The insurance industry has to do two fundamental things: increase its talent pool while also increasing the productivity of the employees it already has. Listen to Christopher M. Wells, Ph. D., Indico VP of Research and Development, and Michelle Gouveia, VP at Sandbox Insurtech Ventures, in episode 18 of Unstructured Unlocked as they discuss the talent crisis in underwriting.
Michelle Gouveia: Welcome to Unstructured Unlocked,
Christopher Wells: A podcast where listeners discover how enterprise leaders confidently automate document intake and accelerate their workflows to increase capacity and drive top line revenue.
MG: I’m co-host Michelle Govea
CW: And I’m co-host Chris Wells. Welcome to the podcast.
MG: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Unstructured Unlocked. I’m co-host Michelle Govea, joined by co-host Chris Wells. How’s your day going, Chris?
CW: Hey, Michelle. It’s going well. I’m happy it’s the end of the week, and I’ll say that. How about you? How are you doing?
MG: Amen. Yeah, <laugh> <laugh>. It’s the beginning of April. Birds are out. The weather’s better. All signs point to a good weekend coming up, so yeah. Good point. So cool. I’m glad. So I wanted to chat with you today. This is not because we’re not in the business of rehashing topics all the time, but I had been going back through and just listening to some of the podcasts you recorded before. I had the pleasure of joining you regularly on these and the topic of talent in the insurance industry. Specifically, to underwrite. So you did a podcast with Steven Weiss a while back, where you talked about the talent issue or concerns about keeping talent within the underwriting role within insurance carriers that stood out to me. And I hope you’re. There’s more to cover. I’d love to chat about that and what you took from that conversation, an,d now, what you may have learned since it became something that was on your radar after that.
CW: Yeah, that one, if I remember correctly, that’s episode eight. So for those of you who want to find that one, I think it’s number eight. So it’s a, it’s a little ways back. Interestingly, Steven brought that up because I had, I used to run this conference for actuaries and other, you know, financial services professionals trying to teach them Python, get them out of, you know, excel for everything.
MG: Interesting. I learned something new about you every time, Chris <laugh>, just pulling back the layers of the end.
CW: <Laugh> Learning how dumb and boring my hobbies are. Anyway, we were trying to help these folks, you know, get out of Excel cause it’s, you know, more scalable better technologies for some of the things they we’re trying to solve. And so I, I got to be good friends with some folks who were pretty high up at the Society of Actuaries, and last time I ran.
MG: That Society of Actuaries.
CW: Yeah, yeah, I know a lot of actuaries. There are so many jokes I’d love to tell right now, but I won’t. <Laugh>, so the last time I ran this conference was like right before, you know, COVID kicked off. Everyone at the meeting that was sort of, you know, at a manager level or above was just, just lamenting the lack of talent pipeline on the actuary side. Hmm. So, s had sort of filed that away in the back of my head, and then when I was talking to Steven, I was like, oh my goodness. It’s like top to bottom at insurance companies right now. The shortage of knowledge worker talent is throughout these industries. And I think, again, my memory’s not the best. Still, I think Steven said it was a projection of something like a hundred thousand workers that the industry expects to be short over the next two to four years, which is absolutely massive, especially given, you know, employment numbers right now. So yeah, I, I, that that one really stood out to me too.
MG: Yeah. I think and, and I, the, the question that was posed, or that comes to mind as a result of that right? Is what can, what can the insurance industry do to, to attract more talent or retain the talent? And so the, the underwriting one is interesting because at, at one of the carriers that I worked with they had a number of what I’ll call development programs or leadership development programs that, that were usually either rotational in nature or were you sadden and just kind of were, were trained how to do a particular, what was product pricing or underwriting, so like underwriting development programs, things like that, where, where people would, would apply and go through a rigorous process to, to learn the, the job, right. But specifically with the, with any of the, the nuance or, or specialization that would occur for the underwriting that that carrier was doing.
And so carriers are investing, you know, a lot of time Yeah. And effort into, into training up this workforce. And then un you know, unfortunately people churn out or they leave after, you know, going through, you know, six to 12 months of, of this in investment in them. And I, my own experience in joining an insurance carrier and working in the green screen for a long time, <laugh> Okay. Is that the, the technology is just behind kind of where the, the generations are used to, to working Yeah. With and so I, I have to imagine that, that that’s part of the, the disconnect of, of wanting to stay engaged sometimes is that I, I, I’ve got the job, I understand the skillset, but this is so, feels so old school or so outdated that, that this can’t be where, where the future is going.
Right? And so I, I wonder what you think about that, but that’s, I always think back to those days of like, wow, I was fresh outta college and was, you know, working, working on a green screen on two different screens, like data entry, things like that. And yeah. Yeah. Makes, it makes you wonder how these big, because I like to think of the insurance industry as a tech technology and data industry, right? Like at the heart that that’s what it’s comprised of. And so to think that that that’s quote unquote the cutting edge of technology <laugh>, I know of these big companies is, is tough.
CW: Yeah. I have two thoughts on that. One, you’re absolutely right. Like, you train someone up, you give them, you know, a professional skillset, which is then very portable and you don’t have to stay in insurance with that skillset. Cuz at the end of the day, a lot of what you’re learning when you transition industries is just vocab. Yeah. Yeah. The skillset you turn out find a place that doesn’t have green screens and do a very similar job. The oth the other side of it is like, you know, if I’m 22 or 24, if I come out with a master’s in computer science and I want to get a, a job as a developer, no one the word you know, the word sexy and insurance never in the same sentence, right? So if you’re that age, you want to get a really good technology job, you’re probably not thinking insurance first.
And so you, you really put yourself in a double bind both on like, you know, the back office worker who has to interact with your systems and also, you know, where do you find the talent who could update and upgrade and, and make better those systems? And another issue that I’ve seen is that folks who, engineering managers at insurance companies typically have been at those insurance companies for a very long time. And so even like, unless they’re really sharp and really driven just staying up to date on what’s the latest way of thinking about software architectures and systems and all of that kind of stuff, it’s a, it’s a struggle.
MG: Well, and, and this is a probably a whole different topic for another day, but, but you, you raised that point of just duration, like longevity at a company that’s just not as common as, as it used to be, right? Like you, you’d get into a company and people would’ve been working there for 15, 20, 25 years. And in, in a lot of cases now you see people leaving companies, you know, every i’ll, I’ll call a broad range of like three to eight years, right? And yeah, there’s, there, there’s, there’s pros and cons to both of that. To, to your point, if you’re locked into a single company for all that time, you become an expert in how that company conducts its business and you understand the ins and outs and you’ve probably really knowledgeable about the, the product, the folks in the organization. But if you come from various organizations, you’ve got that, that breadth of, of knowledge of, of that exposure of, of how different companies do it. And that probably generates a lot of innovative thinking or, you know better problem solving in, in the sense that, that you can bring those experiences with you. But, but, and
CW: Yeah, finish your thought. Go ahead.
MG: No, I was gonna say, it’s just, it, it’s, it’s a challenge I think, one, to keep the talent in-house in the company that you work for, but then as an industry too, you take some of those things, to your point, you say, Hey, I was working in this technology in the, in, in the insurance space, but it, I can port that over to this really exciting new industry or different industry that’s exploding, right? And so that’s a challenge. Both, both sides are a challenge.
CW: Absolutely. And I, a lot of industries have sort of tribal cultures none of them mm-hmm. <Affirmative> quite like insurance in my experience and financial services more broadly, where it’s like, how can we bring this developer in, they don’t know anything about insurance. And it’s like, well, they don’t, they don’t exactly have to, they have to know how to code really well in architect scalable systems. It’s you the business’s job to make sure that they know what the mission critical things are. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, it’s not their job to know everyone needs to speak a common language, but like, you both have to come towards the center to make to make those things work. And so you have folks you know, leading these teams. They’re very conservative. One of the, you talked about that sort of cross pollination of ideas. One of the, one of the best and toughest things about working at a startup is that the average longevity of an employee to startup is something like 18 months. 18 months to two years, right? Yeah. And so while that makes it tough to like, you know, you’re back filling and training people all the time, it also means ideas are flowing and everyone’s like sort of constantly up on what’s the latest and greatest. And not that you can’t still build bad systems that way, but it’s, it’s a lot easier not to for sure.
MG: Well, I think that, you know, when you think about startups and, and the innovation and the, the differentiation they bring, I’ll speak specifically to the insurances and that’s where I’m focused. Yeah. that’s really appealing, right? Because the, there, you know, within the insurance carrier, there’s al always this build versus buy decision that’s gotta be made, right? And the, the, the build part is usually a challenge because of the, the amount of time it takes and like once you’re locked into doing it, it’s hard to, to pivot or, or change the direction. Whereas on a startup that that’s probably just constantly happening, just to your point by way of, of who’s who’s there. And so it, it, yeah, the quicker turnaround, while a challenge from a training perspective probably actually is why startups can be so successful in the, like, fail fast or the, the innovate and, and pivot and be responsive to the needs of, of the end customer that much faster.
CW: Yeah, absolutely. I, I’ve worked in a number of different organizations and I think everybody basically gets innovation wrong, but they all do it in their own way. <Laugh>, they all get the, they all get it wrong in their own way. And I honestly, and this is not investment advice as I always say I think these really large insurance companies should solely be trying to innovate by acquisition and, you know, investing in, you know, venture funds things like that. I just large sort of well-established businesses, there’s, there’s really no good way for them to carve out innovation in a way that doesn’t get cannibalized by engineering or gets completely ignored by the business because, you know, they’re not, they’re not well connected. So just like, don’t do it. I don’t think it works.
MG: Yeah. That the whole bunch of stuff that I could say there, obviously in my role, <laugh>, yeah, definitely appreciate that, that viewpoint staying on this topic of, of talent and, and employee retention, though, I think what, what is interesting about startups is yes, people turn quickly, but there’s usually a whole line of people to, to choose from or, or that are interested in applying because of the nature of, of startups, right? They’re, they’re nimble, they’re quick, they’re usually latest technology. They’re doing really cool, exciting new things. Probably a bit harder to, to find that, that level of enthusiasm for on the talent side when you, when you think about the insurance job, right? And so a lot of time I’m thinking about if you had a new technology or you were doing these, these things within insurance carrier, how do you attract that, that newer talent?
And I’m gonna keep picking on it. Yeah. It’s not telling them that on day one they’re gonna be on green screens, right? It’s by telling em that on day one they get to, there’s API connectivity and there’s all of these new systems or things that are constantly changing. And so I think a question or not a suggestion cause I’m not, I’m not an HR person in the insurance space, but just how do you, how do insurance carriers highlight? I think they need to highlight the, the quote unquote innovative work that they’re doing, the partnerships that, that they’re leveraging acquisitions that they’ve made that, that open them up to, to new business lines or new capabilities to, to serve their, their insurance care, you know, customers better. I think sometimes that, that is missing that the sense of will people care because it’s an insurance thing we’re doing. But if it’s a new cool insurance thing you’re doing I think people would care. No, I, and you talk to a lot of folks on the startup side, you know, in selling into the carrier. So I’d be curious to, how do, how do carriers talk about what they’re doing when, when you’re chatting with them?
CW: I’m usually, I’m usually talking to someone who’s like a process owner and mm-hmm. So let me try to set up my second thought. My, my first thought is they’re usually thinking, we know we have to make this much sausage, so can we compress the sausage making time to, to, right. If you’re a hundred thousand workers short and, you know, a, a solution like indico plus some process redesign can give you say 80% of the job done when you, when you log onto that green screen, 80% of everything’s filled out because the AI has just found it for you. Well now you’re only 20,000 workers short, right? If you did that across, okay. All processes, right? That’s optimistic. But for the sake of argument. So you can compress that with that, that mindset, right? Like, let’s streamline the process as much as possible and then ai, the things where it makes sense to ai the things or automate, you know, with RPA or whatever it is. What I think is lacking is and this may be as the next level of thinking cuz I’ve been, you know, I’ve been doing automation and artificial intelligence in the enterprise world a long time now. Once you have that process, then you can start thinking about, oh, okay, now I can really change the process. And I think HR should be thinking about how do we change these roles to make them more interesting and engaging now that it’s not just like, look at that screen type of thing in, look at that screen type of thing in, right? Because now you’ve, now you can hire a data entry worker that can grow into becoming, you know, the decision maker. Like why do you have data entry and then underwriting? Why is that not just one person who has a much more interesting role now? And then as they’re growing and you’re investing in them to get them to the place where they can be an underwriter, they’re gonna be much more interested in staying longer term because you’ve invested in them and the role didn’t stink day one.
MG: So yeah,
CW: And that’s my advice. So that,
MG: Yeah, that’s a great point. And I think harkening back to some of the, the conversations you and I have had on, on previous episodes about how data and automation, even if you’re automating only a certain part of a process can enhance the role of, of that human being in the process. And I think automating, we’ve talked about that, that high frequency, low complexity type of submission that comes in of it’s pretty standard. Do you really need eyes on it? Probably not. 99% of the time you’re gonna write it or you’re gonna bind it. How, how do you create a process? What technology do you bring in? What capabilities to have that be straight through processing so that those underwriters are truly looking at what I’ll call the, the unique, the different, the more challenging submissions that come in and probably learning a lot more, right? Because the notably tho those, those submissions are gonna come with a number of key, I’ll call it decision tree points or questions that you’re gonna have to reach out to who that product owner is or who that underwriting manager is. And that’s a lot more learning and like new experience and and engaging I think, than just, oh, here’s, here’s another very standard risk that I, yes, this checks all the boxes. Like let me just get through 15 of these, you know, as, as quick as I can.
CW: Yeah, I’m right there with you. I, I don’t actually think whatever the projections of the shortages are now, I think they’re way over estimates cuz we’re, they’re having people do the wrong work. And we don’t have to anymore. Like there are, there are good solutions for a lot of parts of this problem. And then the parts where there aren’t good solutions, that’s where like, you know, wet neural networks are the right thing to use and people are gonna want to do those jobs.
MG: Yeah. I think too something that, that we’ve seen getting back to the techno technological capabilities and improvements that are made is solutions that are brought into to supplement or enhance or improve the underwriting process, right? And so we’ve talked a lot about you know, third party data vendors that, that provide sub supplemental data to what’s on a submission needed to validate. But there are a lot of cool companies, and I’ll, I’ll, this is a property and casualty example, but there’s a lot of companies InsureTechs now focused on geospatial data. And so that could be for underwriting or, or claims depending on the use case. But you know some of those platforms are really cool cause you get to go in and you get to, you know, visually see, think Google map, like much more, much more impressive <laugh>.
Sure. you know, you can dig in and understand what is the square footage of this property what are the, what, what, what is surrounding the property that could become a risk if they, if they’re in a wildfire zone. What are some of the e even like to underwrite this. What, what are the risk mitigators that we need to tell them that they need to, to apply in order for us to, to bind this business on a claims perspective pre catastrophic event, this is what the map looked like. Post catastrophic event, here’s the map, let’s go out, let’s send our claims adjusters to to, to these places first cuz they were the hardest hit. Or we know for a fact that, that this property was damaged or not, let’s reach out to the insured. But on the underwriting side, that’s really cool because you get to go in and, and visually see some of those things.
The, the, the cha the challenge that, that we find sometimes is when you have a lot, I’ll call it a lot of, of these cool solutions or systems that you’re using, the integration is a challenge or the, the workflow disruption is a challenge. Because as, as I know a lot underwriters already have to move through a lot of different systems or screens. And so adding a number of more what, even if that improves the whole process is likely a challenge. So when, when we’re talking to startups, a a key question that we have is how do you fit into the existing workflow? Because people wanna wanna work with these cool things, but they’re not gonna do it if it’s a ton of effort for little return.
CW: Totally. No, we have the same conversations on the Indico side. Yeah. I change management is so hard. It’s so hard and I, I know, I know a few people are really good at it, some of ’em are my colleagues here. But like I think, I think startups have to go in with a view towards not just how do we fit in the process, but how do we do the change management? Like, let’s, you don’t have to figure all of this out. We will help you. We will partner with you. Here’s how other organizations have done it. These are the things that you’re gonna trip over. Cuz if you just show up with here’s the shiny toy and we know exactly where it fits in your process, that’s a lot, but it’s not enough cuz they still have to change what they’re doing and they’re gonna need help to do it because they, they don’t, they don’t probably see the end state as clearly as you do with the tool that you’ve built and all the time you’ve spent building it.
MG: Yeah. Yeah. And one of the, the ch well this, this is getting into a whole different different topic, but I’ll touch on it cuz may maybe it’ll be interesting enough to do something another podcast another time. But there are, there are some capabilities that are on paper exactly what a company needs, like an underwriter needs, right? So when you’re selling, it’s like, yes, it says this is something I definitely need. The, the thing that that we think about a lot, and I’ll I’ll mention it kind of on that geospatial side just because there’s a lot of of companies out there offering that is what is the true differentiator? What, what makes your solution so sticky that it won’t be, you know, replaced by a, a, a solution that comes in that maybe has slightly better data or basically that’s the question right?
Is, is how sticky are you? And, and from our perspective, if you can integrate seamlessly into the workflow Yeah. If the value is there, you know, the, we talk about the, the KPIs that you have to measure against and, and the ROI that you’re seeing. But what’s, you know, if, if the solution is we just need data, then chances are if there’s better data <laugh> in in the future, so you’re, you’re gonna get changed. So we think about what are the tools and the capabilities that are strongly strategically relevant and tied to what the underwriter needs. That’s simple enough to integrate that it’s not a complete, you know, change management exercise. And then what are the the additional benefits that, that the system can provide to you over time? So what’s the initial value proposition? How can you integrate deeper areas of the workflow over time?
And I think, you know, having, having a champion in internally that, that maybe owns that relationship or owns the, the use of that information and can create new processes and can, can upsell that internally to the organization. That’s the kind of stuff that I think really resonates with people and says, I’m invested in this and so I’m gonna stand out and I’m gonna stay in this role or in this company because th this, this feels like meaningful change or what I’m doing is impacting something. That was a long windy road to get to a point of get, get people to be invested in the work that they’re doing to retain talent. But there there’s ways that, that bringing in third party vendors can, can help do that. I think
CW: 1%, yeah, I mean everyone wants a better user experience for their job, I think. And, and for the, you know, for the founders out there, for the people trying to sell these products, you have to be, you have to sell at the high level, right? You’re selling to the CTO or you’re selling to some SVP that reports to them, but also you’re selling to the people that are gonna use your thing day-today. And you know, there’s this phenomenon that happens where you sell a product, c t o gets really excited about it, you install it and then there’s this, like, this almost immune response to it from the boots on the ground and they’re like, ah, I’m just gonna use this workaround. I don’t actually need this thing. Yeah, you have to be, you have to be very wary of that. Cuz you can lose, you’ll, you’ll churn the customer eventually if, if they’re allergic to what you sold them.
MG: Yeah. And, and that actually touches on I think a question you asked me in the very first podcast I did with you on the, the differences in in what we’re seeing in the space in terms of entrepreneurs. And I think that that point that you just made is key is that entrepreneurs that come from the insurance industry or that spent time working in these very, you know, I don’t wanna call ’em niche roles, but specifically spent a lot of, of their career in underwriting or in claims and yeah. And know not only how to sell into these organizations, but, but generally know the workflow, know where are those points of integration that are easy, that won’t, that won’t completely change, you know, a process that’s been in existence for, for 20 years, give or take a few changes. And so being able to sell to that, that top tier management level and say that this is why the technology is important and this is the outcome we can sell to you, but also this is how we won’t disrupt the people that, that have to work with this every day.
I think yeah, you you need to have both of those elements considered when, when you’re selling into, because to your point you might say all the right things, but if no one’s using it yeah, that contract’s not gonna be renewed <laugh>. Oh, for sure. Yeah.
CW: Yeah. And you’re gonna be, the CTO’s gonna be sad and c f o will be sad and everyone will be sad. Something I wanted to ask you, when it comes to like the messaging, do you see InsureTechs like going to market with, hey, you have an underwriting shortage ahead of you, like use our tools to meet that? Or is it, or is there, has the messaging not quite gotten that specific yet?
MG: No, I, I think, I think we do see it, I think it depends on the solution, right? And, and where, where they’re fitting in and what they’re trying to do. But mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, I think, or, and this I’ll I’ll bring it back to, to a broader state or more general statement is that in the early days of InsureTech right, it was we wanna disrupt the insurance industry, we’re gonna come in and we’re gonna make everything better. And this is like an old school industry
CW: Or property and casualty insurance.
MG: Yeah. And I think now, and, and honestly a lot of the, the pushback or the friction was you know, in the insurance industry, to your point, we, there are people that have been in the industry for, for, for decades. Yeah. And you know, the, these large companies, whether it be the insurance carriers, the insurance brokers value their people and value the talent that they have. And so they’re, they’re not in most instances looking for, even if it’s an an efficiency play that their solution that they’re looking for, they’re not looking to replace huge swaths of people or fire huge swaths of people. They’re looking for solutions that will improve the, the day-to-day experience of those and it, and to basically what we’re all talking about all day today, enhance their roles and help them grow within the organization, right? To, to grow that talent.
And so we have seen companies that understand that and they’re, they’re not, when they come in, they’re selling operational efficiency, but they’re saying we can improve their workup up by X so that they can spend time doing, doing y, right? And so it’s not, we, we can provide you the solution and replace, you know, 50% of your, of your call center workforce. Like that’s, that’s not what we’re seeing. That also doesn’t land at least with the, the folks that, that we talk to. And so that you are seeing that messaging of we, we are providing the solution to, to improve the workflow, enhance the, the output provide more analytics to make better business decisions by the people that are already doing that today. Yeah,
CW: There’s some, there’s some like capacity increase to job satisfaction, you know, ratio or product that, that people should be trying to optimize. I think, yeah, it was a few years back I was kicking the tires on RPA solutions and one of the big ones, I won’t say which one of course, but one of the big ones said, look, we’re gonna be able to let you fire 80% of the people that work on this process. And I’m like, buddy, that that’s not why I’m here. The process sucks. I want it to not suck. I like the people <laugh>, we need the people, we just need them to be using this and you know, not this. Yep. So yeah, I i that I I have seen the same thing in these industries, the, the change in messaging and really getting at what people are trying to do, but it’s particularly acute in insurance as in insurance as you mentioned, because, you know, people, there are roles where you can stick around for a long time if you want to.
MG: Yeah. And, and what’s cool is, I mean be because of the, we we’ve talked about underwriting today, but you can spend a, a whole career in insurance as an underwriter for, for a type of insurance product, right? Yeah. Like when we say underwriter, like people, people probably like, oh, like there’s all these different things, but you could be a personal lines underwriter for your whole career. You could be a, you know, cyber underwriter for your whole career and the amount of of knowledge that you pick up over that time, you become a true expert in, in that, in that product line, right? And sometimes internally to what, what’s, what’s happening at just your carrier or broader industry on, on how things are moving and, and will go over time. So there, there is a lot of tribal knowledge and a lot of benefit to freeing up people from the mundane so that they can learn from those people that have been in the, in that role for so long and you know, just get up that, that, that learning curve that much faster.
CW: Yeah, no, I, that’s a great point. And it, it also creates career optionality too, right? Because you learn all of the lingo and all the, the ins and outs as an underwriter and then there are branches you can take into, for example, product design, right? I know folks who have gone from sort of like the actuarial risk side of things and then they go to product cuz you know what, I understand the one side of it and now that I know that I can design, you know, the right shaped peg to fit that hole that exists in the industry. So insurance is not boring. There are very interesting careers. You know, all of my actuary jokes are about how introverted and shy and boring those folks are, but they’re not, they’re actually brilliant people. And as I’ve said many times on this podcast and elsewhere, they’re the original data scientists, right? So back to the HR question, if you have a shortage in that role, like talk to the industry about how exciting these things are and they’re gonna be even more exciting in the next few years as the extra data sources get added that you’re talking about. As you know, AI is just blowing everyone’s minds. Like top to bottom insurance is interesting and is going to stay interesting for a while. At least that’s how I see it anyway.
MG: I think so.
CW: Yeah. And I think at that, we’re gonna call this one. This has been another episode of Unstructured Unlock, stay tuned for episodes in the future where we talk about claims AI changing everything in insurance and ev everywhere else. And Michelle and I will be glad to host you and see you there. Thanks Michelle. Thanks Chris. Thanks for joining us for this episode of Unstructured Unlocked. You can find all of our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts today, Spotify, apple, everywhere. Be sure to follow at indico data on Twitter and YouTube. Have a good day.
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