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Prudential, New York Life, Guardian Hiring Thousands as Investors Cut Risk

Large insurance providers like New York Life, Guardian Life and Prudential Life have ramped up their hiring of financial professionals and back office staff in the U.S. as consumers and businesses have become more risk-averse with their investments.

Like any other sector in finance, the insurance industry was hit hard by the economic collapse. The market suffered through a difficult 2008 and 2009, but didn’t bottom out until 2010, when it “couldn’t have gotten any worse,” said Jim Byrne, owner and chief executive of New Jersey-based MGA Insurance Recruiters.

The industry has rebounded over the last two years with help from a slowly improving economy and, perhaps more importantly, a renewed emphasis on more traditional wealth management products like life insurance, annuities and 401(k) plans.

Guardian has hired almost 700 new reps this year – 123 of whom have been net adds – and will likely meet its goal of adding 840 salespeople by the end of 2012, said Emily Viner, vice president of agency management and leadership development.

Prudential, meanwhile, is adding talent in a number of niches. In addition to financial professionals, Prudential wants actuarial, quantitative and disability claims professionals, said Jana Fallon, the firm’s vice president of recruiting. Prudential has increased its staff by 11% through the first 10 months of 2012, Fallon said.

New York Life has made “excellent progress to date on [its] full-year hiring goal” of adding 3,700 financial professionals in 2012, says company spokesperson Bill Werfelman. If the firm does in fact meet its year-end goal, New York Life would surpass its recruiting efforts in 2010 and 2011, when it hired 3,300 and 3,500 new financial professionals, respectively.

The hiring of financial professionals, who are, in essence, salespeople, is a good omen for the industry in general as sales is the foundation of industry-wide growth. “Hiring doesn’t occur until sales folks are brought on,” said Steve Barker, owner of Ohio-based Insurance Recruiting Specialists.

First come salespeople, then the need for underwriters, loss/control professionals and claims people, Barker said.

Health Insurance

The state of the health insurance industry is less clear. Health insurance providers are taking a wait-and-see approach to hiring until the presidential election in November, when the fate of Obamacare should become clearer.

If President Obama is reelected, and the Affordable Care Act is enacted and the exchanges are operational, hiring among health insurers should be more robust, says Gerard Anderson, a professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We will be covering 30 million more people with insurance and these people will require case managers, utilization review coordinators, claims adjusters and other people that are associated with covering more people,” Anderson said.

If Romney gets the nod, and attempts to follow through on his pledge to repeal Obamacare, the insurance industry will be remain in a state of “extreme strategic uncertainty,” especially considering the difficulty of defunding and deregulating the law, said Joe Flower, an independent health-care analyst and author of “Healthcare Beyond Reform: Doing it Right for Half the Cost.

With Romney at the helm, health insurance providers will likely employ widely diverging strategies. In that context, what it means for hiring is “murky,” said Flower.

Not all agree, however. Recruiters in the insurance industry feel that Romney’s business background will only encourage hiring in all sectors within the insurance industry, including healthcare.

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