This year’s Joint Industry Forum (JIF) featured a panel titled “A 21st Century Workforce that Reflects the Communities We Serve,” with the speakers discussing the move to increase diversity in the insurance industry.
Moderated by Margaret Redd, Executive Director, National African-American Insurance Association (NAAIA), the panelists noted that the push to create diversity must be intentional. This, according to Craig Lapham, CEO, The Lapham Group, whose organization specializes in recruiting within the industry, becomes more difficult with the increased desire for specialists. “The generalist is not favored anymore,” Lapham said. “The question is often, ‘who do we know,’ when it should be ‘where do we go?’”
The panel agreed. Although hiring individuals who are highly familiar with the industry can mitigate short-term risk, there may be long-term risk. For the panelists, missing out on highly capable talent to other industries was in itself a concern; to lose this talent because the industry wasn’t willing to look beyond exactly-relevant credentials was myopic.
In fact, for panelist Denise Campbell, AVP, National Accounts, AIG, the insurance industry wasn’t originally part of her plans. After graduating from New York University with a major in music technology, Campbell joined AIG as an administrative assistant. Yet she invested in the company, and in turn, AIG invested in her. She admitted than when she first started rising through the ranks of the company, she would readily admit experience she didn’t have. Yet she knew she could learn. “It was important to have people that believed in me,” Campbell said. For Campbell, many of her first champions were from employee resource groups for African-Americans.
The panel also discussed the shift in age of many employees within the insurance industry. With older generations retiring, the speakers remarked that the next cohort of talented insurance professionals need to be nurtured. Randa Rawlins, Executive Vice President, Shelter Insurance, stated how important it is for millennials and Gen Z to join the insurance industry. However, she acknowledged that challenges remain.
“Millennials want tech savvy, big projects,” Rawlins posited. The panel concurred, remarking that the insurance industry is striving to create more opportunities of this kind.
“They’re also very focused on people management,” said Deborah Aldredge, Chief Administrative Officer, Shelter Insurance.
The speakers noted that although there have been measures to recruit more millennials, it’s still unclear what the future holds. Indeed, recognizing the human element of insurance will continue to be enormously important for the future of the industry and its success.
As part of our series of profiles of insurance professionals, we interviewed Darla Finchum, Head of MetLife Auto & Home. She is responsible for growth and management of the company’s personal and small commercial lines, as well as transforming the business to meet the needs of today’s technology-focused consumers. Finchum is also an active member of MetLife’s U.S. Business Diversity & Inclusion Task Force.
I.I.I.: Please tell us a little about your professional background. How did you end up working in insurance and what has your career trajectory been like at MetLife?
Darla Finchum: I’ve spent my career in personal insurance in the property and casualty industry. I started right out of college in the claims organization of an insurance carrier. Claims is where we put people’s lives back together in some of the most devastating moments. I developed a passion for what insurance does for people and for society. It is such a noble profession.
Once I knew that I had a passion and intellectual curiosity for insurance and what the industry stood for, I sought out roles and opportunities in various parts of the insurance business—from underwriting to sales to operations to services. I really began to understand the customer, the back end and front end, the business operations, and why it’s important for us to be a partner in the lifetime of our customers.
I came to MetLife Auto & Home through an acquisition in 2000 and have held various leadership roles including chief claims officer, prior to my current role as head of the business. It’s a real privilege to lead MetLife Auto & Home, drive our business growth and ultimately be there for our customers.
In your early career, has there been a mentor or boss who particularly encouraged and inspired you? If so, is there anything they said or did that you still draw on in your role as leader?
DF: I have been fortunate to meet, connect, and build mentor relationships with many individuals in both my professional and personal lives. My network and group of trusted advisors include former bosses, colleagues both inside and outside my organization, as well as individuals I’ve connected with outside of work, people I have met in life. I believe it’s essential to have a network you can call on, who will tell you what you need to hear and be there in pivotal moments to help in making those big decisions.
Most organizations agree that a diverse workforce is a good thing. Sometimes overshadowed by discussions about diversity is the topic of inclusion. One HR consultant described diversity as the “who” and inclusion as the “how”. How is MetLife promoting inclusion?
DF: MetLife has developed initiatives designed to strengthen an inclusive work environment. Designed in collaboration with human resources partners, business leaders, and external resources, the initiatives focus on three pillars: Attraction, Development/Advancement, and Retention. We define inclusion as a commitment to recognizing and appreciating the variety of characteristics that make individuals unique in an atmosphere that promotes and celebrates individual and collective achievement aligned to our values. We promote a culture where we respect others and listen for both facts and feelings to show respect for others’ perspectives. We focus on commonalities and value differences by identifying areas of agreement and shared goals.
Diversity, inclusion, and associate engagement are top priorities for me as a leader. Our Enterprise Local Inclusion Action Teams and Americas U.S. Diversity Task Force are two programs I’m involved in to promote and create inclusion across MetLife. Understanding employee values not only supports and helps them to thrive; it also has a positive impact on the business. Being involved in these enterprise teams gives me the opportunity to implement best practices across the broader organization, starting at the top with my senior leadership team.
How does MetLife go about recruiting employees from non-insurance backgrounds?
DF: It’s important for businesses to have look outside their industry to not only hire people with great experience but also individuals with intellectual curiosity, an ownership mindset, and who are willing to challenge the status quo, take risks, and experiment. MetLife leverages our recruitment marketing platform to promote jobs on our career site and various diverse job boards. In addition to job boards, our recruitment teams leverage several tools and channels to meet prospective candidates where they are and promote our employer brand, such as social media, Glassdoor, Indeed, job fairs, AI tools, community-based organizations, and employee referrals. MetLife is focused on targeting candidates who align with our core behaviors and values from a variety of industries.
What steps is MetLife taking/has taken to build a consumer-centric culture?
DF: Today’s consumers are aware of what’s possible and expect to engage with businesses on their own terms and in their preferred channels. At MetLife Auto & Home, we are focused on putting the customer at the center of our business to ensure we are delivering products and coverage our customers need, as well as quality service and experience they want.
We provide a personalized experience in which our customers can engage with us whenever, wherever, and however they chose. Whether that’s over the phone, through our website and apps, or in-person, we are a trusted advisor ensuring we provide the right types of guidance and advice to our customers.
In today’s world of emerging technologies, it’s important to have a balance of leveraging the latest technology like artificial intelligence, aerial imagery, and drones with the human connection. While digitalization and speed are core to today’s customer experience, the human connection is important in insurance. Immediately after an auto accident a customer may want to speak with a person at their carrier to verbally explain what happen, ask questions, and receive reassurance the claim will be handled. Once the initial claim has been submitted, a customer may choose to only receive updates via email and/or the app as they have the confidence in us that the claim will be properly handled.
And finally – What are you passionate about outside of work?
DF: While I’m passionate about insurance and my career, I’m just as (if not more!) passionate about my family – I strive for work-life balance. Whether it’s watching my grandson play baseball, a girl’s trip with my daughters or our annual family vacations, spending time with my family is a top priority and joy of my life. The balance of work and life is something I encourage for all our associates to make a priority. I remind them they can have it all, but they can’t do it all, so surround yourself with people who will help you along the way.