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Foreign insurance firms in China face tight talent pool; some vacancies remain unfilled for a year

No insurance against a skill shortage

No insurance against a skill shortage

If foreign banks are struggling with a talent shortage in China, so too are foreign insurance firms, largely thanks to their expansion plans, English-language requirements and competition from local insurers.

Monica Song, managing consultant, banking and financial Services, Hudson, says the shortage is here to stay. “As both local and Western insurers are growing their businesses in China, some vacancies are very hard to fill and it is not surprising to see key positions vacant for eight months to a year.”

Regulatory change and growing consumer demand for insurance products and are both driving much of the growth at overseas insurers, but candidate supply is not keeping up – China has traditionally been under-insured and the talent pool reflects this. Earlier this year, for example, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission began letting foreign companies compete in the market for compulsory third-party liability car insurance. “Chartis is hiring a lot of auto-insurance people as it is granted the license,” says a Shanghai recruiter who asked not to be named.

Foreign property and casualty insurers can also now enter the mandatory third-party liability market, with IAG taking advantage by investing in Tianjin-based Bohai Property Insurance. Product-based expansion like this means firms are hiring sales people to capture market share, especially in second- and third-tier cities, says Song.

But it’s not just new growth that is opening up jobs. Recruitment has also risen steadily over the past year because candidates continue to change roles, forcing firms to backfill, says Flora Shi, senior consultant, Morgan McKinley.

At international firms, senior local employees often need to know English to communicate with foreign managers – this creates a further hiring barrier. “For experienced people, firms have a very limited candidate pool,” says Song.

It’s also becoming more difficult to attract candidates with market-beating compensation. “Western insurance companies are now losing their glamour in attracting talent, partly because the income gap with local insurers is getting smaller and smaller,” says Song.

Shi adds that actuaries with five years’ experience can earn between 200k and 400k yuan a year. Pay increments when changing employers are typically higher than in Hong Kong or Singapore and this also points to strong competition for talent. The norm for actuaries is between 15 and 40 per cent.

Employers are searching overseas for actuaries. “Overall, insurers in China mostly hire domestic candidates, but due to the high English proficiency required by foreign insurance companies, and to make up for the talent shortage in the domestic market, quite a few of them are hiring actuaries from overseas, returnees mostly.”

Actuary expertise from Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, Europe and Australia can be transferred to China. “They do not require China specific actuary certification. Any international certification such as FSA is recognised. Mandarin is definitely essential in most cases and local market knowledge is preferred,” says Shi.

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