Work­ing world of the fu­ture

10 June 2021

Anyone who wants professional success in the insurance world in the future will need transversal competencies in addition to the required technical skills. Although these are more difficult to convey in conventional training programmes, they are the recipe for success in the long run.

Transversal competencies bring success

Short, concise, precise: in the post-war era, job advertisements spanned only a few lines. Requirements for soft skills were addressed, if at all, with words such as 'proficient' or 'honest'. In the 1980s, job advertisements had already become longer and increasingly included references to social skills such as 'outgoing'. Nowadays, transversal competencies are the latest concept. It refers to skills that are not subject-specific and can be applied to a number of different areas. With the involvement of people from the insurance industry, the Institute of Insurance Economics at the University of St Gallen (I.VW-HSG) worked with the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET) to analyse which skills will be important in the insurance industry in the future. They identified the trends that will shape the insurance industry over the next 10 years. Social, economic and technological trends – such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) – were taken into account. ‘Artificial intelligence describes the attempt to replicate, or even imitate, human behaviour using machines. Insurers are making their first attempts at using this technology in their interaction with customers; for example, through the use of digital assistants. But the potential of this technology is much greater and ultimately spans all areas of the value chain – from the customer interface to the product factory,’ says Professor Christian Biener, who was involved in the study as director of I.VW. Based on the trends identified, five competencies emerge that describe how employees in the insurance industry must be able to approach and solve their future work tasks:

Transversale Kompetenzen

Derived from the trends identified, five competencies emerge that describe how employees in the insurance industry must be able to approach and solve their future work tasks.

‘In practice, these competencies are intertwined and are impossible to separate entirely from each other,’ says Professor Ursula Scharnhorst from SFIVET and co-author of the study. She also points out that these skills are anything but new: ‘But today they are not yet being pursued systematically enough.’ Education providers' curricula have long formulated professional educational goals in a competency-oriented manner. Often transversal competencies are also listed as teaching objectives. ‘But these skills cannot be imparted in a purely academic setting. Transversal competencies are often linked to personality traits that have been developed from early childhood. Later, in the context of vocational education and training, these skills can best be learned by reflecting on one’s own actions and improving them step by step,’ says Scharnhorst. For Belinda Walther Weger, head of Public Affairs and Sustainability at Mobiliar and president of the SIA’s Education Strategy Commission, teaching transversal competencies is a central aspect, both on the job and in education and further training: ‘It is important that we work with our education partners in the future to find and develop ways of imparting and teaching the skills appropriately.’

Necessary competences

One challenge in the future will lie in identifying those applicants who have transversal competencies: ‘The most workable approach would be to describe specific situations that applicants have to navigate and that they can solve only if they have the necessary skills,’ says Stephan Walliser, head of Human Resources at Baloise Insurance and president of the SIA’s Employer Issues Commission. Scharnhorst also confirms this: ‘At the moment, there are very few tried-and-tested and reliable tools for measuring transversal competencies in the professional world. In general, social skills are best recognised in specific work-related situations.’ So the way in which the insurance industry recruits new employees is changing. Walliser also predicts that in only five years, job advertisements will look very different than today: ‘In future, we will definitely focus more on describing situations intended to attract those people who have the transformative skills we are looking for.’ In the long run, people who are aware of their transversal competencies and take targeted action to develop them will be successful.

‘Skills off the future’

As part of the SIA Strategy 2020-2024, the Institute of Insurance Economics at the University of St Gallen (I.VW-HSG) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (SFIVET) investigated the ‘Skills of the future’ for the insurance industry with a time horizon of 2030. The results, which were developed with the involvement of various representatives from the insurance industry, are now available:

‘The transformation of the working world has been fast-tracked by COVID-19’

Severin Moser, the ‘Skills of the future’ final report has identified five transversal competencies that employees need to have in order to be successful in the insurance industry in the future. How will these results be incorporated into the strategic alignment of insurance companies?

Severin Moser: While the insurance industry has a very long-term focus, but this is sometimes associated with a certain inertia that is at odds with the digital age. However, the final report clearly shows that this is no longer the case. It serves as a good compass with which small and large insurance companies alike can, and indeed should, use for strategic orientation. Some are already very agile, while others still have some work to do. It is important for us to respond to new impetus, get our staff on board in the interests of continuous development and make new forms of work tangible. In any case, the industry has become more attractive despite the COVID-19 pandemic – this trend will continue if we continue to promote the skills we are looking for.

Severin Moser, CEO Allianz Suisse

Severin Moser, CEO of Allianz Suisse, member of the SIA Managing Board and president of the SIA's Education and Policy Employer Committee.

How can these skills be encouraged among employees?

We all have strengths, talents and potential. The art lies in using, promoting and developing them in a targeted manner. First, it is crucial to raise awareness of the need to make the appropriate time and financial resources available. The insurance companies provide the framework in the form of training and further development and on-the-job opportunities that promote the relevant skills. The motivation to acquire new skills and develop them individually has to come from employees themselves. This is an area in which we can advise employees and also support managers in their role. Where there is a common will, there is a way.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a marked impact on the way we work. Is this a short-term trend or more of a long-term change?

Let’s put it this way: it is a long-term change that has been fast-tracked by COVID-19. The industry has demonstrated that it was able to maintain operations seamlessly, even when faced with extremely difficult conditions and with employees working from home. We used video calls to provide advice to clients and held virtual meetings. Although this came with a few technical challenges, there was no loss in terms of service quality or customer satisfaction. The need for flexible working methods has increased on both the employer and the employee side. We can now exploit these positive effects and see them as an opportunity to advance the working worlds of tomorrow. A large number of companies are already working intensively on this. It’s a really exciting development!