Business

Insurance companies on the hunt for young workers

Arbella Insurance hasn’t been shy on college recruiting trips about making a blatant play for a younger generation of workers. Ditching the pocket-protector image, recruiters from the Quincy company have arrived on campus in black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Insurance is sexy.”

“We were trying to show that we’re not an old dowdy industry,” said Gayle O’Connell, the senior vice president of human resources at Arbella.

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That is the challenge for insurers facing future labor shortages and intense competition from flashier companies such as tech startups for young, talented employees. About half of all insurance workers are older than 45. The industry’s reputation is bruised from the financial crisis bailout of AIG and the denial of claims after hurricanes Katrina in New Orleans and Sandy on the East Coast.

Then, there’s that old insurance joke about actuaries being accountants who couldn’t handle the excitement.

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But insurers still are trying to show, careerwise at least, that risk management is hip, deploying everything from T-shirts to training programs to win over young workers. Along with more intense recruiting on college campuses, Arbella has launched classes to train sales people from the mortgage and retail industries to sell auto and home insurance.

Boston’s Liberty Mutual partners with Bentley University to help teach actuarial science students, providing them with data that allows them to create and price new insurance products. Liberty also provides career mentors.

MassMutual Financial Group, headquartered in Springfield, is training data scientists with the help of Western Massachusetts universities, in hope of persuading recent graduates that their skills will be more valuable crunching health statistics than working at Google.

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“The talent war is really hot, the hottest out there,” said Gareth Ross, MassMutual’s senior vice president of advanced business analytics and data science. College graduates with skills in math, computer programming, and data analysis are particularly in high demand. “We’re trying to see if we can build our own,” Ross said.

By 2020, insurers will have an estimated 400,000 job openings, according to the Institutes, a Pennsylvania professional development organization for the industry. There are about 2.5 million insurance workers in the country; half will retire within the decade, said Peter Miller, the Institutes president.

Earlier this year, the Institutes partnered with Liberty Mutual, State Farm, Chubb Group, and other insurers to launch a website, called insuremypath.org, aimed at demystifying the industry for young adults. The site lists internship opportunities, provides salary ranges for various jobs, and attempts to redefine otherwise dry titles.

Actuaries become the “grand pooh-bahs of probability,” underwriters, “the champions of chance,” and claim adjusters, “the protectors of promises.”

“There are huge opportunities in this industry, there really are,” said Miller.

That’s the sales pitch that MassMutual directs at recent college grads, including those with apps, coding, and big data on their minds. Insurance companies are collecting reams of data on customers and their habits, but have only recently started to analyze and use that information to improve products and sales, Ross said.

For example, MassMutual could try to determine how interested consumers might be in purchasing insurance or retirement plans based on how long they spend on an Internet ad, or gauge the likelihood of someone dropping a policy based on customer service calls, Ross said.

Actuaries become the “grand pooh-bahs of probability,” underwriters, “the champions of chance,” and claim adjusters, “the protectors of promises.”

Insuremy path, industry job site 
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Deirdre Fitzpatrick, 22, joined MassMutual earlier this year after graduating from Smith College in Northampton with a math major. Fitzpatrick spends a portion of her work week in advanced data science classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the rest of the time using her knowledge to work on projects for MassMutual.

Fitzpatrick said the job’s appeal was being among the first to use all this insurance data to answer yet unasked questions, such as what are the likely characteristics of consumers who purchase both life insurance and retirement plans. In industries in which data mining is more developed, workers don’t have as much freedom to explore the data and what it might reveal, she said.

“This is really, really new in the insurance field,” she said, “and we can use our intuition.”

Eric Brosius, chief actuary at Liberty Mutual, said he hopes the company’s partnership with Bentley University will help ensure that graduates come out with more experience working on projects involving car and home insurance. College actuary programs are currently more focused on life insurance, and while the basic skills for the job — math and statistics expertise, analytical and communications aptitude, and an understanding of human behavior — are the same, the two fields begin to diverge real-life when situations get more complicated, he said.

Liberty Mutual’s growth has expanded the need for employees with skills to analyze data generated from property and casualty insurance. Actuaries are now working on issues such as how to handle sales and claims through the Internet, making it fast and easy for consumers while still getting enough accurate information about customers to manage the risk.

The company already has a staff about 500 actuaries and expects to keep growing. “We looked at the future and asked, ‘How are we going to get enough people to meet our needs?’ ” Brosius said. “There’s so much demand for this kind of work.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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