A model example of diversity and inclusion

Some time ago, the CEO of Hiscox, Bronek Masojada, promoted an article from the Hiscox website that showcased the career path of one of their reinsurance underwriters, Katy Sivyer. It is a very good piece of marketing and HR PR but it's also a great example of why Hiscox is generally regarded as one of the better insurance companies to work for.

It's easy to find employers that claim to be "one of the top X companies to work for in Y industry" but these are nearly always paid-for PR exercises, the corporate HR equivalent of "Sponsored Content". A more meaningful exercise is to look at a "crowd-rated" website like Glassdoor, the "Tripadvisor" for companies; essentially employees and prospective candidates rate their experience of working for/interviewing with the company on an anonymous basis.

Ratings websites can be manipulated of course (nothing stops a company from asking it's employees to post artificially inflated reviews) but it's very difficult to do this with a larger company so I'm inclined to take those ratings at face value. Google of course scores ludicrously high (nearly 7000 reviews, 4.4/5 average), as do some of the other well known "Silicon Valley" firms (Facebook: 2100 reviews, 4.5/5; Uber: 3200 reviews, 4.1/5; Expedia: 2100 reviews, 4.3/5). Even "old world" businesses can score well (Shell: 2100 reviews, 4.3/5). So how does Hiscox fare? Pretty well for the insurance industry as it turns out (screenshot below from Glassdor; the Hiscox rating is 4.0/5, although only based on 101 reviews).

AIG scores 2.9 (although with many more reviews, over 2700), AXA 3.4 (c 1000 reviews), Allianz 3.5 (c1000 reviews) and some of Hiscox's Lloyds and London Market peers have fairly poor ratings in comparison, albeit based on very few reviews and I've seen scores as low as 2.7. There is a question about the reliability of these scores, especially in cases where there are very few reviews (let's face it, it's often the most disgruntled that tend to be the most proactive in providing reviews). Nonetheless, Hiscox is the only (re) insurer I've been able to find that scores above a 4, though Munich Re comes close with 3.9.

I won't pretend to be a spokesperson for Hiscox (I'm not) and I'm sure they will do a far better job of talking about their culture than I will but in any case, here's my $0.02: you could spend tens of thousands of pounds/dollars/euros getting an expensive diversity and inclusion consultant to advise you...

or

you can just look at what the best companies do.

Here it is then, my unofficial "playbook for hiring 21st century insurance talent":

  1. Hire the brightest and the best: I don't know the lady in question, but I am familiar with her university course (Geography at Bristol University, 2001-2005) as my best friend studied the 4 year MSci variant at nearly the same time as she did (2000-2004) and I visited Bristol at least a dozen times when I was studying. The course is highly quantitative, the people very bright and well spoken and virtually all of them would have scored highly in their A-Levels as Bristol has a pretty high application bar (note for non-UK audiences: you study 3 subjects at Advanced, or A-Level, before you go to university; some of the best students study four).
  2. Hire the best candidate, even if they don't tick the experience box: Again, I was not part of the process that saw Katy hired into Hiscox in 2008 but I would imagine that they considered both internal and external candidates, and quite clearly considered both insurance and non-insurance candidates (she previously worked as Hydrologist for Atkins, the engineering group). I've recruited in insurance since 2004, and to me it seems like every year companies get more and more obsessive on recruiting people with exact product/functional experience. For certain roles you need to have strong product line knowledge (eg an underwriting lead for direct & fac) but often the ambition and hunger from an "outside industry" candidate can make a real difference.
  3. STEM and engineering skill-sets are very versatile: I am a big fan of engineering trained folk in insurance as I find they are generally good problem solvers. That's not to say those with arts degrees (or no degree at all) should be over looked (some roles require more than just analysis) but in today's world it's becoming increasingly difficult to operate without any analytical and/or digital skills. Reinsurance underwriting is very numbers driven, certainly in the Anglo Saxon markets (US, UK, Australia) and whilst communication skills and other "softer" skills are important (critical in client facing roles), being on top of your numbers is more important now than ever before. There is only one direction of travel - in 5 years time we will have far more data (not less) and the models will become ever more sophisticated (as will the risks undoubtedly). Again, in the case above, hiring an engineer in modelling role is a brave move but a logical one.
  4. Rotate your people and give them the opportunity to always keep on learning: This is where I've seen so many companies go wrong, usually due to internal politics. The extreme case is one large and well known insurer that would steadfastly refuse to rotate it's reserving actuaries to pricing roles, with the consequence that the brightest reserving people would invariably find a role outside the company. That left the firm either playing hiring "whack-a-mole" (find a pricing person from outside but lose your reserving actuary) or at worst it meant they ended up with two roles unfilled (as the disgruntled reserving guy leaves if they're any good). Rotating people offers diversity of experience, as in the case above: modeller for the MGA division for 4 years, followed by another 4 years as a modeller within the reinsurance team, culminating in her current role as a reinsurance underwriter. That's real diversity.
  5. Career conversations around maternity leave should start as early as possible: Again, although I've never met the Hiscox underwriter in question, I do have one thing in common with her - my first child was also born in early 2016 and I've witnessed first hand the transformation that both my wife and I have undergone; we can no longer think of ourselves first but rather have to consider every career decision through the prism of family life. Most companies now have formalised maternity policies in place but it's one thing having a policy written down and another thing making sure it actually keeps women engaged with their company and/or profession. One of my former flat mates from university joined one of the "Big 4" as a trainee and is now a director. I had lunch with her just before she went on maternity leave and she was full of praise for her employer, who had engaged with her as soon as she announced she was pregnant and provided her with a clear "roadmap" of how her career would progress after she returned to work. As in the case above, engaging with staff before they go on leave and seriously considering them for a role whilst on maternity will most likely result in an engaged and passionate employee who is probably feeling very loyal and knows the people, systems and client base as well as anybody else ever could.
  6. Always keep an open dialogue: the hallmark of any great company to work for is the ability to have open and pragmatic conversations, especially in sensitive areas like career development. Recruiting is unfortunately a zero sum game - one party wins, usually at the expense of another party (team, company, assuming the person is employed). It takes courage for a manager to accept they will lose one of their staff to another team, with the subsequent extra work and uncertainty. A small number of illuminated managers will be happy to see their subordinates move to gain more experience/development, but sadly we live in a world where just as many are unhappy and in some cases will actively seek to block such a move. Such behaviour is (sadly) more common than people think but I find it usually tends to backfire, especially in today's information rich environment where the best professionals will generally always have options open to them.

Hiscox are not the only insurance company to have an enlightened people development policy of course, and I know there are a few other firms that score well on sites such as Glassdoor (and those scores themselves are not to be taken as the ultimate predictor of how a company will treat it's staff). Virtually every (re) insurer goes to great lengths to talk about how "people are our most important asset" but to me it still feels like many companies are at best paying "lip service" without any real intent (or ability) to change.

Change is hard but some common sense actions at an individual level can make a really meaningful difference for a modest outlay; how expensive is it to take the people in your team for a coffee twice a year to talk about their ambitions? And let's face it, you also don't always need XYZ consultants to run a multi-million dollar "people transformation project"; just copy this blueprint instead...

Note: As always, all opinions are my own. I have no past or present connection with any of the people and firms mentioned above. I simply try to write about insurance "talent" and "people" topics and was particularly impressed with the diversity and inclusion approach taken by Hiscox in this specific case. I know there are many other insurance companies out there who also have great diversity and inclusion programs, but there are just as many who don't. I am always happy to look at other case studies backed by some kind of data so please feel free to get in touch (privately if needs be) if you have any comments or suggestions.