Actuarial Teams Built for Uncertain Times

A hybrid workforce and flexible work environment are becoming the norm Sandy Zupancic and Karen Lopez


The insurance talent landscape is experiencing a number of shifts. Ongoing modernization projects, technological advancements and a tumultuous economic climate all are impacting how insurers—and their actuarial departments—operate. Hybrid teams, which leverage a variety of employment types, are becoming the norm as organizations embrace new ways of working.

However, while work environments look much different than they did at the beginning of the year, the insurance labor market has remained relatively strong. In September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a 4.2 percent unemployment rate for insurance carriers and related activities, and 7.9 percent for the overall U.S. economy. Although insurance unemployment is higher than earlier in the year (when it dipped to just 1 percent), the industry is steadily adding jobs. September employment saw 8,500 more jobs than February’s pre-pandemic numbers, and the BLS reports there are nearly 22,000 more individuals working in the insurance industry than there were just one year ago.

It’s likely this momentum will continue. In the Q3 2020 Insurance Labor Outlook Study conducted by The Jacobson Group and Aon plc, 83 percent of insurers shared they plan to increase or maintain their staff sizes in the next 12 months. Additionally, respondents indicated that eight of the 11 functions surveyed have become at least slightly more difficult to recruit for compared to just 12 months ago. Actuarial positions were reported as the most difficult roles to fill, followed by analytics and technology. Of the insurers planning to increase actuarial staff, experienced actuaries are in the highest demand, followed by entry-level professionals.

While insurance organizations have not undergone the mass layoffs or direct shutdowns that have occurred in many other industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, the talent landscape is shifting. Remote work has become commonplace and, according to our study, the majority of insurers plan to continue offering flexible work arrangements even after physical office locations reopen.

In the current environment, we’re seeing a shift within candidates; individuals are seeking organizations that take their personal needs into consideration while also providing the opportunity to excel professionally. Virtual work options and flexible schedules are not only desired, but expected. It is imperative organizations are equipped to manage a variety of needs without sacrificing productivity and efficiency.

Tips for Successful Interim Projects

As your organization adapts to the changing business environment and embraces a hybrid staffing model, it’s likely you may bring in interim professionals to handle special projects or fill talent gaps. Here are a few ways to set up your team for a successful project.

  • Define your project needs. Before talking with a staffing firm, consider your goals for the project. How will you define success?
  • Be open to talent outside of your backyard. It may not be necessary to have staff on-site, even for training and onboarding. By rethinking your approach, you can access high-quality talent across geographic locations.
  • Focus on must-have qualifications. Rather than focusing on an extensive list of preferred skills and experiences, determine your three to five must-have qualifications. This will help expand your search and help you quickly secure well-qualified individuals.
  • Align decision-makers. Avoid delays by ensuring all internal parties are aligned on when they will need to provide feedback and decisions around the hiring process.
  • Commit to communication. Prioritize frequent communication with both your staffing firm and your internal team. Share clear feedback to help your talent partner make adjustments based on your preferences and needs.

Benefits of a Hybrid Workforce

Even prior to the pandemic, hybrid teams were key in helping organizations manage shifting workloads, special projects and modernization initiatives. Today’s teams may include remote and on-site professionals, full- and part-time employees, contract workers and more. By employing hybrid teams, insurers are able to keep their internal full- and part-time staff engaged and productive while leveraging gig workers and project teams during their times of need. This could include tackling unforeseen challenges, managing increased workloads during open enrollment or taking on special projects or modernization initiatives.

Along with contributing to employee satisfaction, hybrid teams enable an organization to quickly expand or contract the size of its workforce based on business demands. To do this most successfully, it’s important to have a comprehensive human capital plan that accounts for various potential circumstances. For instance, if your organization is awarded new business, your internal recruiting team may not have the bandwidth to make a high quantity of full-time hires in a limited time frame. Interim professionals can help you meet pressing demands while you recruit for more permanent roles. If you are undergoing modernization initiatives, contract workers who are familiar with new technologies can help maintain productivity while your in-house team ramps up. You may even consider enlisting an interim staffing partner to start discussing your organization and its potential needs before they arise.

Additionally, the remote work environment provides access to talent who may not be available within your organization’s immediate geographic region. Especially for more specialized actuarial roles, your search may be limited if a physical presence is required. In today’s remote work environment, you can expand your talent pool beyond your own backyard and reach highly skilled individuals who can seamlessly integrate with your team.

Effectively Managing a Blended Team

To reap the benefits of a hybrid workforce, insurance organizations must pivot and adopt new ways of operating. Department heads must lead with intention and manage a variety of work styles. It’s critical all employees are able to work together in a cohesive and well-organized manner, whether they are in the office or remote, or working traditional schedules or part-time hours. By planning ahead and focusing on tailored communication, actuarial leaders can help ensure their teams are efficient and productive.

Be open with your employees when adding staff and making adjustments to the team’s composition. Ask current employees about their pain points and the areas where they could benefit from additional support. Share how new team members’ roles and responsibilities will contribute to the overall team’s success and directly address any hesitations or concerns.

When new employees join the team—whether they’re full-time permanent staff or shorter-term contract workers—it’s important to have a clear onboarding plan in place. Set them up for success by assigning team members to help answer any questions and make necessary introductions. Especially in a virtual environment, it’s important to have a well-defined onboarding and training schedule and to establish clear expectations around communication and productivity.

When working with individuals across multiple geographic locations, work environments and working hours, it’s important to consider how your communication style may need to adapt. What are the best ways to share information and discuss project goals? Do your employees feel included and like they are a part of the team? Are there other ways to share information that might be more effective? Be open to feedback and accept that you might have to try a few different tactics to find the ones that work best for your team’s needs.

Necessary Skills in Today’s Environment

Strong math and analytical skills are vital for actuaries, yet there are a number of nonfunctional skills that will set the most successful individuals apart. The ability to tell a story around data and effectively convey information to a variety of audiences is of utmost importance. Human skills, such as empathy and communication, enable actuaries and those in other risk management roles to deliver technical concepts in a way that is more likely to resonate with stakeholders and inspire action.

As expectations and priorities shift, traits such as agility and courage are key for successfully navigating uncertain territories. The ability to collaborate is also important, as actuaries must be able to work effectively with members of their teams and other business units. Cross-departmental relationship-building, a problem-solving mindset and emotional intelligence are also highly desired traits for today’s actuaries.

Building Positive Hybrid Cultures

The demand for highly skilled data analytics and actuarial professionals is expanding employment opportunities, and insurers are competing for top talent both within and outside of the industry. Larger organizations with internal risk management departments, technology firms and other data-focused organizations are contributing to the industry’s recruiting difficulties. It’s important for insurers to focus on developing a positive culture that attracts, retains and engages employees across all employment types.

Focusing on transparent and frequent communication helps build trust and strong working relationships. Encourage the use of video conferencing platforms to recreate the face-to-face experience. Especially in the current climate, managers should carve out time to proactively listen to employee concerns and lend an empathetic ear. Promote work-life balance and ask how your employees are doing on a more personal level.

Career development is still important to most professionals during the pandemic. Show your employees you’re committed to their advancement, even in a virtual environment. Support supplemental training and education programs, create solid career goals and consider mentorship opportunities. Help expose them to a variety of leaders within the organization and routinely discuss their progress toward achieving their goals.

Additionally, leaders should help employees feel a sense of ownership for their role in the company’s success. Interim and part-time employees should be included in all-team calls and immersed in your company’s culture. Outside of standard meetings, consider scheduling lunches or happy hours over Zoom to provide the informal interactions that previously took place within the office setting.

Hybrid workforces are here to stay. It’s up to actuarial leaders to build a talent strategy that embraces their capabilities and engages all employees. Account for various circumstances and workloads, focus on creating a positive work environment and be intentional with your management style. A blended workforce and a flexible work environment may be key to ensuring your organization stays competitive and flourishes in uncertain times.

Sandy Zupancic is vice president at The Jacobson Group.
Karen Lopez is client advisor at The Jacobson Group.

Copyright © 2020 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.