With 700,000 nearing retirement, insurance industry eyes millennials

With 700,000 insurance professionals nearing retirement age, the industry is looking for young trainees, but, sorry, insurance, millennials just don’t want to hang out with you.

At least not nationally. The local picture might be brighter.

When The Hartford surveyed millennials in 2015, only 4 percent said they wanted to work in insurance. Yet wooing them is critical to any industry facing a talent crunch, because they are the largest living generation in U.S. history. Millennials surpassed boomers last year, as 52- to-70-year-olds began dying off. There are now about 74.9 million living boomers, and 75.4 million living millennials, and immigration is expected to push that number to 81.1 million.

Several Delaware insurers say they’re having some luck wooing workers born between 1982 and 2004, partly because some have taken several preemptive steps.

Execs from Lyons Companies in Wilmington heard demographer Kenneth Gronbach’s sobering projections about the coming talent crunch two years ago. They segued immediately. They didn’t just create a millennial-friendly workplace; they also offered more remote-work opportunities to keep their experienced staff members longer.

“This is the first time really in history that we’ve had five different generations available to be in the workforce,” said Kevin Thomas, Lyons’ chief operating officer. “We have to retain fresh talent but also to value and respect the people who have been with us for many years. As many generations as we have in the work force, we also have that many generations as clients.”

Remote work is no easy hop in the insurance industry, where staffers handle financial data and HIPA-protected records. Before any customer information left the building, Lyons had to find the correct encryption software for each and every phone, tablet and laptop. Thomas said their newest staffers “got it” immediately because they grew up with a security mindset. “You get your Facebook page hacked when you’re a teenager and you realize how important security is,” he said.

Three years ago, Lyons used paper checklists to track clients’ needs and deadlines. Now a reminder pops up on employees’ screens, thanks to a new agency management system.

The updates kept coming: hot desks, Microsoft Surface tablets, a white-board conference table, wired meeting rooms with high-def screens, cell phones that switch from home use to office use with
a single button.

In an industry with one of the worst turnover rates, Lyons lost one person on its 25-member team last year, Thomas said.

When they hire, Diane Campanile, director of human capital management, makes certain prospective candidates know insurance doesn’t just mean cold-calling prospects. There are jobs for actuaries, safety specialists, human-resources people, underwriters, claims adjusters, IT staffers, workers-comp specialists and mobile catastrophe teams. “This is not just what used to be a gentleman knocking on doors saying, ‘Let me sell you a policy,’” she said.

From small mom-and-pop operations to giant insurers like State Farm, area insurers are cultivating millennials.

State Farm Insurance, with 70,000 employees across the country and 73 independent agents in Delaware, has a substantial number of employees reaching retirement age, not just in sales, but also in support services such as IT and marketing, spokesman Dave Phillips said.

The 95-year-old insurer is looking to attract workers in their 20s and early 30s.

Its newest hubs now under construction in Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta are millennial-centric. The company hopes to hire for 8,000 jobs in Atlanta and 10,000 each in Dallas and Phoenix. State Farm chose college-dotted cities with hefty millennial populations, and they designed buildings with all the features millennials want in the workplace, Phillips said.

“Our recruitment strategy is for all folks, but the hubs definitely focus on the millennials,” he said. “They want to live near where they work and have a live-work-play lifestyle.”

Phillips said the shiny hub buildings look vastly different than State Farm’s suburban Concord Pike campus just over the Pennsylvania line, located far from a bus line or a train line and built when collapsible walls were a design innovation.

Phillips and other insurance execs said the industry’s pay scale and generous benefit packages will get new employees in the door, but some millennials don’t have a long-haul approach to employment. Often, they don’t stay long enough to justify the considerable expense of training them.

“When you hire somebody, you want them to be with you at least for a short term. With a lot of the millennials, the long-term commitment that previous generations had may not be there,” he said.

Bryan Wiley said insurance used to be a follow-in-the-footsteps kind of thing where children followed parents into the business, but now more families are like his own. While he’s general manager of Harrington Insurance Agency with four locations in Kent and Sussex Counties, one of his children is an engineer and the other is studying marketing.

It’s difficult to find new employees who are licensed to sell insurance, he said, so he looks for people who are willing to go through the licensing process. “We take resumes all the time,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough that the people we have on staff are young enough that, if we keep them, we’re going to be OK. Of course, if somebody leaves, we just have to go out and find someone. Insurance producers are not too hard to train.”

Rick LaPenta, CEO of IFS Insurance in Wilmington says his staff of 25 includes five millennials and five employees over 55. More older staffers work remotely. “It’s funny,” he said, “The last three, four, five years, the talk is not as much about retiring as it is about having more flexibility. People are in better health in the baby boomer age group. I find people wanting to continue to work but have more flexibility. They do like working remotely.”

As for the five millennials he’s hired in the last 18 months, LaPenta couldn’t be happier. “You hear a lot of negative stuff about them being snowflakes and being too sensitive. I find just the opposite. They’re super bright. They have a keen social conscience. I think they have a very strong work ethic. They communicate well with clients. They are concerned about other folks. I know you hear a lot of things like they’ve been coddled, but I find they’re really pleasant to work with. The Gen-Xers were a little but more what’s-in-it-for-me.”

La Penta said millennials expect transparency in the workplace, and, they want others to value their contributions.

“If they make a suggestion to make something better, they want to be heard,” he said. “They want to work in a more collaborative environment.”

There’s no way to assess how many millennials are staying put in insurance offices, because U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect statistics on the ages of individuals involved in turnover
in the industry.

Some may sample sexier industries before they find homes in insurance, drawn by higher-than-average salaries and generous benefit packages that sometimes still include pensions.

State Farm’s Phillips worked as a radio disc jockey and an IT staffer before he landed in insurance. He said he thought of insurance as a gray, boring area.

“What I had was a misconception of what insurance was all about. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as boring as I thought. I think sometimes you have to take a step back and look at all the aspects of what an industry offers you.”

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