With a staggering 50% of the current insurance workforce set to retire in less than 10 years, potentially leaving more than 400,000 positions unfilled, nearly every insurance organization is struggling to recruit new talent while retaining their best talent. But what makes a great place to work?
Why do the best employees stick around? What attracts and retains the best talent in today’s competitive talent landscape? Insurance Journal asked these questions to a handful of the largest surplus lines wholesale brokers, some of whom have experienced unprecedented employment growth in recent years, hiring hundreds — even thousands — of employees in a short time frame. Here’s what they had to say about creating a great place to work.
Michael Conklin has been an HR professional for three decades but only recently joined the insurance industry as executive vice president and chief human resource officer for Ryan Specialty in August 2023. As a recent job candidate, he shared what attracted him to Ryan Specialty.
While Ryan Specialty is not a new organization, the firm is much younger than his previous employer, he said. “I left a company that had been around for over 200 years, one of the oldest bank charters in the world,” he said. Conklin says being able to build an organization that could potentially be around 200 years into the future is exciting to think about. “To be a part of an organization that 200 years from now, many generations in the future, will be doing business in the world … and be a legacy … that was one of the biggest things that brought me here,” he told Insurance Journal.
Conklin says that the desire to build something great is not unlike what others want when seeking a new employer, especially younger talent who are just beginning their careers.
“Whether you are right out of school or tenured employee. People want to be developed and we need to meet them where they are, with focused, deliberate, and value-added development,” he said.
When it comes to competing for top notch talent, offering a competitive compensation package and broad employee benefits is the minimum of what candidates expect, according to Conklin. “You have to make sure that you’ve got a competitive package, competitive benefits, whether it’s the 401(k), whether it’s your medical, whether it’s your parental leave, all of those things are really just table stakes and what companies have to do.”
But to keep the best employees, organizations must create an environment that wins their hearts and minds, too, he advised. To do that employers need to focus on providing soft benefits that employees value. Those benefits will differ by region and by office, he said.
“We’re 4,600 employees strong across a hundred-plus locations across 28 states, and in six countries,” he said. “We’re not naive to think that our culture is this and only this,” he said.
What works in Sweden may not work in the UK, Canada, Pennsylvania, or Chicago. “That’s where a lot of companies get it wrong, they say, ‘Here’s the box and everybody’s needs to fit into this box,'” he said.
When looking to create a great place to work, stay focused on what matters and keep it simple, Conklin suggests.
“Create an environment where it’s easy for folks to get into the office,” he said. Then make sure the office is a place where employees feel safe and comfortable, he added. “And when they are there in the office, take care of them, he said.”
That might mean filling their stomachs, too. Because who doesn’t enjoy good food, he asked.
“If you win the hearts, minds, and stomachs, people will stay forever.”
Leaders searching for talent or working to retain the best talent need to stay focused on what their employees need to be successful in today’s market. That means delivering the right tools that make their job easier, and better, says CRC Group’s President and Chief Operating Officer Neil Kessler.
CRC Group has hired hundreds of new employees over recent years. According to Kessler, the biggest attraction for new production talent has been the firm’s investment in the right tools that make production easier. “We’ve invested a lot in technology to make their jobs easier, including data and analytics tools that give them better insights into the business,” Kessler said. “That platform is how we get people to come here because it drives a lot of value for them.” Kessler added that those same tools have attracted more than just producers. “I really think that’s what has attracted so many people to us over the last few years in this growing sector.”
Kessler says while the hard market cycle will eventually come to an end, he doesn’t see the need for adding new talent in the wholesale sector, or in industry, subsiding anytime soon. “We’re very focused on hiring and growth and being sure we retain the right talent, and I don’t see any let up in sight when it comes to the growth of the firm and the growth of our need to expand,” he said. He sees an opportunity for CRC and others to hire talent from recent insurance company layoffs as well.
“There’s a lot of folks at the carriers that can be successful here, and our folks are out there trying to find them and hire the right ones,” he said. “I hope that folks that have left carriers will think of the wholesale world and think of CRC specifically because we think we can be a good home for a lot of those people, whether that’s production or placement.”
His advice for other leaders today: Take care of people. “People are our resource … We don’t have factories, we don’t have plants, we just have people.”
Amwin’s Katie Katzman, head of HR, agrees.
“Really support your employees and provide them with those opportunities for career development and the associated training,” she said. That helps to create happy employees, she says.
Amwins and other wholesale firms have invested time and financial support to create training programs to attract new college grads. “We’ve worked very hard with our recruiting team to build those relationships, and to help expand risk management insurance programs in colleges,” she said.
Katzman says it’s vital to create development programs for current employees seeking new opportunities as well. “We are trying to develop our internal employee population, by providing opportunities for those who maybe are in a support role but want to move up into a higher-level marketing role, or want to move into a production role,” she said. This works well as more senior workers look to shed some responsibility, too.
“We’ve established a program that when folks are ready to exit the business, that we can do it in a very consistent manner that includes turning over that book of business,” Katzman said. “We love to see a retiring broker turn their book into multiple new brokers. If we can take a book and spin that out to two, three brokers, that’s a win.”
People say that wholesale is a young man’s game, according to Adam Mazan, vice president, Pacific Region, Risk Placement Services. “It’s a lot of time on the road visiting clients. It’s a fast-paced environment. I absolutely love it.” But at some point, people want to slow down. “But they still have an immense amount of intellectual and reputational capital that they’re able to offer.” It’s important to pair those veterans with younger people to develop a succession plan, he said. “Looking at those opportunities and creating solid succession plans so that when individuals do retire, there’s not a blip in the business flow.”
While family ownership used to be more common within wholesale firms, today it is less so. But being a family-owned organization has helped Burns & Wilcox stand out to candidates, according to Jamie Bonner, corporate vice president, Talent Acquisition, H.W. Kaufman Group. Sharing the story of the group’s family ties “really resonates with candidates now more than ever before,” she said.
Today, the firm is run by the third generation of family owners — Danny Kaufman, president of Burns & Wilcox and executive vice president for its parent company, H.W. Kaufman Group and Jodie Kaufman Davis, executive vice president and board member at H.W. Kaufman Group.
Bonner believes there is a “psychological safety” employees and potential recruits value in a company like Burns & Wilcox. “Danny often says, ‘We don’t need to be the biggest, but we want to be the best.’ So, we’re always looking for the best people, and that’s reflective in our collaborative culture,” she said. It’s that culture that makes people feel safe and makes them want to continue working for the long-term, which doesn’t exist a lot these days, according to Bonner. “People are jumping a lot. And I think that is something that’s different about us,” she said, adding that new employee turnover is less than 3% at their firm. She credits the company’s family ownership and family values for that trend.
“The Kaufman family are not absentee owners,” she said. “They’re here every day.” People want that in an employer, she added. “They’re looking for a place that is not going to be sold,” she said. “We’re not going to lay people off during the downtime. … We don’t have to have that short-term thinking or deliver on the expectations of a publicly owned company.”
Danny Kaufman added that such stability is important in today’s challenging insurance market — stability in the workplace and stability in the turbulent insurance market, too. “Stability is really important to people as they’re trying to build a book of business, and build their careers,” Kaufman said. “They want to know that in three years, or five years’ time, that we’re not flipping ownership, we’re still going to be here to support them and let them grow their careers.”
That means also providing stability in the marketplace, Kaufman added. “We’re seeing a lot of turmoil right now on both ends, whether you’re a small MGA or a large wholesaler, where they’re losing access to markets just because of what’s happening in the marketplace in general,” he said. “That’s not happening to us; we’re actually getting more access to the markets, we’re getting more capacity with London domestic carriers,” he said. “So, the benefits, the compensation, are all hugely important. Ownership is hugely important,” he said.
But also, the ability to write business is critical and a draw for talent today, he added.
“We’re actually gaining more capacity when others are losing it in parts or in whole … even in California, Louisiana, Florida and the Carolinas,” he said.
Back to People
Danny Kaufman and others interviewed for this story agree there is nothing more important than people when it comes to creating a great working environment.
“People first is really important, and not everyone realizes that” according to Kaufman. “Your number one asset is your people, especially in the insurance industry where it’s relationship driven.”
Work is certainly important. “We want you to get the job done but make sure you balance it with your family life as well,” Kaufman said. “Don’t miss your child’s sporting event. Don’t miss birthdays. Don’t miss important things in your life,” Kaufman says. Work hard, get the job done and do right by the client, he says.
“But it’s all about balance.”
Keep employees first, Bonner advises. Because “if you lose your people, you lose relationships,” Kaufman added.
Suzanne Carpenter, vice president, talent acquisition, at Jencap Group, says it’s important for any hiring organization to showcase their firm’s culture and people during the recruitment process. That tactic has helped attract more than 150 new hires in the first nine months of 2023, she said.
“It’s so important to tell your story in today’s job market,” Carpenter said. “We are authentic about who we are and the kind of culture we have.” That’s appealing to job candidates, she says. “We’ve had 25,000 people upload their resume to our website this year alone.”
That means a lot to the leaders at Jencap who founded the organization just seven years ago. “It means that the market is embracing us and our reputation,” she said. “We started with just four people, and today we’re over 1,100 employees.”
Her advice to other hiring leaders: Be authentic. “More than anything, say who you are and what you are about.”
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