Look to the Insurance Industry for Job Stability

Alan Leafman, center, president of Health Insurance Express Inc., helps Raquel and John Bernal of Apache Junction, Ariz., navigate the nation's health-care insurance system online at the Health Insurance Express store in Mesa, Ariz.
In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, file photo, Alan Leafman, center, president of Health Insurance Express Inc., helps Raquel and John Bernal of Apache Junction, Ariz., navigate the nation's health-care insurance system online at the Health Insurance Express store in Mesa, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin/AP File Photo)

People may not think of insurance as the most glamorous industry in America, but it offers stability, challenge and growth to those who choose the profession.

"Many students feel the only opportunity in an insurance company is working as an agent," said Teresa Poppe, talent management manager at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois. "There are so many more opportunities within an insurance company, such as claims, marketing, human resources, underwriting, etc. We need to continue educating students and market all of the opportunities insurance companies have to offer."

For instance, insurance is fairly recession-proof, because insurance companies tend to be fiscally conservative and Americans need insurance whether the economy is up or down. And since insurance firms are often mutual companies (meaning they answer to policy holders rather than Wall Street), they can launch sophisticated and aggressive information technology strategies, routinely support safety education and tend to have close ties to their local communities, says Eric Schulting, enterprise recruiting and retention manager for State Farm.

The industry is not without challenges. If gas prices rise too high, consumers may own (and insure) fewer cars, and fewer home sales mean fewer homeowners' policies sold. When unemployment rises, so do theft and arson and, therefore, hazard insurance claims.

Industry job growth is also limited by corporate downsizing, improved productivity due to new underwriting technology and a trend toward marketing by mail, telephone and internet.

At the same time, the industry is expanding into the sales of other financial-services products, such as securities, retirement plans and mutual funds. That trend is balanced by competition from banks that have entered the insurance market.

Retirements Driving Strong Hiring Climate

With so many of their employees rapidly reaching retirement age, insurance companies are on the lookout for all types of employees.

"The biggest trend influencing hiring and employment in the insurance industry is the generational shift the talent market is going to experience," said Sharon Rues Pettid, manager of human resources for a large national insurance company.

Some insurance firms look beyond recent college graduates and also recruit mid-career professionals from the health, financial-services and call-center industries. "We hire doctors and nurses for underwriting," said Clarissa Gilliam, corporate vice president of talent acquisition for another insurance organization. "We open our search to investment houses for our accounting positions and look for sales and marketing people who want to move over and learn insurance."

At State Farm, call-center jobs are plentiful since the company does not offshore its customer-service representative (CSR) positions. However, competition for those jobs can be keen, because the pay is decent, the benefits are generous and job security is good, Schulting says. And multilingual CSRs are particularly in demand.

Actuaries and underwriters continue to be very much in demand, according to Pettid. "This unique skill set is challenging to find and provides a unique and defined career path," she said. "Also niche product-line expertise, such as group disability insurance, tends to be very hot and lucrative for candidates."

Surveying the Segments

The medical service and health insurance segments are the fastest-growing parts of the insurance industry, thanks to aging Baby Boomers buying health and long-term- care insurance, as well as annuities and other pension products.

Growth may be slower in the auto insurance segment, where competition has resulted in rate declines in virtually every state, says a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.

While some areas of insurance are projected to grow more than others, companies in all lines will continue to need support personnel in the years ahead, Gilliam says.

"We don't get to be successful at life insurance without having good accounting, corporate, compliance, public relations, underwriting, risk and tax people," she said. "Life insurance is our brand and our product, but we're a major, stable, successful, diverse employee-friendly company."

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