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FORECAST 2023: Talent Challenges


Tammy M. Appel
Contributing Editor

January 2023

When asked how our industry can attract and develop the talent it needs to succeed, the executives who participated in the annual MarketFacts forecast survey agree flexibility is key. “Lean into the mission-driven nature of our business,” advises Chris Blunt, President & CEO, Fidelity & Guaranty Life. “Give employees flexibility to work when and how they are most productive.”

Gordon Watson, Chief Executive Officer, AXA Asia & Africa, concurs:  “COVID has accelerated the trend to more flexible working arrangements, including more working from home and the latitude to schedule a working day around other commitments, such as childcare. This appeals to people.”

According to respondents, the war for talent is real and increasingly competitive. To effectively attract and retain talent, executives say in addition to flexibility, insurers need to offer a strong value proposition, as well as a compelling corporate culture. 

“Employers within the industry need to clearly define the value proposition they deliver to employees and treat talent as their most precious resource,” says Wade Harrison, EVP & Chief Retail Officer, Protective Life.

“We’re in an industry that has the unique opportunity to help people in some of their toughest times,” says Amy Friedrich, President, US Insurance Solutions, Principal Financial Group. “Attracting people who understand our purpose and then creating an environment for them to do their best work is how we can all win.”

“To attract, train, and retain talent, the industry needs to establish a set of correct core values that are upheld by the entire industry,” says John Cai, General Manager & CEO, China Pacific Life. “We also need to further improve industry credibility and convey industry confidence to customers and the capital market by getting involved in social welfare and market value management.”

Providing the type of work environment that attracts and retains qualified talent is no easy task. “The biggest challenge in terms of talent is to balance flexibility, productivity, and culture in the hybrid work environment,” says Jonathan Bennett, Head of Group Benefits, The Hartford. “This needs to be done while keeping performance at a high level, as well as stewarding our culture for generations to come.”

Changing the perception of the industry can go a long way in helping the industry as well. “We need to change the reputation that our industry is stale and or stuck in the past to one that recognizes us as cutting-edge and making meaningful impacts in our customers’ lives,” says Brooks Tingle, President & CEO, John Hancock Insurance. “Most people want to work for a company that has a set of values that align with theirs. At John Hancock, we’re working to help our customers live longer, healthier, better lives and we’re seeing the clear impact that mission is having, with 80 percent of Vitality PLUS customers reporting similar or better overall health year over year.”

Executives say offering competitive compensation, superior benefits, and a good work/ life balance are some of the best ways to attract and retain top talent. Jasmine Jirele, Chief Executive Officer, Allianz Life of North America, believes today’s insurers will need to go beyond great benefits if they want to attract top talent: “It is imperative that companies offer their employees the best opportunities to develop their careers, while giving them the best possible support for their lives at home. The best companies are revamping their entire employee experience. It used to be that the employee worked for the company, but the new and rightful reality is that the company works for the employee.” 

Greater talent diversity is also on the minds of executives. “One of the biggest challenges and opportunities is to improve the diversity of people in our industry,” says Harrison.

Todd Katz, EVP, Group Benefits, MetLife, agrees: “Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DE&I) is a mega trend impacting the workplace on several fronts. MetLife Employee Benefits Trends Survey research shows different groups of workers have different needs. For example, in general, Gen Z has mental health needs, Asian employees have mental and financial health needs, and Black men have mental, physical, and financial health needs,” he says. “Employers also are seeking provider networks that are representative of their workforce, whether that is a network of lawyers or vision providers, and so on.”

“Talent strategies need to adapt,” continues Katz. “Our research shows attracting and retaining employees have shifted up in priorities as part of an employer’s benefit objective the last 20 years. Talent also can be linked to DE&I and culture. Employers are going after diverse talent pools — mothers returning to the workplace, for example.”

“As the individuals, families, and businesses that we serve evolve, we need to make concerted efforts to recruit talent that understands and has credibility in underserved communities,” says Mark Holweger, President & CEO, Legal & General America.

Another strategy for attracting talent is to reach out to colleges and universities to share the variety of careers available in the industry. “Attracting entry-level talent to our industry will continue to be a challenge,” says Harrison. “While younger workers are driven, in many cases, by a social purpose, they don’t necessarily recognize the tremendous value our industry adds to society. We have an opportunity to partner closely with colleges and universities to help business students understand not only the social mission of our industry, but also the technological evolution that must occur in our business, to improve the perception of a career in our industry.” 

Mike James, EVP, Head of Life & Wealth, NFP, agrees: “I think our biggest challenge is not having strong pipelines from higher education to entry-level opportunities that bring talent into our profession. At a recent industry board meeting, I shared my insights on programs that source talent at the earliest possible point — high school or college. We need more investments in internships that connect with talented people early in their career search.”

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