Knowledge-Sharing Technology Could Boost Insurance Underwriter Recruiting

The shortage of experienced property/casualty insurance underwriters is growing as senior underwriters retire and the issue is keeping carrier executives up at night, according to an industry software provider that thinks it has an asnwer.

Part of the problem may be that too few insurers have leveraged technologies that appeal to Gen Y or that facilitate real-time training and capture underwriting expertise for knowledge-sharing purposes. Too few insurers appear to be using Instant Messaging, Intranets, blogs, or email to collaborate with and educate underwriters.

These suggestions are from insurance software provider, FirstBest Systems, Inc., which conducted a survey during a recent commercial lines underwriting seminar of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and found that many carriers use manual systems for knowledge sharing and training.

According to a 2010 McKinsey report, the number of insurance workers 55 or older has increased by 74 percent in the last 10 years, compared to a 45 percent increase for the overall workforce. This means 20 percent of the workforce is near retirement. The insurance industry will need to hire 25,000 new underwriters by 2014.

The top challenges for the P/C industry looking to attract high-quality talent, says McKinsey, are poor reputation, lack of understanding about career opportunities and a limited pool of trained talent. As the generation gap in the makeup of industry underwriters increases, the industry will need to change the ways it captures the experience and best practices of senior underwriters and trains junior underwriters, according to these researchers.

Julian Pelenur, FirstBest chief technology officer — whose presentation at the NAMIC seminar was entitled “Bridging the Gap with Collaborative Technology” — asked 50 underwriters to complete the survey and most did.

According to Pelenur, the responses showed concentrations of challenges and that most use manual time-consuming methods for training and knowledge sharing.

The survey asked attendees about their greatest concern for hiring and training new underwriters in the near term. The most common response, offered by 35 percent, was “ongoing training, underwriting skills and knowledge sharing.” About 30 percent cited “finding and attracting qualified applicants” as a concern. “Generational expectations” was a concern for 15 percent of the underwriters surveyed and an equal amount felt “employee retention” was among their top challenges.

When asked about methods for training and sharing best practices among team members, “meetings” (primarily weekly) were cited by 38 percent of the respondents and another 38 percent referenced “ad hoc collaboration and information sharing.” A close third was “ongoing training and personal mentoring,” and 15 percent reported still using paper-based internal manuals. Only 20 percent reported using technology, such as Instant Messaging, Intranets, blogs, or email to collaborate with and educate underwriters on their teams.

“Our survey findings reveal that intranets, shared drives and other pre-web 2.0 technologies are serving as workarounds and only some carriers are using true web 2.0, collaborative technologies,” said Pelenur. “Today, P/C carriers need automation, knowledge management and real-time collaboration tools such as screen sharing, alerts, chat, and workflow management.

According to Pelenur, a combination of these approaches can help solve the industry’s challenge of attracting and training new talent. ”

Companies can capture their experienced workers’ valuable knowledge, as well as make the job more exciting and attractive to the younger generation, with a better simplified, automated and modernized process that remains relevant as attitudes and expectations continue to evolve,” he vowed.

FirstBest’s flagship product is the FirstBest UMS, which combines a next-generation underwriting workstation with FirstBest Agent, a Web 2.0 agent portal.