Insurance News asks the industry’s fresh faces – and potential future leaders – why they chose the sector and what they make of it

By Miranda Maxwell

The war for new recruits has pushed “failure to attract or retain top talent” into the top five business risks for the first time, putting it alongside such heavy hitters as cyberattack and recession in a regular survey by Aon.

And Aon predicts talent shortages will persist as the fourth most critical risk facing organisations globally until 2026.

It’s a daunting prospect for the insurance industry, which has long struggled to compete with big names in other financial services, and is unfairly deemed to be staid and not “sexy”.

There are signs, though, that insurance is finally on the radar for Australia’s bright young minds. Graduate programs are attracting the cream of the crop from top universities, and Blake Oliver has just won a SEEK innovation in recruitment award, the first time an insurance specialist has been recognised in two decades of the job search giant’s annual accolades.

The recruiter hosts swanky, high-profile lunches to open the eyes of graduates to the perks of a career in the sector.

An event at Melbourne’s RACV City Club featured a candidate pool of almost 80 students, meeting four underwriting firms, four brokerages, an insurtech and some service providers.

Such initiatives will be key as fierce competition for talent persists across the Australian economy, because without a steady infusion, the sector risks lacking the skill sets to keep pace with new trends.

As 2024 got under way, Insurance News spoke with five young recruits at the start of their professional lives in insurance. Here’s what they told us:

Melbourne-based Whitbread Insurance Brokers Admin Assistant Ethan Hamilton, 21, “didn’t know a single thing” about insurance until a family friend recommended the sector as one in which you can find work “whenever and wherever”.

While studying business at Melbourne’s Monash University, he did an insurance internship via Fuse Recruitment and was hooked.

“It just really caught my attention,” Mr Hamilton tells Insurance News. “I’m now deferred from uni, I just thought I’d work full time for a bit and gain some experience.

“I’ve been here for five months and I’m really enjoying learning new things. What keeps me coming back would probably be that I’m not doing the exact same thing every day. Every property is pretty different and each book is as well.

“I like to be kept busy. It is a big plus about this job as there is always something to do.”

Mr Hamilton is now undertaking his tier 1 certificate and says the Whitbread team of brokers and admin assistants means “there’s a lot of support all around”.

Outstanding claims related to cladding issues have intrigued him, and he has noticed many insureds are near the Whitbread office, which gives him the inside scoop.

“I’ll just drive past and see if the walls are actually brick and whatnot,” he says.
There is great potential to improve the way the industry sells itself, Mr Hamilton says, perhaps starting with schools and career guidance counsellors.

“They could market it a bit better. I didn’t have a thought about going into insurance and I’m the youngest in the office by a couple of years. None of my friends are doing insurance but they think it’s cool. There’s definitely potential for better marketing to younger people.”

The insurance industry accommodates a variety of personality types, he says. “You do have to have a little bit of social awareness and communication. But everyone’s really friendly and welcoming and they help and make sure you’re on board.”

Newcastle-based QBE graduate program member Makenzie Doyle, 25, is hooked on working in claims after a year at the insurer.

On completing a degree in psychology, Ms Doyle was researching corporate graduate programs when a friend recommended QBE as a “great company with a great culture”, with the bonus of a regional presence beyond Sydney.

She was selected from 1200 applicants to join the QBE team.

“I hadn’t really heard about insurance too much when I was at university and because I have a psychology degree, I wasn’t sure, but after some research I found the industry was quite broad and that’s what made me apply.”

QBE was “by far the standout” in five graduate program interviews, and she turned down other offers in favour of the insurer. “I immediately knew QBE was for me,” she says.

Ms Doyle has been working in the claims sector since starting a year ago, with six months still to run.

“It wasn’t an area I thought I would want my career in, but it really centres around helping customers get back to work and life. It’s an area I have found a real passion in, and where I hope my career can take me.

“The professional development and support is invaluable. It’s definitely led me to see a five- to 10-year career at QBE and in insurance, using my degree to help our customers recover from injuries and get back to life.

“The psychological side of injuries is really increasing – that has become a big passion for me this last year, and I definitely see myself in that space. The QBE graduate program is something that is amazing and supportive and really helps with knowledge sharing and professional development, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.”

Ms Doyle says she is hoping to take a permanent role with QBE in claims.

“Everyone’s really passionate and caring, wanting to improve our customers’ lives. It probably sounds a bit cliched but it’s very true. I’ve heard the phone calls and been part of the teams and that’s the biggest takeaway I have: everyone really has the passion for the work.”

Students from all fields should consider insurance a top career choice, she says. “You don’t have to have specific qualifications. It is so broad, and so in touch with communities. I really see the value and it’s something that I would 100% recommend.”

Suncorp Commercial Insurance Construction and Engineering Underwriter Tim van Netten is an economics graduate who loves customer service and looking for creative solutions to obstacles.

Word of mouth at university exposed him to insurance, setting him on course to become a Vero underwriting graduate in 2017 at the age of 30. He sees himself still working in the field five years from now.

“Insurance was not an industry that I first thought of when planning my career path, but I wanted to help others and I found the industry resonated with me – it combined my love of customer service and of understanding how things work, in this case risks and the pricing of them,” he said. “I am truly enjoying my career and honing my skills to become a senior underwriter. What I do impacts others and helps protect what is important to them.

“I manage multiple types of relationship and love that I get to work closely with brokers in analysing risks and negotiating the best outcome.

“I get to train with brokers to help them better understand the risks their clients might face, and develop opportunities across multiple areas of the industry.”

Brisbane-based Mr van Netten has been to several career days, talking to potential candidates about opportunities. He also attends Young Insurance Professionals networking and development events.

“Even though I still sometimes hear ‘it’s an industry I fell into’, I do think the insurance sector has done a lot to become an industry that is a career choice,” Mr van Netten says.

After completing a commerce degree, Bryn Winter, 24, was “not entirely set on where I wanted to start my career” and found insurance appealing due to its range of opportunities.

He recently finished Suncorp’s graduate program as a Performance Delivery Officer supporting compulsory third party and workers’ compensation teams, and says the culture and flexibility at Suncorp has been a highlight, as has the new Brisbane office.

“I enjoy the ability to use my skills to work alongside the industry experts in my current team and absorb their wealth of knowledge. Everyone is always encouraging and won’t hesitate to take time out of their day to talk me through complex and ever-changing areas of insurance. It’s fascinating.”

Mr Winter works with colleagues qualified in law, psychology and data, and he believes more finance graduates are branching out from the “traditional career route of the big four accountants or banks” in favour of insurers. He embraces every development opportunity and has set a goal of completing a graduate diploma in personal injury management.

“I see myself continuing in the industry, working towards becoming a seasoned insurance professional,” Mr Winter said.

PSC Insurance Brokers Assistant Account Manager Charlie Westcott, 22, is into his second year at the company’s offices in South Melbourne after deferring a business degree.

He began university in 2020 just as covid hit, and felt he was stagnating and lacked purpose.

“My first full year of uni was online and I lost a bit of motivation. Once you get into a job and build relationships, you get a bit more passion and purpose to do well. I’m loving it.

“I’m pretty young and just want to keep learning and seeing the different opportunities. I see myself in broking for the future, though down the line it might be good to go to the other side, in underwriting. I am not sure.”

Though insurance and broking can offer successful careers for lots of people, Mr Westcott found that at university it is “not really a path that’s talked about at all. It’s all about the accounting and the financial stuff.”

However, this is improving, he says. It was a friend employed at Howden who initially helped Mr Westcott choose the same path.

“He loved it, he didn’t say anything negative, and told me to just give it a go. I actually have two mates I went to school with who are brokers, so I feel like it is going in the right direction.”

Once at PSC, a mentor who is just a few years his senior was beneficial.

“He is 25 and has been in insurance probably three or four years. It’s been good, being able to relate at a similar age. I want to keep learning from more experienced people and hopefully that leads to me building a book of more commercial clients, and then from there becoming an account manager.

“I obviously want to be running my own book, having my own clients and bringing clients in and contributing to PSC. I am trying to learn as much as I can.”

Having a general interest in people is beneficial, Mr Westcott says. Otherwise, a wide range of personalities and skills apply.

“I’m not the loudest or most extroverted person, but I am eager to learn about other people and hear about their stories and what their situations are,” he said.

“I’m a year in now and I feel a lot more confident in my knowledge. There are so many different things to learn – it’s crazy really, all the different wordings and ways you can apply it. That’s a good thing, there’s always more.

“Once you get through that initial phase and you start actually going out and dealing with clients and talking to them on a regular basis, you get more motivated to learn and you can see what it can lead to. You see the potential.”