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Brokers need to do a better job of selling the industry to talented recruits


While many brokerages see retaining employees as a priority, some say they could put more effort into attracting talented workers.

Talented workers “are everywhere,” said Tommy McDonald, vice president of Willoughby, Ohio-based Marsh, Berry & Co. Inc. “They're just typically not breaking down the door to come into the insurance industry.”

“The broker side of the business really hasn't done an adequate job of positioning and selling either an account management or production role as being something interesting — as having a significant amount of variety and having a certain technical challenge to it,” said Tim Cunningham, managing director at Chicago-based investment banking and consulting firm Optis Partners L.L.C.

Some think the insurance industry is “generic or monolithic, but when you get on the commercial (property/casualty) side or the employee benefits side, it's very diverse,” he said.

Inspiring interest in the profession starts with talking about it, said Noelle Codispoti, Yardley, Pennsylvania-based executive director of Gamma Iota Sigma, a risk management, insurance and actuarial science college fraternity.

Most people working in the insurance industry didn't plan on it, Ms. Codispoti said, adding that she decided to study risk management and actuarial sciences as a result of listening to a guest speaker talk about the industry while she was in a college enrichment math program.

“I'm a product of what works,” Ms. Codispoti said. “The biggest thing a company can do is really get on campus and tell people what they do ... I don't care how many jobs you have to offer, but I do care if you share your story.”

Some companies do a good job of appealing to college students though internship programs, job fairs and guest speakers, experts say. Insurance associations such as the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers and the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America Inc. educate students and young professionals about the industry.

“There aren't a lot of insurance programs at the college level that are pushing people into the agency and broker space,” Mr. McDonald said. “Most of those insurance programs will push people to work for carriers because carriers have more engagement with (universities).”

However, the University of Cincinnati is among the risk management schools that are helping to mold future brokers by making sure they possess the additional skills brokerages seek, such as sales training, Ms. Codispoti said.

“One brokerage firm once told me that they wouldn't recruit risk management students because they didn't have as much success as with the students that just went through a sales program,” she said.

Since talented workers aren't “breaking down the door,” brokerages have had to be good recruiters, Mr. McDonald said.

LinkedIn, which allows recruiters to court “people from other firms within the industry, or just people with quality backgrounds,” has aided their efforts, he said.

James Stevenson, managing director at Chesterfield Group Ltd. in London, said insurance has always been a relationship business, so it makes sense that many brokers rely on LinkedIn, networking and client referrals to identify top talent. The “aggressive” mergers and acquisitions market also creates opportunities to acquire talented workers, he said.

Companies such as Marsh Berry have had success attracting talented workers from other industries, Mr. McDonald said.

“Historically, organizations have focused on trying to hire former carrier employees and people with technical backgrounds to come in and be salespeople,” he said. “Our approach has always been it's easier to teach the technical nature of insurance than it is to teach someone how to be a salesperson.”

Brokerages need to do a better job of selling the benefits of working in the insurance industry to students and workers in other industries, Mr. Cunningham said.

“There's a lot of diversity in terms of your client base, which makes it interesting,” he said. “Once you're in the industry and if you're good at what you do and you're well-positioned, there will always be a job for you.”

“It's all about retention at the end of the day,” said Marty Guastella, vice president of human resources at Cleveland-based broker Oswald Cos. And retaining employees leads to retaining clients, he said.

“If you're making an investment in people, they appreciate that,” Mr. Guastella said. “We try to nurture our people with training and development and pay them fairly.”

Giving employees the opportunity for equity is also a proven attraction and retention technique, Mr. McDonald said.

“There are privately held insurance agencies that have taken the ownership opportunity to the next level in their firm and are building perpetuation into their culture,” he said. “So you're not only coming to an organization where you can be a high-performing employee and make a nice compensation and have a good work-life balance, but they also have the opportunity to make an investment in the firm and become a partner.”

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