Hiring for an InsurTech (*is tough)

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InsurTech v FinTech

InsurTech’s are all too often referred to in the same context as FinTech’s; as a broadly defined part of ‘financial services’, the Insurance industry is characterised as the slow-moving ‘older brother’ of banking.

The use and reference to FinTech firms happened after the 2007 financial crash, when ‘fintech’ became a common term outside of the finance world, owing to various venture capitalist firms making huge investments into fintech businesses which aimed to disrupt the failed financial institutions. InsurTech, as expected, was a term coined later.

In InsurTech market in the UK, according to the recognised commentator Nigel Walsh, is divided into “3 categories” in a recent blog post – 1). cloud-native equivalents of the traditional (large) core system 2). a similar model to ‘Category 1’, however, with the option to write business in specific states or geographies, and 3). adjacent InsurTech players that have been built from the ground up to solve a niche, single specific problem.

The main challenge for these burgeoning technology start-ups in InsurTech is the same as it was for the FinTech companies – hiring talent! 

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The War for Talent

The use of the phrase ‘war for talent’ has been used (and overused) considerably since the recession and one conclusion had been drawn – the talent won! 

It is a candidate-driven market now and companies find themselves aggressively competing for technical talent. As an employer now, your brand position, culture, environment, mission, technology stack, benefits (i.e. pension, flexible working policy) and overall offering are scrutinised and considered at every stage of the recruitment process. Fail to get the brand positioning and message to market wrong and you don’t attract or engage talent and if you give little or no consideration to the candidate experience, you will lose candidates from the process or simply get ‘ghosted’.

The dynamics of the market are such now that, as the employer, you have a significant challenge to recruit talent – you are no longer in direct control – therefore, your approach needs to change to be successful.

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Define the differences

Life in a start-up and scale-up is different from operating in an established SME or enterprise business – in most cases in the Insurance industry if you’ve worked for a major Insurance carrier, you have been ‘the client’. This is one of the most significant differences and one of 3 major differences.

1). Client v Service Provider

There is a mindset shift that is required to operate successfully in an InsurTech; stakeholders are no longer internal or 3rd party suppliers – they are actual customers. You are now customer-facing, driving a commercial agreement to deliver a project(s) that have implications for the end clients’ business and significant impact on the reputation and revenue of the InsurTech you represent.

There is no hiding place – you are front and centre and you will be responsible for all the commercial conversations, issues and escalations, client engagement and end-to-end delivery. You will be dealing with ambiguity, crafting solutions with limited amounts of resource available and you will be under pressure both internally and externally as the focal point. Would you be comfortable with this level of exposure and scrutiny?

2). Learning while in-flight

Typically, an InsurTech won’t have a slick on-boarding process that provides you with training on all the core products and services, an induction about the current state of the business and a few days grace to orientate yourself with your environment and colleagues and/or team members. The approach is often ‘laptop-open-and-GO!’.

You will need to be resourceful and collect information, data and self-learn as you start to take on responsibility for deliverables (both new and existing); the onus will be on you to set-up meetings with your peers and team to introduce yourself and get a sense of them, their role and how they fit into the dynamic of a constantly growing business.

In short, if your first question is ‘what’s the induction process?’ – this isn’t the environment for you.

3). What does success look like? 

Creating the exact psychometric profile for an individual that will be successful in a start-up and scale-up has been the pursuit of many incubators and accelerator programmes, VC and Angel investors and talent acquisition and recruitment companies. There doesn’t, at this stage, appear to be a definitive profile that guarantees success.

In my experience, there are 3 characteristics that are commonly found in the companies I have partnered with when they are scaling their business.


The pressure to deliver, the pressure to find solutions, time-pressure, pressure from client demands and pressure to be forward-thinking requires one thing – resilience. If you don’t have experience of dealing with pressure, finding ways to personally reconcile the demands of the business whilst maintaining healthy mental well-being, this environment can be challenging.

A resilient mindset will help steer you through the ambiguity, find solutions when there appears to be no straight-forward answer and it will ensure you protect your team when the demands are high and the final phases are close to being delivered. You will lead where others simply manage.


Ambition can be seen as an unattractive, slightly disruptive, quality in an individual. Ambition in a start-up is essential. Start-ups are built on the ambition of its founders. Assessing the ambition of an individual that wants to join a start-up can be approached in a number of ways; have they been or sought promotion in their previous companies? why do they want to join a start-up? do they have a plan for their role within the start-up and what are they going to improve, change or add to the business?

If working in a start-up ‘appeals to you’, or you think you could ‘add value’ or perhaps you think you have ‘relevant skills and experience’ – make sure you define the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to support these statements. Start-ups run fast, run hard and ask questions – they don’t make unsupported statements. 

Critical thinking 

What is critical thinking? – that’s a question I get asked by recruitment agencies and candidates. In the context of the companies, I have partnered with, it’s the ability (based on intellect and experience) to critically evaluate a decision, solution and/or existing project, commercial process or scenario and then provide a number of options – even options that haven’t been tested (but, could quickly be tested and validated).

It’s not the ‘ability to think outside the box’ as that cliche means very little in the context of a highly pressurised project delivery.

Critical thinking also requires you to trust your own decision-making process and be comfortable with known ‘unknowns’. It also means trusting your team and their knowledge and input, however, being confident enough to make and take the final decision.

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Joining an InsurTech, on face-value, maybe be very appealing – and these companies need talent like any established business – however, the environment, requirements and the ability to be successful are determined by different factors on a personal and professional level. If you think you want this kind of challenge, feel free to contact me for an introductory chat. InsurTech needs great talent! 


Reference material:

Nigel Walsh post entitled “Is the insurance core system the lowest common denominator in the InsurTech (r)evolution?” – Read the full post here

TechBullion – “What is InsurTech, Origin and History in Financial Technology?”


The Basic Salary Question


The ‘salary’ question

Working agency-side for over 10-years, you get very used to asking the question – “..and what’s your current basic salary?” before moving onto the next phase of the conversation about salary expectation and what the opportunity (that you’ve introduced) is offering.

As an agency recruitment consultant, you learn (very quickly!) to ask this question towards the end of the introductory conversation as it’s a rapport-killer – it feels like you’re on a metaphorical first date and at the end of the meal you’re saying – “if you’re not going to finish that, could I have it”, then reaching over (invading your date’s personal space) and scraping the food off their plate.

As the recruiter, part of your responsibility as the ‘talent broker’ is to ascertain this information to present to your client alongside the other key information you have gleaned that isn’t stated on the CV. In short, your client expects you to provide a holistic picture of the individual and the salary information forms part of the report.

For the applicant, this question can feel like you’re immediately being quantified, assigned to a ‘box’ and your negotiating position becomes null void. I say this because I have also been the recipient of this question. In short, your ‘monetary value’ has been determined by your current employer and your potential future employer is using this information to inform their decision.

For all the talk about ‘your future potential’, you – as an applicant – are still being benchmarked, in part, on historic data.

The ‘loaded’ agenda

It my agency days, it was widely touted that a basic salary increase between 10%-15% was the standard when moving to a new job.  Any increase above this percentage was reserved for ‘senior’ or ‘exceptional’ individuals. Where did this ‘rule’ come from? I have no idea.

What I do know is that the agency model was sustained by protecting the margin it charged the client for services delivered. The client perpetuated this by providing the recruitment agency with a ‘salary range’ that they deemed suitable to pay for a particular role profile. The combination of these two factors meant that a potential candidate was already subject to a ‘financial scale’ irrespective of their skills and experience. The conversation agenda was, essentially, already loaded towards ‘the salary question’.

Banned in the USA

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On January 9th 2017, the State of New York passed legislation into law banning state agencies and departments from requesting salary history from applicants until after an offer of employment is extended. Furthermore, if an applicant’s prior compensation was discovered or offered by the candidate, that information could not be relied upon in determining the candidate’s salary, unless required by law or a collective bargaining agreement.

And so it began…

As of August 2018, there are 11 State-wide and 9 local bans that are a result of the adoption of the laws and regulations that prohibit employers from requesting salary history information from job applicants. But why? 

These laws are aimed at ending the cycle of pay discrimination in terms of the gender pay gap, and to some degree, ethnicity and ageism. To illustrate that point, a half a century after the US passed the Equal Pay Act, American women still face a substantial gender wage gap across the spectrum.

Today, on average, a woman earns 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns, and women’s median annual earnings are $10,086 less than men’s, according to data from the US Census Bureau.


UK versus USA

Whilst gathering significant pace in the USA, the ban on asking applicants for their basic salary information hasn’t reached the shores of the UK. There has been some press attention on this subject in the Independent and one of the UK’s ‘red top‘ publications. Aside from that, I haven’t noticed any serious Ministerial interest in this as part of the Gender Pay Gap; in fact, in the report on Actions to close the gender pay gap, they encourage the complete opposite action by ‘encouraging salary negotiation by showing salary ranges’ owing to a perceived notion that “women are less likely to negotiate their pay”.

From the perspective of a negotiation, both parties should start on an equal footing; if the employer is transparent and states the salary they are offering, how does that empower the applicant to negotiate if the benchmark has already been set?

Recruiting in the UK

If the US legislation starts to gather momentum in the UK and Europe, what would that mean for the recruitment industry?

For Applicants

The prospect of not having to provide your current salary information may improve the negotiating position of the individual – in short, the compensation you negotiate could be based on the skills, experience and your output during the interview process as opposed to being benchmarked by the salary your currently securing with the company you’re planning to leave. In addition, by not having to divulge this information to a recruitment agency, you could choose to discuss remuneration with the client directly at a stage in the process where there is meaningful engagement.

A point raised in an article written by John Feldmann in Forbes raised the question of whether an applicant (and employee) might both be disappointed if they progressed through an entire recruitment process to find out, at the end, that they were completely misaligned about the basic salary on offer (from the employee) and required (by the applicant). In this situation, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the employer to be transparent about the basic salary on offer as long as they acknowledge that there may be a negotiation (upwards) at the point of offer. This may inform two approaches, employers low-balling salaries from the beginning of the process (which may impact application levels), or they set a realistic ‘upper limit’ that they are prepared to pay that they operate within. My question to any employer would be this – what would the cost to your business by not hiring great people as opposed to trying to keep to rigid salary model? – I understand cost models, however, great people = increased productivity = increased profits (=increased budget for more great hires). 

For Employers

What about those applicants that try to game-the-system and negotiate ridiculously high salary increases? – my counter to this is, if you know the role you’re recruiting for and the skills and experience you require, then the 1st interview stage should screen-out the individuals with limited experience or are unable to articulate their experience in relation to the role. In addition, with all the data available regarding current market salaries, we are all in an informed position anyway. The prospect of not being able to ask for current salary information actually asks the employer to start to be more creative in terms of the recruitment assessment process.

The major concern for employers would be their current salary structure; how would this be impacted if they started to bring in new employees potentially on higher salaries than existing employees in the same grade. Equally, would current employees see this as an opportunity to negotiate improved salaries? – I think this will actually act as a positive catalyst that will bring the subject of compensation to the forefront. How often have you, as an employee, sat in an end of year review waiting for the opportunity to discuss a remuneration and have felt as though it’s a taboo subject or it is completely related to your current performance (and less about the skills you have gained and your future performance).

There is another option – pay all your employees the same basic salary like Dan Price. Completely remove the need for negotiation as the basic salary is transparent and the same for everyone; then surely you would know that applicants are focusing on more than just the money on offer.

For Recruitment Agencies

This will be interesting to observe should this legislation become a reality in the UK. The majority of agency models still leverage off the fact that they are the ‘broker’ between the applicant and the client; by finding and negotiating with the applicant before the CV/application is passed to the client or HR team, the agency provides ‘value’ by having the conversation(s) that the client doesn’t want to or feels will have a negative impact on the introductory conversation with an applicant. Removing the power of the recruitment agency to negotiate with the applicant, removes a critical part of their function.

Whilst UK recruitment agencies continue to develop their solutions and offerings by offering psychometric and skills assessments, increased levels of pre-screening (i.e. video interviews such as RecRight) and employment pre-screening (i.e. Disclosure Scotland); if the agency hasn’t developed these offerings and the prospect of negotiating with the applicant on behalf of the client over salary is removed – does this reduce them to little more than a CV-parsing offering? – would the client not be best positioned to have the conversation instead?

Salary Data Companies 

There are established companies in the UK that charge extortionate amounts in subscriptions or one-off payments to gain access to data they have collated (through scraping other people’s data). What would this mean for their business models – or at least the way they gather their data. How would they pivot in an economy where salary data wasn’t as valuable?

Assessment and Training Companies 

Providing assurance of a potential employees skills, experience, cultural fit and mindset would become more of a critical part of the recruitment process in a world where how much someone earned was used as a benchmark of assurance as to their credibility and suitability. The days of “well, they were paid that much by X so that must mean they are good at their job“.

Talent management companies that can access and provide meaningful data to employers about the current and future potential of potential employees would become the safest way of mitigating against a poor hire. With the confidence in the ability of the potential employee, surely the investment (basic salary) would be more than worthwhile.


Moral Compass

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When it comes to any negotiation, trust underpins the process – whether consciously or unconsciously; the feeling that you are agreeing to a deal that is mutually beneficial. That is a purely human emotion and not one an assessment or test can inform…other than a lie-detector test…and I’m not sure we’re quite ready for that to be introduced into a recruitment process yet.

With that in mind, and if the question of basic salary is removed, we default to the question of trust. In this scenario, building trust comes with giving trust, through developing meaningful working and professional relationships. Perhaps the question of basic salary isn’t so much about ‘are you good enough’, perhaps is more about ‘do I / we trust you’. In this situation, I personally always start with a ‘yes’ until you provide me with a reason to think otherwise.







Future of Work – start with the 3 C’s


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Where are you now?

If you’re currently employed by an organisation that still has legacy operational technology and processes, where they are still reliant primarily on ‘corporate e-mail’ as the only form of communication and where you still see traditional hierarchical structures and encounter the same P&L boundaries – folks, you are not in a company that is thinking about or embracing the opportunities on offer within the next period of change in our workplace – the ‘Future of Work’.

With 5 generations soon operating in the workplace alongside one another, the diversity, differing scale of expectations, requirements in ‘how’ and ‘when’ work is done and what is important to each employee in terms of meaningful work creates both opportunities and challenges for business owners, C-Suite Execs and general management.

A lot has been written about the ‘Future of Work’; I’ve read articles and posts from companies commenting on and advocating the need for more innovation in the workplace; however, how many of these companies are actually doing something about this within their own business? – I venture, less than 25% at best.

The reason for my skepticism is based on personal experience and from speaking to other businesses about their own plans and current challenges. The fundamentals are simple – legacy business finds change (any change!) hard and start-ups build-as-they-go without an end-state in mind. My advice, start with a simple plan and build – on this basis – start with addressing the 3 C’s of the Future of Work. Collaboration. Culture. Connectivity.

1. Collaboration

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Project teams are now cross-functional, cross-borders and Globally unified through the use of collaborative communication tools; this facilitates individuals to share ideas, information and make decisions collectively in real-time. Mobility is another reason for effective communication and collaboration and as detailed in the Deloitte White Paper on the Future of Work Research Study states;

37 percent of the global workforce is now mobile, 30 percent of full-time employees now do most of their work outside of the employers’ location, and 20 percent of the workforce is composed of temporary workers, contractors, and freelancers

; creating an environment where collaboration is vibrant and increased transparency through effective communication provides an holistic picture of the business is key. Deciding the digital channels to utilise are also an essential part of ensuring success; v-meetings and the use of messaging apps and platforms is now common-place within business either as a recognised part of the technology estate or as ‘shadow IT’ that the business has yet to integrate and/or consider as central to effective collaboration.

Increased collaboration has also been identified as leading to additional business benefits in terms of creating new business opportunities and innovation as multi-skilled teams and individuals come together in project teams to drive forward devolved agendas on behalf of the business. In a survey, 57% of executives surveyed cited identifying and new business opportunities and 48% cited increasing rates of innovation a result of collaboration.

2. Culture


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The company ‘culture’ has been defined as containing a number of different elements and these include, the work environment, the company mission, the values a company affirms, its ethical compass, expectations and the goals and targets it has set for itself. However, the key factor that underpins all these elements is very simple – people. At it’s core, most definitions agree that ‘People = Culture’.

In 2016, 245 C-level executives where surveyed and asked what impact does culture have on the ability of their business to realise its mission and vision; over 69% stated that culture had a critically important impact. With the collective agreement of the C-Suite, HR Professionals have refocused their efforts on understanding the workforce mentality through employee engagement and satisfaction surveys, an increased emphasis on career progression and employee 1-2-1 engagement and the corporate social responsibility.

Linked to the ‘Culture’ of a business is Corporate Responsibility; the opportunity for your employees to ‘give back’ to the local community or designated charity. This another aspect indexing high on the list of reasons an individual decides to apply and work for a specific company.

One very potent example of an ‘Employee Giving Program’ has been delivered successfully by Nike, the trainer and sportswear brand. They offer programs to their employees under the banner of “Community Impact” that help give back to the communities around them, including the Nike Community Impact Fund, the Nike Community Ambassador program and The Girl Effect. These programs have proved very effective in attracting and recruiting Gen Z talent to their business; with 93% of a surveyed group of Gen Z folks reporting that how a company impacts society affects where they decide to work, the ROI of such schemes becomes very obvious.

3. Connectivity


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The progression of technology from the early 2000’s to now has been rapid and this has offered more opportunities and platforms to change traditional working and connect individuals in the workplace like never before. Additionally, the boundaries between ‘social platforms’ and ‘business platforms’ are blurred as Google and Facebook enter the workplace with their offerings, G-Suite and Google Hire and Facebook Workplace and Work Chat (*the accompanying messaging app). Not to mention WhatsApp, an app (owned by Facebook) that has over 1-billion daily active users.

In short – the ‘corporate e-mail’ will die as its need becomes obsolete alongside platforms and messaging channels that offer more personalisation, multiple functionality and integration to other services. A Deloitte survey illustrated that 76% of executives predicting a move away from email and toward more sophisticated digital tools.

Connectivity is not only the domain of technology as ‘connecting people’ is also the remit of management and senior leadership; albeit in a more traditional sense. The previously referenced Deloitte White Paper found;

40% of respondents expect they will increasingly place more focus on facilitating the exchange of ideas , the flow of conversations across the organisation, and providing greater autonomy at team and individual level. This shift from “topdown” to what we might see as “alongside” is a crucial component of the equation.

; the future of leadership is changing and what is required to be an effective leader has a new frame of reference in terms of ‘mindset’. Traditional leadership was ‘command and control’ which relied on a strict hierarchal model in which those at the top controlled those beneath them;  this form of leadership is proving antiquated in the Future of Work as employees require more of their leaders than direction and orders.

When referring to ‘mindset’ the book by the Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck is often referenced as a ‘growth mindset’ creates motivation and productivity in the world of business, What is sure is that the profile of a leader is now very different.


The Future or Work is an evolving subject and topic for discussion and I am really interested in connecting with other interested individuals, businesses and corporations to discuss their experiences and stories regarding this challenge that faces us all in the world of business.

Post your comments at glennnetworks.com or follow me for DM’s on Twitter @GlennNetworks or simply pop me an e-mail (I do still respond to email) at glenn@glennnetworks.com