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Go young

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  • | 11:00 a.m. November 11, 2016
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Executive Summary
Industry. Insurance Trend. Young people aren't targeting careers in insurance. Key. Firms are diligent about making insurance jobs attractive.

Public-opinion pollster Gallup Inc. hardly served up a surprise with a 2015 survey that found that 69% of millennials are either indifferent to or “actively disengaged” with their primary insurance carriers.

As difficult as it is to get young adults from the generation born between 1980 and 1996 to engage with their carriers, persuading them to work as insurance professionals is an even harder task.

But it's a task that is growing more urgent as baby boomers retire from the insurance industry. The average age of industry employees is 57.

An August 2015 survey from The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. shows the difficult task ahead.

Insurance as a career appealed to just 4% of millennials interviewed in the multi-question online Wish List survey of 797 U.S. residents ages 18-34. Only employment in wholesaling and with utilities companies scored lower in the survey, according to The Hartford, a more than 200-year-old multibillion-dollar property and casualty insurer and mutual funds manager.

The big draw for today's young adults is arts and entertainment, which scored a 40% on the Wish List, just ahead of education and technology at 36% each and health care at 31%.

Those sort of worker preferences and the insurance sector's looming workforce deficit are seldom far from Lisa Krouse's thoughts in her role as executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Lakewood Ranch-based commercial insurance firm FCCI Insurance Group.

“It's a big challenge as an industry knowing we are going to have a huge talent drain over the next decades,” says Krouse, whose company operates in 18 states and has nearly 750 employees.

Some of the urgency stems from the pace of departing baby boomers. As they go, opportunities for knowledge transfers to younger workers grow fewer. “That knowledge transfer is of great value,” Krouse says.

Millennials want hands-on guidance and direction and are eager to acquire new skills, according to a survey of 47 independent agents and brokers from Life Course Associates, a Virginia consulting firm that studies generational relationships in the workplace. But they don't think they are getting much of that from their insurance firms, where boomers are prone to think their younger counterparts should “sink or swim” just as they did when joining the ranks 30 to 40 years ago, Life Course found.

No monopoly on 'cool'
Just what makes up the “cool factor” among America's workplaces is not entirely clear, but a ton of business sectors and institutions lay claim to it.

The insurance industry?

It's working on that — and reminding young workers that “cool” can attach to such occupational rewards as working with new technologies and in newly emerging business fields. The industry says you can also throw in strong advancement potential, sustained pay increases and, perhaps most important of all, longevity.

As long as risks exist, risk managers and the professionals who support them will have jobs.

That's a big, and possibly cool, factor for millennials, especially the ones who started their careers just as the economic crisis of the past decade devastated the job market.

“We're not trimming down,” says Bill Taulbee, president and CEO of Tampa-based Lykes Insurance, one of Florida's oldest commercial insurance companies.

Young adults are “consciously looking for these kinds of opportunities,” he adds. “We're having success” finding “sharp young men and women to come and get involved with an industry that is still growing.”

Longevity is a mainstay of the pitches Tampa-based insurance firm HCI Group Inc. makes in recruiting, says spokesman Kevin Mitchell. The firm is the parent of Homeowners Choice Insurance.

And longevity extends beyond time on the job. Clients tend to renew their risk policies. And if those are your clients, the “renewal component” kicks in on the compensation side, adds Mitchell. “You continue to build in that. Every January 1, you don't have to start over.”

Smaller agencies such as Karyn Seibert Roelings' 12-member Tampa firm, Seibert Insurance Agency, can't match the compensation and benefits offered by the big players. Roelings has a few veteran insurance pros on her roster, but she takes a homegrown approach to filling most of her lineup. She hires sharp, young adults for administrative roles and selects the ones she thinks have the right stuff for further training.

“If they show promise, I will get them equipped to enter the agent role and become licensed,” says Roelings.

The small agency has flexibility to offer staff a work-life balance, including work-from-home options, she says. “We couldn't name all the things we do to make it attractive to stay.”

As the talent pool tightens, recruiters for firms both large and small have a trio of upsides to offer prospects, says Lee Martin, Florida Association of Insurance Agents' workforce director. “The trifecta is that it is stable, rewarding and limitless,” he says.

Training options
Florida's elected officials and educators have responded to the industry's call for workforce development by initiating programs at state colleges that qualify graduates who take nine hours of risk management for lower-level licensing.

The University of South Florida has a curriculum that offers risk management as a minor for bachelor's degree recipients. “You come out well prepared to hit the ground running in both the insurance and financial industries,” says Ned Wilson, a retired insurance professional and architect of the 2-year-old USF program.

Recruiters from across Florida and the South who seek to sign up a new generation of insurance pros are regulars at the FSU Center for Risk Management Education and Research. The center has a 100% job placement rate, says Lynne McChristian, who spent 25 years in the insurance field before joining the center's faculty and becoming its executive director.

“We are telling students about the variety of jobs,” she says. “If you have an interest, you can pursue that interest.”

For instance, a risk-management major with an interest in flying might delve into aviation insurance. Boating enthusiasts can go into maritime insurance, McChristian says. The same goes for students interested in real estate or technology, she adds.

While qualified millennials may get grabbed up quickly to offset the workforce losses from boomer retirements, their success, Martin says, hinges on finding and hitting their targets. “There certainly are opportunities out there if you are a person who has the hunter mentality,” he says.

At a glance

Insurance careers

Sales Agents
Median pay 2015: $48,200
Job outlook 2014-2024:
9% (faster than average)

Median pay 2015: $65,040
Job outlook 2014-2024:
-11% Decline

Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, Investigators
Median pay 2015: $63,060
Job outlook 2014-2024:
3% (slower than average)

Median pay 2015: $97,070
Job outlook 2014-2024: 18% (faster than Average)

Financial Managers
Median pay 2015: $117,990
Job outlook 2014-2024: 7% (as fast as average)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Quick Facts

Next generation
Three up-and-coming employees at Lakewood Ranch-based insurance firm FCCI Insurance Group offer their insights on young talent in the industry.

Ankil Bhakta
At 26 with an accounting degree, Ankil Bhakta had ample options for his entry into the business world.

He worked in insurance customer service during his days at the University of South Florida and completed an internship at FCCI. “I was amazed with the camaraderie and the culture here,” Bhakta says. “I really liked the company and everything they had to offer. So I applied for a position here.”

Five years later, he's working in the accounts receivable department. The work is more than numbers, the Sarasota native says, citing the array of claims his department processes.

Jenna Pac
After earning a master's degree in marketing and communications at the University of South Florida in 2008, Jenna Pac, 32, did not have insurance on her job radar.
She went to work at a nonprofit, but soon realized more satisfaction would come from a challenging corporate environment. So she went after an opening in the communications department of Lakewood Ranch-based FCCI Insurance Group.

The key thing the position gave her, Pac says, was a balance of workplace challenges and creativity she had wanted all along. “It really gave me a chance to use my creativity,” she says.

Matt Hitchcock
When he thought about his future in law, Stetson University College of Law graduate Matt Hitchcock's first choice was to work as an in-house attorney.

The insurance field certainly would not be like going to work for Apple or Google. “It doesn't have that sizzle to it,” Hitchcock, 34, says.

What it did have, he says, was a likelihood the firm “was not going to close up next year.”

When he signed on with FCCI two years ago as a legal counsel, Hitchcock says he was assured by the firm's reputation. He came from a small legal support firm in Tampa. With the move came an end to job-loss anxieties he says put his life in a holding pattern. “The feeling was that I was always waiting for the other foot to drop,” says Hitchcock, a married father of two children.


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