By Michael F. Rellosa
EVEN when I started my career in the early 1980s, extraordinarily few people wanted one in the insurance industry. I know; I was one of them. I and some friends — fresh graduates — pounded the length and breadth of Ayala Avenue at the time, knocking on the doors of banks hoping to snag a starting position, and this was scarce as the proverbial leprechaun's pot of gold. A friend employed at the time at FGU Insurance Corp. suggested we go for the vacancies at a management training program. We were totally against it, as we thought that a career in insurance meant door-to-door selling and dead-end. Forty years later, If I had to do it over, I would. The industry has been good to me. It honed my skills, taught me to interact with people, provided a decent package, and allowed me to see the world through training programs, conventions and missions.
The same is true in other countries; insurance talent is in short supply all around the world. Research shows that up to a quarter of workers in the sector are expected to retire, and this is painfully true in the Philippines. There is a running joke that there is no such thing as retirement for Filipino insurance practitioners. You get repackaged. There is always a new role waiting around the corner, a trainer or coach, an intermediary, or they keep you on as a consultant doing the same stuff that you used to do. We are one of the industries where we have septuagenarians and octogenarians still able to contribute their talents and skills.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that millennials present a unique employee retention problem as they tend to stay in their jobs for just 12-18 months on average. Meanwhile, Generation Zers, the tech natives, need extra training in dealing with communication, empathy, team dynamics, collaboration and anything that has to do with interacting with people on an extended basis. A recent post-pandemic issue that cropped up is that work-from-home arrangements need to be part of the package. These are easier to deal with once these graduates know the life-changing value that the industry can offer.
Not much has changed; graduates still do not realize that there could be an exciting and rewarding career in insurance. It matters not what course you have graduated from; there is a need for any major that you have acquired. The beauty of insurance is that it accommodates the varied skills and experience that one may have. The discipline of engineers would be useful in underwriting. Math majors and statisticians are in great demand as actuaries are in short supply. Communication majors are always needed to help bring a message across. Marketing majors are valuable in helping move an intangible product. Computer and technology geeks are likewise valued as most, if not all, companies are in the process of digitalization. Graduates from a medical background are needed as there is a whole wide field of health and accident insurance. I could go on and on, and believe me, there is a need for someone with even a specialized background. The common ground is analytical thinking, a basic curiosity, and the ability to communicate. With these, you can go far in the industry.
Aware of the need for novel approaches to talent acquisition and retention strategies, the industry educational institution, otherwise known as the Insurance Institute for Asia and the Pacific, in collaboration with the industry's trade association, otherwise known as the Philippine Insurer's and Reinsurer's Association, have embarked on various programs to reach entrants to the industry. Campus tours and job fairs have been organized for 2024; MoUs with select universities have been inked to allow the industry to suggest changes in the curriculum that would afford a deeper dive into risk management and insurance; new programs such as the Asean Insurance Professional Diploma, which would provide a graduate with the knowledge and acumen to practice the trade in any Asean country, especially upon the establishment of the Asean Economic Community; and the continuing SUIT's program (Select University's Insurance Program), a compressed management training program that would allow fresh grads to enter supervisory positions.