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Economy offers chance to attract new talent

Economy offers chance to attract new talent

With the nation's economic recovery still in slow gear, insurance brokers have more opportunities to hire promising new talent and prepare them for a more robust market in the future, brokers and consultants say.

In order to use this time advantageously, brokers must know how to sell the industry and themselves, and develop programs that will ensure the success of new hires.

“The economy has had an effect on supply and demand,” said Eric Hutcherson, Marsh Inc.'s New York-based managing director and human resources leader for the U.S. and Canada division. “Candidates interested in investment banks and investment management functions have become available” to the insurance brokerage marketplace as those financial services firms have curtailed hiring.

It's easier to find stellar candidates with the decreased hiring by investment banks, concurred Scott Cooper, vp and head of human resources for Aon Risk Solutions in Chicago.

Bobby Reagan, president and CEO of Reagan Consulting Inc. in Atlanta, agreed. “The pool of potential candidates is up,” he said.

“Some brokers have pulled back” on hiring, Mr. Reagan said, while the view of others is that “it takes a lot of candidates a couple of years to get up to speed. By the time the (property/casualty) market picks up, they'll be ready to go.”

Mr. Cooper said Aon never stopped recruiting during the downturn, just slowed the pace. The pipeline is important because even the brightest new hires need time before they are ready to do the work clients need, he said.

Brokers that want to hire acknowledge there is a major obstacle: The insurance brokerage industry usually does not top a graduate's list of places to launch a career.

Young people finishing their educations “have to make strategic decisions about where they are going to go,” Mr. Hutcherson said. “We have to be sharp about what value propositions we articulate.”

“I think the challenge is to sell (young candidates) on how exciting a career it can be. When they hear insurance, they don't see it from a broker's perspective, with all of its complexity,” said Tracey Wik, vp of leadership, corporate training and communications for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Itasca, Ill.

Gallagher uses its internship program to introduce college students to the industry, which Ms. Wik said offers “a great career path” but “not one that people would naturally fall into.”

As students face a constrained job market, candidates are viewing their skills more broadly, Mr. Hutcherson said. That broader view means more candidates may see the potential of using their talents in the brokerage industry. It also means those job seekers would consider working in many different business sectors, so brokers are competing more with other employers to hire the best and the brightest, he said.

The brokerage industry and the individual companies in it “need to refine (their) message to attract and to retain” high-quality employees, he said.

At the forefront of that message is “the wide variety of things you can do to be successful in the industry that are going to impact the lives of people all over the world,” Mr. Hutcherson said.

“We help good companies keep bad things from happening; and when bad things do happen, we make them financially able to handle it and make good decisions,” he said.

Aon's Mr. Cooper said today's world provides the industry a great opportunity to sell itself. “Everywhere around us are issues of risk” and their inherent complexities, he said. The other issue is people, particularly the current health insurance concerns many businesses and individuals have as a result of reforms. “How the industry brands (those issues) to attract people is very important,” he said.

It's crucial to articulate the message that draws young people to the industry, said Ms. Wik, because entry-level employees are “the lifeline of the future” and “must be groomed to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

In 2009, Reagan Consulting conducted a study of 100 successful young producers. Working nationwide, “we had seen (brokerages) bring in young people successfully,” Mr. Reagan said. “We wanted to show how it can work and that it does work,” he said.

Additionally, Mr. Reagan said, “We wanted to help develop successful recruiting, hiring and training techniques.”

The study, done with support and sponsorship from the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, also helped push the message to young job seekers that opportunities await in the brokerage industry, Mr. Reagan said.

The study found that that an excellent grade point average alone does not directly correlate to success. Rather, Mr. Reagan said, candidates have to be “wired the right way” for the industry, and those right out of college can be as successful as those with a few years of experience.

The study of the young professionals generated a list of key markers of future success. In addition to good academic performance, a candidate must be outgoing, competitive, involved in extracurricular activities with some leadership roles, possess effective communication and people skills, and have the ability to “juggle a lot of balls,” Mr. Reagan said.

Other brokers expanded on that list.

“We're looking for people who do well in a sales environment,” said Gallagher's Ms. Wik. That potential is shown by community activity, campus leadership, the ability to build relationships and how well a person presents himself or herself, she said. A person interested in the brokerage environment also must “get over the fear of rejection or have a healthy sense of ‘it's not about them.'”

Marsh's Mr. Hutcherson said, “I think the baseline is, people have to have strong analytical skills” to sort through risk management situations and risk financing solutions.

Once those problems are analyzed, they must be able to explain them to others. “It's very important for people in our businesses to have strong written and oral communication skills to make complicated concepts simple,” whether they are speaking with a CEO, risk manager or HR executive, Mr. Hutcherson said.

Aon's Mr. Cooper added that high energy and productivity are vital traits. “The industry is fast-paced, and you've got to keep up with it,” he said. Equally important is the ability to work well on a team.

The Reagan Consulting study also found that “some of the most effective recruiters develop an internship program,” which provides “a low-risk, low-expense opportunity” to size up future job seekers, Mr. Reagan said.

“Matched with that is creating an environment in which (young producers) can succeed,” he said. That environment should include a training program and mentoring. When a group of new hires trains together, it enables them to help each other and learn from each other. “Team young producers with more experienced producers,” Mr. Reagan said.

Mr. Hutcherson considers Marsh's training program and mentors among the benefits the broker offers. Research shows that employees' greatest inspiration comes from their colleagues. In addition, he said, Marsh's size and scope means it has “the ability to reinvent people's careers inside our four walls.”

Agencies that have launched young success stories also found it most effective to focus them on a class of business or practice group. New hires gain expertise and credibility faster using that approach, Mr. Reagan said.

Graduates hired at Aon also are given the chance to explore whether they are best suited to brokerage, account management or an analyst role, Mr. Cooper said.

Ms. Wik foresees social media as playing an increasing role in linking Gallagher to college students and spreading the word about its internship and career opportunities.

Also important, she said, is for the brokerage industry “to include diverse populations sooner” by developing programs to introduce the industry to students in high school and in the first two years of college.

“The future pipeline has to be invested in so we never run thin on the bench,” Mr. Hutcherson said. “We never stop investing in future talent.”

This article appears in a special editorial feature 'The Business of Better Broking,' which includes profiles of the most productive agents and brokers, exclusive rankings and more. Download a PDF version here.

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