Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

Always in need

Insurance industry constantly hungry for fresh talent, thanks to growing affluence and greying population

Even though Hong Kong is already the second most developed insurance market in Asia after Japan in terms of per capita insurance premium, a growing awareness of the need for financial and retirement planning and a rising demand for health protection are helping to fuel further growth.

According to statistics released by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI), total gross premiums in the first half of 2013 for Hong Kong’s insurance industry amounted to HK$143.7 billion, an increase of 14.5 per cent over the corresponding period in 2012.

Marc Burrage, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong, says more and more banks and brokerages are forming partnerships in Hong Kong. As a result, companies are looking for candidates who can identify new ways to enhance their distribution channels. “Companies are seeking the most skilled candidates for these positions to give them a competitive edge,” Burrage says.

He also notes that with an increase in cases and claims, along with an ageing workforce, there is a high demand for underwriting and claims professionals. As such, organisations are now investing in training programmes in the operations area to develop talent.

According to the most recent industry figures, Hong Kong has 178 authorised insurers, nearly 55,500 appointed insurance agents and more than 7,000 authorised brokers.

A major evolution for Hong Kong’s insurance industry is the formation of the Independent Insurance Authority (IIA), which will replace the government-run OCI in 2015.

The IIA will also take over the insurance industry’s existing self-regulatory regime and will introduce a statutory licensing system for insurance intermediaries. The move to replace the existing self-regulatory regime is designed to align with the international practice that financial regulators should be financially and operationally independent.

Robert Knight, managing partner of the global CEO and board of directors practice for Asia-Pacific at Heidrick & Struggles, says the question that needs to be raised is whether setting up the IIA will lead to an improvement in insurance products and the way in which they are offered. Although Hong Kong is a maturing market, he says that compared with Australia and the UK, there is less transparency across the industry.

“Hong Kong needs to have a published comparison of like-for-like products, services and historical performance offered by insurance and wealth management firms,” he says.

Knight adds that stricter regulations linked to the selling of investment-linked products caused agencies to lose ground to banks, with agencies now commanding less than 50 per cent of total distribution.

“Bancassurance in Hong Kong is now the major distribution channel of individual insurance policies, both conventional and investment-linked, while unit trust type single premium investments have been added as a result of ever-maturing capital markets,” Knight says.

At Standard Life, recruitment, career development and talent retention are crucial to continuing success as it expands in Asia, says Roy Halliday, the firm’s Hong Kong CEO.

He believes the firm’s approach to professional development and clear career paths is one of the reasons why it is on its way to filling 40 diverse job vacancies by end-2013. As the firm looks to spreads its wings, support operations have been transferred from Scotland to Hong Kong to form a regional hub.

“I believe we are offering genuine career opportunities for people to excel with a company that will support their professional development,” Halliday says.

Standard Life is working closely with regulators as Hong Kong’s insurance sector goes through regulatory changes, he adds. “As a long-term savings and investment company, offering good advice, the right product and putting the best interests of the client first fits with the Standard Life ethos,” he says.

A growing awareness of corporate risk management and diversified insurance markets has triggered an all-time-high demand for actuaries in Hong Kong. Professor Chan Wai-sum, council member of the Actuarial Society of Hong Kong and chairman of its education committee, says that career opportunities for actuaries are plentiful at every level.

“Because of their unique training, actuaries can work in many areas of finance, from general and specialist insurance areas to banking, government departments and investment and asset management,” Chan says.

He adds that with industry forecasts predicting that the mainland will need another 5,000 actuaries in the next 10 years to sustain growth in its insurance and finance sectors, a wealth of opportunities are being presented for ambitious Hong Kong actuaries. “My advice for new actuaries is to become fully qualified and gain plenty of on-the-job experience, and then look at the possibilities the mainland has to offer,” he says.

Rosetta Fong, CEO of Convoy Financial Services, believes that a mix of insurance plans can help structure comprehensive financial-planning solutions for customers to meet their various financial objectives.

“In recent years, we have been providing more comprehensive insurance product choices in addition to investment solutions for clients,” Fong says, explaining that such products include critical illness and medical protection, savings, annuities, and universal life insurance.

To explore more diversified insurance products to offer its clients, Convoy established its insurance business department in 2011, which includes professionals with an actuarial background. The firm currently offers a choice of around 200 basic insurance plans and 68 general insurance products.

As an independent financial advisory firm, Convoy looks for self-confident, outgoing university graduates who are keen on developing a financial planning career with the firm. “The opportunity for career progression is quite clear in Convoy,” Fong says, adding that integrity and professionalism are the most important parts of being a financial planner.

With more than 9,300 insurance professionals, serving more than 1.58 million customers, AIA has the largest team of financial planners in Hong Kong and Macau. Also, the insurance giant is a pioneer in industry training and development, says Joe Cheng, general manager for agency distribution in Hong Kong and Macau at AIA.

“We have made substantial investments to implement best-in-class training programmes to help financial planners develop a successful career,” Cheng says, citing AIA’s recently opened training facility as an example. The facility, which uses a mixture of technologies to deliver training programmes, can simultaneously host training workshops and classes for more than 600 financial planners.

As part of AIA’s “Premier Agency” strategy, which it runs through its AIA Premier Academy (AIAPA), the company invests about HK$100 million a year to train young insurance professionals. Cheng says the AIAPA offers programmes designed to provide a fast-track career path for young hires.

While AIA provides comprehensive support and training, Cheng says it is important that employees are self-motivated, have sound interpersonal skills and the commitment to make the insurance industry their long-term career choice. 

“Our financial planners have to be hungry for success, willing to take up new challenges and aspire to be leaders,” he says.