On June 7, the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) will open its third Women in Insurance Global Conference at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel. This year’s theme is the power of diverse thought and innovation — a concept more important to the insurance industry now than at any previous point in our history.
The issues that will be covered at this year’s conference are important because our industry is experiencing a seismic shift. New technologies are reinventing how business is done, which in-turn is fundamentally reimagining traditional roles and responsibilities within insurance. As those roles change and baby boomers exit the profession — opening up approximately 400,000 insurance roles over the next 10 years — the next generation of incoming young professionals will continue to apply their dynamic ideas and willingness to innovate. They will also remake the industry in their own image: one that embraces technology, moves quickly, challenges the status quo, turns work environments into laboratories for innovation to test new ideas and products, and gives back to the communities they serve.
Our industry has already begun the important work of meeting this change, and the discussions at this year’s conference will focus on applying the power of diverse thought and innovation to further the cause. Not just in the abstract, but in practice, which is where the challenge lies.
The speed with which technology changes can be dramatic. The modern smartphone as we know it is only about 10 years old, yet, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly 80% of Americans own and use them as a primary device.
Within the span of the next decade, innovators and technologists alike are promising revolutionary advances in today’s business technologies that will directly alter the insurance industry: cloud-based infrastructure, next generation artificial intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, robotic process automation, real-time analytics, automated claims processing and much more.
As the insurance industry continues to experience a rapid adoption of technologies that are changing how we work, we must adapt to these realities by embracing new, different and, yes, diverse ways of looking at how we work and how we create solutions.
It isn’t just technology that is changing insurance. Those just entering the field as well as today’s veteran industry leaders are examining how to challenge old paradigms to compete and thrive in the market. We’re already seeing this shift within the industry. The rise of InsurTech, the diversity of thought in how we reimagine insurance practices for the future, and the willingness of insurance organizations to adapt to new technologies are combining to fundamentally alter how insurance is done. And all of this is being driven by a fundamental reality: business necessity.
For insurance organizations, a willingness to adapt to technological advances as well as diverse hiring and business practices simply makes sense. The tech and automation tools are a way to keep pace with others in the industry and ensure the long-term viability and competitiveness of each organization. Diversity, on the other hand, is where insurance organizations will thrive.
Unlike technology, which is a means to an end, diversity programs and initiatives reflect the people and markets insurance organizations serve. People prefer to do business with those who understand and appreciate their background and where they’ve come from. Diversity programs, in the traditional sense, allow businesses to provide that level of service.
According to Hank Watkins, president of Lloyd’s North America and a recipient of IICF’s 2017 Inclusion Champion Award, that type of diverse business necessity has been at the heart of Lloyd’s success for more than 300 years.
“The Dive In diversity and inclusion festival, Lloyd’s Tercentenary Research Foundation and the launch of the sharia-compliant products, which facilitate participation in the Takaful (Islamic insurance) industry are just a few examples of how Lloyd’s strives to lead our industry in bringing diverse talent and ways of thinking together,” said Watkins. “These efforts are part of our goal to provide risk transfer solutions that enable development and resilience around the world.”
But there are other reasons for employing diversity in the workforce. Applying diversity of thought, of experience, of perspective — true diversity — brings together a broad range of approaches to the business of insurance that makes an organization stronger. A famous quote attributed to General George Patton sums up the need for diversity almost perfectly: “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” This motto allows us to reject business as usual, to look at standard practices in a different light and to challenge, and possibly improve on, the way in which our industry does business.
Watkins agreed, noting diversity powers innovation in a market defined by its willingness to consider all types of risk. “A broker entering the Lloyd’s market has the opportunity to engage with underwriters from more than 90 syndicates, each with experience gained from daily exposure to some of the world’s most complex yet often solvable problems. Innovation is a natural byproduct of the curiosity and creativity that attracts business to London.”
The most important reason for the application of diversity in the business environment of insurance is simply that the world is changing, and the insurance industry must reflect that change. This isn’t merely to conduct business among like-minded people or with similar segments of the market. Rather, diversity in all its forms within the insurance industry is needed to bring fresh ideas, approaches and technical know-how to an industry that must keep pace with the change we’re seeing throughout the globe.
That change, and the tools needed to match it, will be covered at length at the Women in Insurance Global Conference. We’ll discuss and debate the power of diverse thinking and approaches. We’ll challenge out-moded HR perspectives of diversity and inclusion and examine what many of the industry’s leading companies our doing to bring about meaningful D&I programs. Most importantly, we’ll bring together leading thinkers, insurance executives and academics to help connect the dots on how diversity powers innovation. And for insurance leaders, the subject matter of this conference is critical to the industry’s future.
“A conference dedicated to building and perpetuating diversity of thought and action facilitates significantly better outcomes than can be expected from reading an article or a book,” said Watkins. “I believe most industries benefit from understanding how the contributions of people with beliefs and experiences different from our own perpetuate their businesses and industry trade organizations.”
Diversity, whether in terms of demographics, geography, thinking, gender or other identifiers is increasingly a factor in the global economy. The insurance industry has a tremendous opportunity to continue its tradition of reflecting the change within the markets for which it mitigates risk. By addressing this topic with honesty and through the inclusion of different perspectives, whether in conference halls or office conference rooms, the insurance industry will continue to play a leading role in shaping how business is done, and the creative, innovative and diverse approaches needed to do so.
Elizabeth "Betsy" Myatt has been the executive director of the Northeast Division of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) since 2008, and leads the IICF Women in Insurance Conference Series. Prior to joining IICF, Myatt had served as CEO of the World Lung Foundation in New York. Myatt is a graduate of Vanderbilt University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are the author's own.