The digital insurance workforce: Going beyond aspirations

Insurers are modernizing their technology systems, boosting innovation, automating to drive down costs and enhancing the user experience to meet rapidly changing customer expectations. Yet no amount of digital investment can help carriers attain their new financial and productivity goals if their workforce is stuck in analog.

Unfortunately, people with both digital skills and core skills are in short supply. As we describe in our 2019 PwC report The productivity agenda: Moving beyond cost reduction in financial services, the biggest barrier to digital innovation isn’t technology, process or data, but a lack of skilled teams. In PwC’s 2009 CEO survey, only about half of respondents saw skills shortages as a threat to their growth prospects. However, in the 2019 survey, 81% of insurance respondents (and nearly the same percentage of all respondents) said they were somewhat or very concerned about availability of key skills. These shortages are putting pressure on costs and impairing organizations’ ability to innovate and meet customer expectations.

“No amount of digital investment can help carriers attain their new financial and productivity goals if their workforce is stuck in analog.”

Digital skills are not just a short-term need

Insurers have a particular need for new skills in automation, AI and IoT, which are paving the way for one-click purchases of insurance coverage, virtually instantaneous claims payment and risk prevention. Moreover, data scientists are also in demand to enhance predictive analytics involving claims probability, establish customer risk profiles and underscore underwriting and pricing models.

Insurers’ most immediate priority is recruiting or developing systems specialists who can design, build and maintain elements of these emerging technologies. However, the need for digitally skilled talent is is not just for the short term, as new and augmented skills will become requisite as technologies evolve. This requires that insurers foster a culture of innovation that develops skilled professionals internally, attracts them from the outside and helps retain them for the long haul.

“The need for digitally-skilled talent is not just a short term one, as" with “The need for digitally skilled talent is not just for the short term.”

The journey of 1000 miles begins with six steps

As we ourselves have seen in our own firmwide digital upskilling efforts, putting a digital workforce into place is as much a matter of winning hearts and minds as it is of strengthening specific skills. Where does this transformation begin? We’ve observed six foundational steps that are common to every meaningful effort. They don’t focus just on learning and development, but also on winning sustainable workforce buy-in by creating opportunities to apply new skills and drive innovation.

1. Determine clear digital workforce goals

Identify the tangible business benefits you expect to achieve through your digital upskilling investments. Understanding the endgame is your first priority because it will determine how you channel and focus your investments.

2. Tell a compelling story about the value of digital upskilling

Clearly articulating that leadership has bought in to the transformation, as well as the purpose and plans for implementing it, are critical to success. Whatever their respective roles, employees need to feel that they are part of a collective journey. When they fully grasp what’s in it for them, a culture of digital curiosity, self-learning and innovation should follow.

3. Start with a focused launch

Most firms select a limited segment of the workforce (not necessarily limited by seniority, demographics and other common traits) to pilot digital upskilling initiatives. This agile approach allows for the dynamic revision of strategy over time.

4. Connect the program with the rest of the organization

A digital upskilling program should not exist in a silo. It’s critical to connect the effort link with existing learning and development and talent programs. It should be inclusive" and closely related to how you a) reward and recognize people, b) manage their performance, c) on-board new employees and d) move employees to new positions in an organization.

To promote these linkages, a citizen-led approach can provide the entire workforce with opt-in opportunities to build new skills, augment existing skills and apply what they’ve learned in their day-to-day roles. Encouraging micro-solutions that end-users develop can inspire and empower people, and gamification principles can incentivize people to join in.

5. Prepare for headwinds

Prepare for concerns people may have, such as fears of automation and job losses and potential alienation among employees in traditionally non-tech roles. Position your initiative as an investment that the organization is making in its people and their future. Design an inclusive digital workforce strategy, in which all employees are given equal access to digital upskilling opportunities, and customize upskilling programs so that they offer immersive support to anyone who needs it.

6. Measure your progress to drive sustainable results

There is a risk that employees will perceive digital upskilling as a passing fad. To mitigate this possibility, a digital workforce strategy must extend beyond learning and development and influence culture and ways of working. Put simply, digital curiosity must become part of the firm’s DNA. Regular, mandatory, baseline training requirements are a good way to get people used to new ways of working and actively immersed in them.

Next steps

Results may take a few months to materialize, but there is reason to move quickly. The industry will continue to digitize to meet productivity goals, provide customers with an engaging experience and remain relevant in the face of competition. If you can proactively address digital upskilling, then you’ll benefit your customers, employees and bottom line.

“Digital upskilling doesn’t just focus on learning and development, but also on winning sustainable workforce buy-in by creating opportunities to apply new skills and drive innovation.”

Insurance industry successes

Many insurers are proactively equipping their workforce to meet current and longer-term skills requirements and trying to be a more attractive employment option for outside talent. Some initiatives we’ve observed that have had positive results include:

Changing the role of the claims adjuster

As more of its claims-handling processes have become automated, a leading property and casualty company is helping adjusters focus more closely on customer service and analytics. To provide a supporting talent infrastructure, the company is redefining roles, reconstructing job families around future capabilities and designing more flexible career paths. To attract new talent, company leaders are contemplating how they can offer a digitized employee experience in line with broader digitization efforts taking place in the claims function.

Digital fitness

A leading reinsurer conducted a digital fitness assessment of its workforce to establish a baseline of technological acumen. As part of the same program, the company is helping employees acquire the skills they need for an increasingly digitally enabled business. These and other efforts are helping the company establish its credentials as a digital innovator and magnet for tech-savvy talent.

Equipping the internal audit role to support digitized operations

A large insurance group recognized the need to upskill its internal audit function to identify, monitor and advise on potential risks within its digitized frontline operations. Both training and new ways of working were necessary to make use of new surveillance and visualization tools. An initial digital fitness assessment provided the foundations for a digital upskilling strategy, which now can draw on a variety of inputs, including learning and development, talent management and culture.

Navigating the future of work

A Fortune 500 life insurer is modernizing its ways of working through a "dedicated "future of work" program. It has launched strategic programs in D&I, decision making, governance and technology innovation. It also is establishing a common language for digital concepts in the workforce. Its comprehensive digital strategy includes a digital fitness assessment for employees, an upskilling effort focusing on workforce capability and a complementary change management effort to shift mindsets and behaviors.

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Bhushan Sethi

Bhushan Sethi

People & Organization Joint Global Leader, PwC US

Julia Lamm

Julia Lamm

Principal, Consulting Solutions, PwC US

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