addition of new techniques and technologies. If organisations don’t look to upskill existing staff and attract and retain new talent, they will become a relic of the past. That’s not a risk, it’s a certainty.

We all need to think and behave differently if we want to push that 4% higher. And let’s be honest, we all want to attract and retain the best people with diverse expertise – they are your competitive edge. How can you reward creativity and keep feeding curious minds? It requires time, rewards and resources to create a true learning culture that keeps your company at the forefront of change. Swathe them in unnecessary bureaucracy and the creative lights go out.

The insurance skills of the future

Organisations need to drill down into the skills they want their people to have and give them the four C’s to attain them:

  • Capacity

  • Cognisance

  • Capability

  • Culture

Technology and knowledge are breathing life into the insurance market with a fresh key role: the corporate creative.

Training, education, learning and development allow us to replicate the former face-to-face business model with all of the speed and knowledge that consumers demand. It’s the best of both worlds and even more important post-pandemic, as we are no longer sat at desks in an office surrounded by colleagues.

The corporate creative is the disruptor to the traditional insurance environment and is essential in attracting, retaining, upskilling and future-proofing your firm.

Bridging the London skills gap

Skills gaps never fully close because change and learning never stop. If the market fails to respond and manage the problem, the gap simply widens making competitive hubs and early tech adopters more and more attractive.

Products are changing. The way that the business interacts with clients is changing. Job roles need to move with this change. Business leaders need to implement continual measurements to upskill their people and give them the tools and knowledge to evolve with the market.

This whole-business, creative shift won’t be overnight. It demands honest conversations, vision, planning and being open to change and risk. Everyone wants the best staff and the best staff will go to - and stay with - the firms that innovate.

We are seeing a shift on our innovation programmes. There is a wider audience including the senior management team and HR roles who have bought into the evolution and wish to lead it. In 2020, our Digital Minds programme saw ages 18-54 implementing technology and learning into their careers.

Learning isn’t just for the young. It’s for everyone. And the insurance landscape is changing. Are you changing with it?