How future high flyers of re/insurance view the industry

Two executives (both under 35) tipped for the top, share their insights with Intelligent Insurer on how to recruit and retain fresh talent, develop next generation skills and ensure the valuable work to create a more diverse workforce continues.

Growing levels of technological sophistication and the changing landscape of the re/insurance sector affected by macroeconomic and climate factors mean it’s more important than ever to have people with the right skills and talent to keep companies relevant and forward-looking.

That’s before you consider the societal shifts that the COVID-19 pandemic of 2019/20 is already ushering in.

Whether it’s encouraging people with technology skills to think beyond jobs with the big tech companies, or retaining people within the business who have the vision and tenacity to drive through major change, sometimes against strong opposition, talented employees are always worth identifying and developing.

This year, the pandemic has made everyone even more conscious of the value people can bring to a business, making recognition of people who go the extra mile a key tool for morale and bringing hope for the future in these challenging times.

Intelligent Insurer spoke to two rising stars of 2020 to find out what they think is crucial for encouraging more talent to step up to the re/insurance plate.

Neelaakshi Piplani Senior manager, actuarial services, Xceedance

After graduating with a mathematics degree, Neelaakshi Piplani began work as an actuarial analyst at Aon Consulting in India and within two years, was promoted to a senior analyst role.

In 2015, she made the move to Xceedance as an assistant manager in actuarial services. She was promoted to manager in 2018, and then to her current role as senior manager. Piplani holds Associate of Casualty Actuarial Society credentials and her work is focused on actuarial consulting.

Tell us about your role now and how you got there.

I was hired in 2015, as part of an Xceedance pilot project to offer actuarial consulting services. Subsequently, I onboarded our first client who partnered with Xceedance to set up a pricing team.

Since then, I have contributed to the exponential growth of the actuarial team at Xceedance.

The journey to set up a substantive team has given the organisation a strong platform and backbone to support the actuarial requirements of the insurance industry, and continues to attract interest from a variety of insurers.

I’m proud of the significant contribution of my team to the actuarial needs of diverse clients in a relatively short time, and we are happy about the proficiencies and value we have added to help round out the insurance expertise of the Xceedance organisation.

Is there still a shortage of women risk professionals in the re/insurance market? The perception and reality of women in the insurance workforce is shifting. I believe a good deal of progress is being made—especially in leadership roles, and including the relative prevalence of women in executive roles.

There is more to be done to see even more women in technical and leadership roles globally across the sector.

What initiatives have you seen to encourage fresh talent to join the market?

It’s gratifying to see industry associations continue to offer scholarships as an encouragement for younger talent to enter the industry. We’re also seeing an increase in a wide range of technical insurance, risk management, and actuarial curriculums.

This complements insurance focus in the horizontal academic areas of analytics, data management, and computer science.

At the industry level, insurance organisations and providers are promoting their career opportunities more effectively across social channels and providing more flexible working conditions and options that are attractive to a younger generation.

A commitment to learning and development programmes is another key enabler. They help to set up viable career paths, enhancing industry knowledge, and leading the way to appropriate industry certifications and credentials.

“Re/insurers are going the extra mile to support their policyholders in areas of premium payment plans and cancellations.”

What is your view of the current state of the re/insurance market?

2020 has been an extremely challenging year for our industry, and it’s not over yet. One of the positive changes coming out of this pandemic-impacted year is an acceleration of digital enablement and technology projects.

Certain lines of business have been, and will continue to be, affected by this year’s events, including workers’ compensation, liability, and property, as well as event cancellation.

While significant areas of the industry are likely to continue to be severely impacted, I believe the re/insurance market is resilient, will rebuild, and continue to advance in providing solid risk management to insureds and responsive services to policyholders.

How well is the insurance industry positioned to prosper?

There will be impacts on our industry over the next months around premiums and claims, and combined ratios might deteriorate. However, based on the activities and experience of our clients and in observing the global insurance markets, I expect the industry to self-correct and return to stability.

My observation is partially based on how Xceedance clients are responding to unprecedented events and adjusting their business continuity programmes and priorities, in conjunction with Xceedance, to move forward in meeting insureds’ needs.

In these uncertain times, re/insurers are going the extra mile to support their policyholders in areas of premium payment plans and cancellations, and aiding them to bridge gaps in coverages and claims adjudication.

How do you see the industry developing in the next five years?

The digitisation of the industry will continue at an accelerated rate. Re/insurers will be adjusting to new operating models with a large percentage of their workforce likely to be working remotely.

With the experience of addressing the uncertainties of 2020, I believe our industry will further focus on re-examining workflows and creating more efficient, cost-effective processes across the insurance business lifecycle.

Sheila Ngu Operations analyst, Protecdiv

Prior to joining Philadelphia-based re/insurance broker Protecdiv in May 2020, Sheila Ngu worked at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) as a transportation planning specialist, where she analysed funding needs and approved annual grants for transportation agencies in the state, as well as for special projects.

She also spent time as a bridge inspector–transportation technician. She has an MSc in integrated scientific applications—weather intelligence and risk management from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, and a BSc in physics from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

Tell us about your role now and how you got there.

As operations analyst at Protecdiv, one of my responsibilities is process implementation. Protecdiv is a process-driven, technology-enabled company, so my role is to help ensure our teams and business can scale effectively given our aggressive growth plans.

Multiple projects are being pursued simultaneously so it is a fast-paced and challenging environment. To do this, I analyse key data between internal brokerage systems as well as with external partners to ensure clear communication between all parties.

Earlier this year, I found myself looking for a new challenge where I could use my science and weather intelligence background as a risk manager.

After reaching out to my network and exploring various industries I came across a news article about Protecdiv, the first minority-led tier-1 brokerage with technology at the heart of its business and with a focus on diversity.

I contacted Kael Coleman, Protecdiv founder and chief executive officer, to discuss what opportunities there were at the company. At first, he said that they were mainly looking for producing brokers.

I found out more information about the company’s immediate needs and went back with an email listing all the ways I could support the requirements. A few interviews later I was offered the job as operations analyst in May 2020.

Is there still a shortage of women risk professionals in the re/insurance market?

It is no secret that the re/insurance industry still has work to do to ensure a fully diverse marketplace that goes beyond gender diversity. Historic and current employment practices have meant that the people being employed into the market often look and sound very similar.

The re/insurance industry is missing out on a large pool of excellent talent. To be truly innovative, you need different people in the same room working on the same issue to make sure you get the best outcome—you cannot do this if everyone thinks the same way.

The re/insurance market needs to move out of its standard hiring practices and consider alternative methods to get the very best talent. There are so many different roles and opportunities within insurance that it does not matter what your background is, there is a place for you here.

What initiatives have you seen to encourage fresh talent to join the market?

Having joined the market only a few months ago during the pandemic I have not yet had the chance to join an insurance-specific initiative. However, one of the initiatives I have been a part of previously, that I think would work well in the insurance industry, is the Mind the Gap initiative put together by the American Meteorological Society.

“Even in traditional markets such as mortgage reinsurance we are able to approach problems in new and innovative ways.”

In Mind the Gap professionals internally and externally come together to progress talent within the meteorological industry. The group reaches out to those outside the market such as academics, students and government bodies to encourage non-traditional professionals to consider roles in the industry.

What the group does well is to recognise the need for more diversity of thought, and it helps to encourage those without traditional backgrounds to consider roles in the industry. I think this is an initiative that would also benefit the insurance industry—inviting those from outside the marketplace to provide insight into problems or growth areas to help progress the industry.

It will also provide an opportunity for the market to tap into additional talent pools and invite new and fresh talent to the market.

What is your view of the current state of the re/insurance market?

Over the past few years, the industry has experienced a lot of volatility caused by various issues such as climate variations and other weather elements. This has meant that the re/insurance market has had to be flexible and adaptable to this changing environment.

While it is not easy to manage, there are opportunities for the market to expand with this volatility. The biggest opportunity has been around the analytical tools and technological advancements that were not available before.

Even in traditional markets such as mortgage reinsurance we are able to approach problems in new and innovative ways because of the growing technology available.

How well is the insurance industry positioned to prosper?

The insurance industry has always prided itself on its ability to innovate, and with the ongoing global pandemic, it has certainly been tested. If the market is to continue to prosper and grow, it has to change with the new technology available before the technology changes it.

The market needs to assess and evaluate its processes, and to use technology to solve any problems, rather than find a new and exciting piece of technology and shoehorn it into its business model. We must make the technology work for us, not the other way around.

How do you see the industry developing in the next five years?

In terms of the re/insurance industry lifecycle, five years is not a long time, so it is difficult to see any drastic changes happening. I would expect the market to have adapted to the ongoing volatility but that it will still be feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the biggest developments I hope to see is the changes in workforce and business practices identified by COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The industry talks a lot about diversity and inclusion, but often it is spoken about just in terms of race and gender. I would hope in the next five years that the conversation around diversity will discuss other factors such as background, education, activities outside the workplace and much more.

Image: Shutterstock / IR Stone