To boost diversity, dynamism is needed

It’s not enough for the insurance industry to try to move the needle on diversity one new hire at a time—we have to fundamentally change the way ambitious individuals view the business, say Mia Finsness and Richie Henry of Markel.

It’s no secret that the insurance industry has an image problem. At a time when diversity and inclusion are hot-button topics, the industry has been forced to reckon with its lack of diversity. Meanwhile, the industry is facing difficulty attracting top talent among younger generations.

We would argue that these two issues are related. The insurance industry’s reputation among younger generations as antiquated, unsophisticated, and boring both reflects the industry’s lack of diversity and contributes to it.

To grow its pool of diverse candidates, the insurance industry needs to take a more holistic approach. It’s not enough for us to try to move the needle on diversity one new hire at a time; we have to fundamentally change the way smart and ambitious individuals view the insurance business. The industry as a whole needs an image rebranding, and those of us within the industry can contribute to this rebranding by venturing beyond the traditional recruiting playbooks.

Our goal should be to build a workforce comprised of exceptional individuals with a wider array of experiences and skillsets. When we expand our search beyond the traditional sources of “insurance” candidates, and at the same time build a reputation as a cutting-edge industry that attracts candidates from all backgrounds, we will expand our recruiting pool and achieve more demographic diversity within it.

When it comes to changing how job candidates view insurance, we in the industry need to start by changing our own views of the industry and its potential. Currently, hiring managers in the industry are predisposed to recruit people with specialised backgrounds in insurance-related studies and professions.

But focusing so narrowly ignores the sector’s growing complexity and limits our potential for finding candidates with transferrable skillsets who can help us continue to evolve and compete in the global marketplace. Furthermore, it limits our ability to cast a wider net for diverse candidates.

Once we accept that our industry is so much more than insurance-specific backgrounds and educations, we can fish in a larger pond of talent that is both exceptional and diverse.

“We in the industry need to start by changing our own views of the industry and its potential.”
Mia Finsness, Markel

Changing our approach to recruitment

The easiest place to start is with entry-level roles where a high proportion of the industry’s current young professionals hold undergraduate degrees in risk management from the limited number of universities that offer them. As a result, there are simply fewer candidates to choose from. In addition, many students in such degree programmes are related to people already in the industry, meaning they are less likely to be ethnically diverse.

To secure a more diverse pool of entry-level job candidates, the industry needs to take a two-pronged approach. First, it needs to expand the schools from which it recruits. Second, it needs to consider candidates who, while they may lack formal risk management training, have broadly applicable core competencies and transferrable skillsets, including critical and strategic thinking, creativity, teamwork, curiosity, and an ability to connect ideas across multiple subject-matter areas.

These core competencies may well be found in candidates with liberal arts degrees or vocational backgrounds. Such people may not know technical insurance terms on day one but can acquire such knowledge as they progress. In addition, their transferrable skillsets will enable them, and the companies they work for, to flourish in the long term.

Such a generalist-focused approach to hiring offers companies not only diversity benefits but also an enhanced ability to cope with the unprecedented levels of change taking place in the business world.

This generalist approach is equally relevant when recruiting more senior candidates. This idea may sound controversial, as it flies in the face of the industry’s traditional approach of requiring a certain number of years’ experience in a specific product line. But adhering to technical insurance titles and job prerequisites all but ensures that job postings will not land on the radar of capable people from other industries who might bring fresh ideas and experiences to our sector.

Such requirements may have an amplified impact on diverse applicants who suffer disproportionately from “imposter syndrome”—the feeling that they would be imposters if they applied to a job where they didn’t meet 100 percent of the job requirements.

In recent years, Markel has started to think outside the box when recruiting diverse slates of candidates. The Markel claims department, for example, has expanded its hiring of individuals with non-traditional backgrounds. For example, Markel now routinely hires attorneys of all types to handle complex liability claims. Other thriving claims employees come from a diverse array of professions, including nursing, law enforcement, corrections, the military, data analytics, and operations.

By opening our minds and expanding our search parameters to new backgrounds and locations, Markel’s claims department has added to the depth of its bench and gained a wide array of new perspectives and competencies.

Just as crucial, this strategy has enabled us to increase diversity among our ranks. In 2020, for example, 56 percent of new hires in Markel claims ranging from entry-level to managing director identified as female and 36 percent identified as minority.

Broadening our understanding of relevant job experiences while focusing on transferrable skillsets is just one way that Markel is committed to increasing our diversity at all levels.

“We need to think about being not just desirable insurance companies to work for, but desirable companies to work for, period.”
Richie Henry, Markel

Changing the way others think about our industry

For the industry as a whole, changing our internal mindset is not enough. We also need to change how outsiders view our industry so that diverse candidates actively seek us out.

Up to the 1990s, top college graduates competed for entry-level positions at the big financial institutions. Today, however, such careers are considered unexciting. As a result, it has become difficult for financial institutions to attract the best and the brightest candidates, let alone those who are also diverse. We would argue that the insurance industry is in the same boat. In addition, the majority of experienced individuals applying for jobs at insurance companies are already in the industry.

Quite simply, as an industry we have not done enough to improve our employer brand and value proposition. Few insurance carriers have broad name recognition with the general public, and among the few that do, even fewer have rousing brands.

Indeed, stereotypes about insurance remain prevalent and reinforce potential recruits’ impressions that insurance is boring and not cutting edge. The industry needs to fight this perception through education and marketing.

Here are a few points that illustrate why the insurance industry is an exciting place to build a career.

Insurance is a swiftly evolving, high-tech discipline

Insurance companies are increasingly deploying dynamic technologies to solve clients’ complex problems. For example, many of today’s job candidates are interested in data analytics. There is perhaps no industry with more data at its command than insurance.

Exciting new products such as parametric insurance are tapping troves of data produced by NASA and the National Weather Service and coming up with financial solutions that help protect businesses against unexpected weather patterns. We are only beginning to figure out how to maximise such opportunities.

The industry is rapidly reinventing its business model

Today’s insurance industry is constantly finding new ways to do business. This includes new insurtech approaches for improving efficiency and novel digital initiatives designed to reach non-traditional insurance purchasers. App-based insurance companies such as Lemonade have generated excitement in the tech world about insurance.

While Lemonade brands itself as a disruptor, the fact is that all traditional insurance companies will be looking for ways to do what Lemonade proposes, using technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. For young programmers and people with entrepreneurial spirits, the runway is long and the opportunities are vast.

Insurance touches almost every other industry

Insurance is a great career option for curious people who love learning about other disciplines. The industry works with every sector—from healthcare and cannabis-derived product companies to global energy conglomerates and makers of electric cars—and with businesses of every size, from individuals and small businesses to Fortune 100 companies.

Each insurable risk requires learning about the client’s industry and understanding risk within that industry. One day, an underwriter may learn about positive train control technologies to decide whether to underwrite a large rail company. The next day, that same underwriter may learn about cyber vulnerabilities in medical devices to decide whether there is increased risk of hackers hijacking pacemakers and causing injury.

Insurance plays a critical role in protecting society

For those driven by a desire to work in an industry that contributes positively to society, insurance is a great option. Insurance is instrumental in ensuring that individuals and businesses remain financially sound after catastrophic events. We are there in a time of need and are dedicated to helping people and businesses get back on their feet after an unfortunate event.

We need to think about being not just desirable insurance companies to work for, but desirable companies to work for, period. Over time, broader-based outreach combined with a stronger story to tell will help us build an improved brand and enhance the diversity of our workforce.

By expanding our horizons on recruiting and branding, we can foster a more innovative, dynamic industry—one in which talented individuals are better able to flourish and help build some of the world’s great companies.

This document is intended for general information purposes only, and should not be construed as advice or opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. This document cannot be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedure or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. Markel does not guarantee that this information is or can be relied on for compliance with any law or regulation, assurance against preventable losses, or freedom from legal liability. This publication is not intended to be legal, underwriting, or any other type of professional advice. Persons requiring advice should consult an independent adviser. Markel does not guarantee any particular outcome and makes no commitment to update any information herein, or remove any items that are no longer accurate or complete. Furthermore, Markel does not assume any liability to any person or organisation for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any reliance placed on that content. ©2021 Markel Service, Incorporated. All rights reserved.

Mia Finsness is managing executive, global casualty underwriting and claims, at Markel. She can be contacted at:

Richie Henry is managing director, information technology, at Markel. He can be contacted at:

Video courtesy of Adobe Stock / blackboxguild

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