Industry Insider: There’s a talent war brewing in Thailand’s insurance sector; and Krungthai-AXA Life Insurance is leading from the front
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Industry Insider: There’s a talent war brewing in Thailand’s insurance sector; and Krungthai-AXA Life Insurance is leading from the front

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An in-depth look at the talent challenges that the insurance sector is facing in Thailand, and how Bubphawadee Owararinth, Chief People Officer, Krungthai-AXA Life Insurance (KTAXA), tackles them step-by-step. Interview by Lester Tan. Look forward to insights on:

  • The reason why the share of Millennials to the talent pool is rising, even as KTAXA continues to actively manage its older talent;
  • How KTAXA is tackling the perception that insurance is “staid, bureaucratic, and not as exciting as start-ups";
  • Krungthai-AXA Life Insurance’s tested-and-proven strategies to cope with various challenges faced by the industry, or caused by the pandemic.

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Industry Insider: Bubphawadee Owararinth, Chief People Officer, Krungthai-AXA Life Insurance
Sector spotlight: Insurance
Based in: Bangkok, Thailand

The number one talent challenge the insurance sector is facing in Thailand

Insurance has always been a sector that depends significantly on proficiency and specific skills in the workforce. However, attracting and retaining new talent has become a major challenge for the entire industry.

Low unemployment, increased competition from other industries for new graduates, and attracting and retaining Millennials have all, in my opinion, contributed to this ‘war for talent’ challenge in the insurance business, especially in Thailand.

Millennials are broad-minded and excited about their career opportunities, and genuinely want to enjoy their jobs. This is in deep contrast with our parents’ generation, who would have ranked stability and a good pension over job satisfaction.

Millennials are also not afraid to move between jobs which makes talent retention much more challenging. This, coupled with low employment levels—2% in Thailand—and plenty of job opportunities, makes it very challenging to attract and retain new talent.

To understand deeper, the competition for talent is particularly relevant for the insurance sector as the technology revolution continues and companies are looking to the younger generation (i.e. Millennials) to help envision, build, and implement this digital expertise. Millennials are, however, often more attracted to digital companies and start-ups rather than insurance.

In Thailand, Millennials already make up 32% of the population. They will soon be the largest component of the workforce, and will define the future of the nation. This generation that has been brought up on Google, Amazon, and social media has an affinity for technology in their daily lives. They are skilled digital natives, and many are interested in using technology in their careers. That’s the reason why we’ve set our sights on them.

It’s no secret that the insurance industry is probably not the number one career choice for this age group. Although misrepresented, there is still a perception that insurance is staid, bureaucratic, and not as exciting as start-ups. However, the industry is changing very rapidly.

Many insurance jobs require candidates to be tech-savvy, multi-faceted, and adaptable. This message needs to be strongly conveyed to the younger generation especially when we want to rely heavily on their skillset, keeping in mind we also have an ageing workforce soon to retire.

At Krungthai-AXA (KTAXA) Life Insurance, as with other organisations, we are disrupting our HR policies and focusing on efforts to recruit and retain this group. We have changed the way we market to this group; we placed strong emphasis on job flexibility, technology, work-life balance, and the company’s strong social justice.

The insurance industry must position itself as a desirable destination for younger talent if it wishes to survive this talent crisis.

Key developments that are intensifying this war for talent

We are fighting the talent war on many fronts. For starters, as mentioned, there’s the reality of the ageing workforce.

The HR team at KTAXA firstly appreciates—and strongly values—the contribution of its ageing workforce. We want to ensure they feel supported and engaged as they create a competitive edge for the company. As such, the organisation provides them with tailored wellness programmes, an ergonomic working environment, and flexible working hours in order to retain their knowledge, wisdom, and experience. There is also a strong focus on reskilling and upskilling this group so they remain motivated, interested in their careers, and committed to the company long past the retirement age.

Next, there are fewer candidates to choose from as graduates are more interested in becoming entrepreneurs or working in start-ups than committing to companies for the long term. However, KTAXA is aware that it is vital for the insurance business to continue recruiting new graduates with specialised skills and a fresh perspective.

To that end, we have implemented a number of new measures to ensure that graduates are not only attracted to the sector, but also stay in the sector. For example, promoting the image of insurance as a dynamic business with many career opportunities and a strong focus on technology. The company has also employed many measures to ensure graduates are retained, including revising our employee appraisal process, so that managers are now providing regular feedback to their staff.

Millennials, in our opinion, tend to work better in an environment where they have set goals and targets, and are provided ongoing reviews and feedback. Although benefits and compensation are always high on the list when looking for a career, for them, they also put a very strong emphasis on work-life balance. They don’t want to be confined to the office 40-50 hours a week, but would rather have time to pursue other interests and travel. KTAXA has therefore introduced flexible working hours and a hybrid form of working known as ‘Smart Working’, which I will explain in detail later.

Thirdly, the rise of modern technologies—big data, AI, blockchain, to name a few—caused a broader demand for certain specialised skills, and disrupted the traditional approach to insurance. And, finally, the challenge of recruitment due to the resource scarcity for specific roles and the challenges posed by the pandemic including health, social distancing measures, and remote working.

To address these issues, KTAXA is leveraging the expertise of our existing team members by reskilling them via L&D programmes.

In addition to being a very cost-effective way to remain competitive and provide our employees with growth opportunities, there are several other long-term benefits to upskilling and reskilling an existing workforce, including strengthening employee retention rates, reinforcing a positive culture, and creating an agile team.

Best practices: Strategies that have worked in tackling this challenge

In terms of reaching out to potential candidates, KTAXA has been supplementing recruitment on college campuses, and at career fairs with social media outreach, virtual open house, a referral programme, and online talent communities—all of which have been very effective strategies.

We also focused on retiree hiring by retaining our specialists to work after retirement.

KTAXA supports a working environment that encourages career growth and opportunities in different functions based on their competencies, and promotes a culture of trust and empowerment, where all employees can be themselves and feel free to speak up.

Looking at our L&D programmes, we ensure that employees have a variety of learning options including experiential, functional, virtual and instructor-led learning opportunities that develop their fluency in multiple disciplines while preparing them for a range of roles and experiences. KTAXA’s talent development and career advancement strategy—i.e. promotion and mobility of talent—help employees progress in their careers and develop into future leaders. That’s not all, to adapt to COVID-19, the company has also introduced many online learning platforms including LinkedIn and online courses to help employees upskill.

Another would be our commitment to diversity and inclusion. This has also certainly helped to address the recruitment challenges and open up the talent pool. The organisation has managed to build one of the most diverse, multi-national workforces in Thailand—we’ve employed 14 people with a disability, and many employees are from the LGBT community. KTAXA’s diverse workforce has, in fact, helped the company to better understand its customers’ challenges and issues, and more effectively serve individuals and businesses throughout the country.

These are tested-and-proven strategies for us. Externally, the organisation clinched several awards in the HR space from 2018 to 2021. Internally, we have some indicators:

  • The empowerment score from the most recent employee survey increased from 76% in December 2019 to 85% in December 2020.
  • Employees’ loyalty has also increased, and the staff referenced KTAXA’s commitment to D&I as one of the top reasons that they value the company.
  • Low turnover rate compared against the industry’s rate. KTAXA’s turnover rate was 7.3% in 2020 which is lower than 2019 (11.8%), 2018 (9.7%) and the insurance industry’s in 2020 (8.4%).

The next big priority for HR professionals in this sector

Making the transition to ‘digital by default’ will be a top priority to ensure that all our HR services are available online as it is the natural place for employees to go to.

Creating a resilient and agile culture to support a flexible working environment is also top of the agenda. It can be challenging managing the ongoing transition from office based to remote working. To strengthen employee engagement, the hybrid way of working and support systems must be in place so employees can transition as seamlessly as possible. To that end, KTAXA has, as mentioned, launched ‘Smart Working’. It is where employees can work remotely up to two days per week and can select five flexible working time slots to suit their lifestyle.

Since COVID-19 has changed the way we work such as working remotely, working in masks, working reduced hours and home-schooling, which have all started to take their toll—investing in our employees’ health and wellbeing is thus high on the agenda for the company. This is why, in addition to ‘Smart Working’, we have adopted a holistic approach to employee wellbeing and launched many initiatives such as an employee assistance programme (EAP), health and wellbeing programmes, telemedicine, onsite clinics, digital medical check-up, and alternative vaccines arrangements.

Another priority is L&D. This is key to building skills, upskilling and reskilling for employees to prepare for the ever-changing future. We have to ensure that our employees have a growth mindset to open their minds and to be able to adapt to the ‘new normal'. Advances in mobile technologies, software, and analytics have certainly changed the way we work, and we need new or advanced skills. In sum, KTAXA’s investment in L&D initiatives includes upskilling programmes, leadership programmes, and gamification.

How CHROs are proactively preparing for the future workplace?

HR professionals have been at the centre of these pandemic-generated changes from the beginning.

Between navigating new health and safety requirements, supporting employees in the new normal, recruiting and upskilling, and keeping up with required administrative processes, it has certainly been a very challenging 18 months.

While the role has become more demanding, it has also become more fulfilling as we play a vital role in supporting our workforce through these challenging times. Moreover, the entire HR function has now been digitised which requires learning many new skills and a different way of working and interacting with colleagues.

So, we are proactively preparing for the future workplace through all the aforementioned strategies, including investing in learning and development, embracing and adapting to an agile working environment, committing to D&I, engaging Millennials, and ensuring all our employees have good health and mental wellbeing so that they can continue to thrive no matter where they are working.

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