Insurance businesses today face an incredibly competitive labor market. The balance of power, once firmly with the employer, has now shifted to the employee. This condition is due to the convergence of several trends: Baby Boomer retirement, the rise of the gig economy and shift to remote work, the Great Resignation, and now the phenomenon of Quiet Quitting. We all know that our industry has an (undeserved) reputation for not being “sexy.” We are now competing with many other industries for the same, smaller pool of candidates – especially for those with strong technical skills. Insurance compliance is an even more niche area – one that most people aren’t even aware exists. All these factors make it challenging to staff a compliance team.
In this three-part series, we’ll look at some best practices and innovative ideas to recruit, train, and retain top-notch talent to help you meet your regulatory obligations.
While experience in the insurance industry is a plus, obviously; don’t make the lack of such experience a deal-breaker. Individuals from other industries bring new skills and perspectives that can be more valuable than experience in a job that may not have as much overlap as you think. Instead, look for transferable skills and personality traits that make a candidate a “good fit” for this kind of work. You especially need to look for individuals who are comfortable with technology and automated systems.
We also talk a lot about our desire for greater diversity in our industry. Achieving that goal begins with the recruiting process. Actively work to encourage diversity and eliminate bias at every step of the process. And remember, diversity isn’t just gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Seek out individuals with varied life experiences and ways of thinking.
Lastly, create a fantastic onboarding experience. No other single action can have a greater impact on the long-term success of your compliance team and your insurance business.
The Real Essentials
These days, insurance businesses focus on increasingly niche markets. Even the “standard” agency management systems are often highly customized. That can make it difficult to find candidates with the right “experience.” So if we’re not screening for industry experience, the question becomes, What are we looking for in candidates? As far as skills go:
Data and analytics increasingly drive decision-making in the insurance industry. We need people who are comfortable collecting and reviewing very granular data and capable of making/evaluating decisions made based on that data.
Managing regulatory compliance involves juggling many different tasks and tracking complex calendars. Compliance team members need to be able to create their own orderly, effective processes as well as work within processes designed by others.
In compliance, we often can afford to sit around waiting for someone else to “give” us the answer to a question or the solution to a problem. Compliance specialists need strong research skills and the ability to apply their knowledge base to new situations.
Insurance is the “child” of banking and law, two professions not known for their simple language. Learning to “speak insurance” is one of the major challenges for newcomers to our industry. Compliance team members need to be able to read and understand complex laws and regulations. They then need to turn around and communicate that information to others in “plain English” (or whatever language is required). Good persuasion skills are helpful as well.
Insurance is a relationship business. Whether your compliance team’s customers are internal (agency leaders, licensees) or external (regulators, clients), it is essential to have a clear understanding of the client’s needs and a commitment to meeting them.
While not every compliance specialist needs an accounting degree, insurance is a numbers-driven business. Recruits to your team need to be comfortable working with numbers and understand the principles behind automated systems. This is especially true for roles that deal with tax filings.
The insurance industry increasingly relies on automated systems to store and communicate information. Compliance team members need a willingness to embrace new technologies and a passion for innovation, as much (if not more than) expertise with a given program or application.
The Right Stuff
Compliance isn’t for everyone. In fact, for a long time our compliance team here at ILSA found that for every three candidates we hired, only one was still with the company a year later. Finding people with the right temperament for this work is at least as important as finding someone who’s a “good fit” with your current team. Key personality traits to look for include:
Attention to detail
A single transposed numeral or misplaced check mark can cause significant delays in a license application or regulatory filing. Compliance specialists need to notice the details and be able to sustain that level of focus over time.
We frequently say Compliance is a moving target. Laws and procedures change constantly to adapt to new consumer needs and technologies. Your team needs people not only willing but eager to learn new things.
Insurance may be a strictly-regulated industry, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no place for creativity and innovation. We need people who bring fresh perspectives and new approaches to doing this work.
Regulatory compliance can be extremely stressful work, especially when things aren’t going right. Team members need to be able to understand and manage their own emotions. They also need to empathize with others and defuse conflicts effectively.
Compliance team members interact daily with agency/insurance company leadership, producers and customer service personnel, accountants, and state regulators. Getting all these different stakeholders to work together to keep the compliance process moving forward takes a lot of determination.
It also takes a good amount of patience, too – especially when it comes to asking people for the same information multiple times.
Hiring for Diversity
Many businesses talk a good game when it comes to diversifying their workforce, ensuring equity of opportunity and compensation, and helping all employees feel included. It’s essential to the future health of our industry, however, that we do more than just talk about DEI. We must put our principles into action.
It starts with looking beyond the usual candidate pool. Make connections with the insurance and business education programs at colleges and universities with diverse student populations. Gamma Iota Sigma, the national insurance fraternity, is just one such resource.
Also, connect with professional organizations that represent your desired candidates. Some examples include:
- National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA)
- Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies (LAAIA)
- Asian American Insurance & Financial Professionals Association (AAIFPA)
- Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS)
Be cautious, too, when using AI systems – either in-house or built into recruiting sites – to screen candidate applications. These systems often rely on past hiring data, which can perpetuate biases against certain individuals.
The Hiring Process
A key part of revitalizing the hiring process is having meaningful job descriptions for every position. Don’t stop at a list of duties to be performed. Instead, discuss the skills and qualities that make someone well-suited to the role and how it contributes to the organization and industry’s success overall. Be sure to address opportunities for personal fulfillment and professional growth as well.
Organizations need a robust hiring process that draws on multiple perspectives to interview and evaluate candidates. After all, diversity creates diversity! Even if the goal is to fill a vacancy in a particular department, look beyond that group to choose interview/assessment participants. You want to bring together a panel of individuals with the widest range of personal and professional experience. Once you do have a formal hiring process, make sure that EVERYONE follows it.
Next, create well-defined career paths. While staffing obviously depends on business needs, give as much control as possible to employees over their future with the organization. Include lateral moves as well as vertical ones and provide recognition and/or compensation for acquiring a depth of experience in a particular area.
Finally, make sure your hiring process builds to a fantastic onboarding experience. After all the work you’ve put in to find the perfect-fit candidate, you don’t want to run them off the first week!
Looking for specific tips to improve your onboarding process? Check out this article from ILSA, 5 Strategies for Successful Onboarding.
And look for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll discuss training your compliance team.