May 09, 2014

Although technology is changing at a mind-boggling pace, some of the toughest challenges facing insurance company tech executives have nothing to do with systems and tools. Rather, it's the changing demographics of the IT workforce, along with intensified competition for talent with skills in hot areas such as analytics, mobile and agile development, that is simultaneously frustrating and inspiring today's insurance CIOs. That was a dominant theme of the C-Suite Panel Discussion that took place at the just-concluded 2014 ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum in Orlando.

Moderated by Dan Roberts, president & CEO, Ouellette & Associates Consulting, the panel covered everything from outsourcing to mobility to customer engagement. But the discussion kept circling back to the importance of developing and retaining a versatile, talented and committed IT workforce. The panel of current and former insurance tech bosses concurred that, while these issues can be vexing, addressing them effectively is critical to success in today's increasing customer-focused, digital financial services environment.

[The future workforce will extend beyond employees to any user connected to the Internet, says Accenture's John Cusano: 3 Tech Trends Set to Rock the Insurance Industry]

"I always thought the job would be easier if it weren't for people," kidded panelist Allan Hackney, a long-time financial services executive who most recently served as SVP and CIO, John Hancock Financial. Getting serious, he noted, "At the end of the day we ride on the shoulders of really great teams -- they do all the work." Having worked in mergers and acquisitions, finance, operations and IT, Hackney observed, "At the end of the day it was always about the ability to deliver tangible results."

Greg Schwartz, USAA
Greg Schwartz, USAA

One organization that seems to have found the right formula for leading a skilled, productive and happy IT workforce is USAA, although panelist Greg Schwartz, SVP and CIO, said, "I wish I could tell you there's a blueprint." Part of the culture at USAA, which consistently racks up awards for being a good place to work in IT, is recognition that "it's absolutely critical to be focused on that as part of your IT strategy, not just architecture or platforms," Schwartz said. Furthermore, when it comes to recruiting for IT positions, "People want meaningful work. We are selling careers, not jobs. We tell you, if you're right out of college, that we want you here all your career. The good news is, the IT field is growing, so we can do that."

Panelist Katherine M. Miller, SVP and CIO of Unum, concurred. "People want challenging work," she said. The challenge, she added, is, "How do you empower the workforce?"

This is particularly urgent considering the looming retirement of many baby boomers and even Gen X'ers from the IT workforce. Miller warned against any "neglect of the incoming pipeline of skills and expertise" and said she is very focused addressing the capabilities and expectations of the Millennials to "make sure we have the right pipeline of talent coming in the door. We're being prepared for the shift of skills, as well."

The implications of the demographic shift "is one of my favorite topics," USAA's Schwartz said. CIOs should know what percentage of their staffs are likely to be retiring in the near future -- a number that "is going up every year," according to Schwartz. "We've been looking at this problem for long time. One of every two open jobs we fill with college student rather than an experienced [IT professional]. One-third of my workforce is millennials. We really have five generations in the workforce today, and they have to coexist. You do not want to wake up on other side of 30% of your staff retiring."