As Chinese economic growth forges ahead at double digits rates, the country has become one of the world’s most exciting insurance markets for both domestic and international players.
The biggest constraint faced by all firms in China’s insurance industry is a serious shortage of talent. The gap between the skills available in the market and the level of demand grows wider each week.
According to research by Swiss Re, the number of people working in the Chinese insurance industry is expected to grow to 12m by 2020, from 4m today. Simple maths leads us to the conclusion that 8m new insurance professionals are needed over the next nine years. But where will they come from?
Positions such as underwriters, and claims and sales professionals are in demand, but actuaries, who require strong knowledge of mathematics, economics and risk management, top the list. “Actuaries are the most wanted talents in China’s insurance industry,” says the CEO of Swiss Re Asia Pacific, Huo Xi Ting.
There are not enough professionals possessing both specific skills and local market expertise to ensure a high level of compliance with global industry standards, especially in the underwriting sector. Even those working in the industry for years find it difficult to keep abreast of the latest industry developments and practices.
For the past few years, China has been importing professionals from Taiwan, Hong Kong and South East Asia to help relieve its skill shortage. These expatriates have gained international experience by working for insurance MNCs in their home markets. More importantly, because most of them speak Mandarin, they are able to transfer their knowledge to local staff.
In the future, however, training and developing locals through systematic methods will be a more sustainable method of increasing the talent pool. Companies should consider offering leadership programmes to develop future mid to senior-level managers.
Top universities such as Fudan University in Shanghai and Peking University in Beijing have already announced partnerships with Swiss Re to develop insurance courses in order to train future insurance professionals in China.
These courses mainly focus on life insurance, applied economics, mathematics, risk management and actuarial science. Industry consolidation may also help relieve the skill shortage to some extent. As the line between insurance and banking blurs, this may create opportunities for professionals to move between the sectors.