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Foreign insurers in China expect headcount growth but face plenty of challenges

Insurance in disctionary

Foreign insurance firms in China still plan to increase their collective headcount by 2014, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. This comes despite their stagnating market share and changes in the shareholdings of insurance joint ventures at firms such as AXA, New York Life and Sun Life, who have cut or disposed of their JV stakes since last year.

The 18 life insurers who took part in the survey Foreign Insurance Companies in China say they will grow their workforce from 17,665 today to 24,551 in 2014 – a jump of 39 per cent. But this predicted three-year increase isn’t as high as last year’s 59.8 per cent. Meanwhile, the 10 property and causality companies in the PwC report predict a 34 per cent rise by 2014, when staff numbers are expected to hit 3,500.

Small fry and still struggling

To put these figures into perspective, however, the market share of foreign insurers is not expected to move much in the same timeframe. It currently hovers at only 5 per cent for life insurers and 1 per cent for property and casualty companies. 

The report shows that this year life companies place both the “war for talent” and “domestic competition” head of “navigating regulatory change”. Most foreign insurers feel under pressure from local firms who offer attractive packages to their staff. In second- and third-tier cities foreign insurers suffer from low levels of brand recognition, and haven’t become employers of choice.

Retention remains a problem in this competitive job market. Last year 23 respondents reported turnover rates above 10 per cent, with 11 of these above 20 per cent. Projections for turnover by year-end 2011 are similar.  

The people they need

The top hiring priorities in 2011 are retail agents, corporate salespeople and investment management staff. In fourth place is product design, reflecting the need for firms to keep pace with competitors’ new product offerings. “Branch managers remain an important category as foreign insurers attempt to expand their geographic scope,” says the report.

Kyle Qin, associate consultant at Shfinder Talent Services, is seeing similar trends in the job market for foreign insurers. “Marketing and sales professionals remain in demand, and need to be recruited locally when expanding to second- or third-tier cities as they know the market better. Management and operation positions are often open in first-tier cities.”

Salaries will continue to rise at between 6% and 10% this year, in line with inflation, according to the PwC report. But Qin adds that those who move companies could get a larger increase: “Foreign insurers often provide faster promotion, better product innovation and attractive rise in package of 20 per cent.”

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