What is keeping Asian insurance companies up at night

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Insurance companies in the Asia market are more worried than their counterparts anywhere else in the world about the lack of sufficiently qualified staff.

The newly published PricewaterhouseCoopers Banana Skins survey says that a shortage of talent was one of the leading threats to insurance businesses in the Far East/Pacific region, noting that “human resource risks have always featured in this region, reflecting a shortage of talent”.

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In the latest Banana Skins report, only the Far East/Pacific region ranked talent scarcity among its top ten concerns out of 27 that have been identified as risks to insurance businesses around the world.

This year's report, based on research done by the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, followed surveys conducted in 2008, 2009 and 2001. Fieldwork was done in March and April, collating 662 responses from 54 countries. Of the global mix, the Far East/Pacific region comprised 22% of the respondents.

The report also noted that worries about the quality of management had risen since the last survey in 2011, especially in Asia, the Far East and the Middle East.

One South East Asian insurer was quoted saying that “the lack of suitable talent had produced a ‘learn as you go’ mentality which has resulted in companies not having in-depth expertise."

And a Chinese respondent said poor management could lead to higher operational risks and potential huge losses.

Lack of strong technical expertise was highlighted in the survey, with respondents around the world saying that there were insufficient numbers of senior knowledgeable people, and the new generation rising through the ranks was not learning what need to be known.

“The skill levels required are considerably higher than they were five years ago and there is a dearth of people with the necessary expertise.”

A consultant from a Singapore-based insurance recruiter said that there was a demand for technical underwriting roles across the spectrum of commercial insurance and reinsurance. "And as client penetration increases in Asia, so the demand for experienced brokers is also rising."

He said that there were pools of candidates locally and regionally in Asia to met demand, but the availability depended on their roles and experience. "For niche classes of business and technical underwriting roles, we often source from the traditional hubs of London, Europe and Bermuda."

As previously reported by eFinancialCareers, and echoed in the Banana Skins report, insurance had become a plausible alternative to banking.

But the recruitment consultant said one obstacle in the way of people from a non-insurance background trying to move into insurance was rank: they would have to start at the bottom because they lacked the requisite experience in the industry’s modelling tools.

"Assuming job-seekers are open to starting as juniors, then qualifications in mathematics and statistics are a solid grounding for actuarial qualifications. In fact, many catastrophe modellers in Singapore come from an engineering background."

Despite the growth of and job opportunities in the insurance industry in Asia - the consultant said there "is a high level of activity, be it start-ups, mergers and acquisitions, or the expansion of Asian-based operations" - some respondents in the Banana Skins survey believed that the industry was not doing enough to sell itself as an employer of choice.

One actuary in New Zealand said that insurance should be an exciting place to work, but “old practices and predominantly old-school male environments do not attract the best people.”