6 January 2021News

Reinsurers should focus on hiring younger staff, says Argo's Wharton

Re/insurers in Bermuda should avoid competing for a finite pool of experienced staff and instead focus on attracting young and relatively junior talent, according to Bill Wharton, head of Argo Insurance, Bermuda.

“If you’re looking to hire a seasoned underwriter with 20 years’ experience in a particular class, you might struggle to recruit because there are a limited number on the island,” Wharton told Bermuda Re+ILS. “But if you have a good leader already, then the natural approach is to pair them up with new graduates and junior team members, so the younger generation can learn. That’s the way forward.”

This is particularly important in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive, with a number of newly formed start-up companies entering the market in 2020, noted Wharton. As such, Argo's appetite for hiring new staff is as high as ever, despite the challenges of COVID-19.

In fact, the shift to conducting interviews remotely has, if anything, made the hiring process faster and more efficient, Wharton said, allowing managers to schedule interviews even when they are not all in the office.

“Like others, Argo pivoted very quickly to hiring and on-boarding remotely,” he said. “It’s no problem for the younger generation who don’t find it strange at all to do an interview over video conferencing.”

Wharton believes Argo is particularly well placed to develop a new generation of young re/insurance executives. “We have some great, senior people, and so my reasoning is that we should bring in new staff who can be trained up quickly by our good, seasoned experts,” he explained.

Talented young employees tend to be quick learners, Wharton noted, which minimises the cost of hiring relatively inexperienced people. Meanwhile, training up a new generation of employees increases the talent pool for the re/insurance industry generally, and for Bermuda. “It’s a win-win situation, so that is a big focus for Argo in Bermuda.” he added.

Wharton noted that Argo recently recruited a graduate trainee in the casualty group, as well as a young Bermudian with a law degree but no underwriting experience. “We’re broadening the underwriting talent pool rather than just competing for all the same people,” he said. “That’s a great success from my perspective.”

It is not only recruiting that is a current focus. Wharton admitted Argo has been particularly focused on the welfare of its staff, given the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Argo is keen to balance the need to keep employees mentally and physically healthy, while also enabling the business to deliver in what remains a challenging and developing market, he said.

While the increased number of re/insurance providers has led to a lot of re/insurance professionals moving between carriers in Bermuda, Wharton believes the impact in underwriting terms will only start to be felt in 2021.

“Newcomers don’t necessarily have to have significant capacity in order to make an outsized impact on the market,” he explained. “If a new company starts up in America, say, it’s a wide market for business niches and there’s a huge pool of talent you can fish in. But if they come to start up in Bermuda and are looking for a particular number of staff with qualifications and experience in specific areas, that will impact other firms around the island.”

Wharton stressed the amount of new capacity being brought to Bermuda is much smaller than what was seen in the 1980s, while the risk climate has also changed considerably since then.

“Events we would have previously described as a one in one hundred year events, are now one in twenty or fifty years incidences,” he said. “Combined with the inflation in claims and litigation that has developed over the years, this means we’re seeing more caution around attachment points in casualty and professional lines.”

Overall, Wharton remains “very optimistic” about the Bermudian market, which he stressed is very resilient. “It has its own ups and downs of course but perhaps not to the magnitude of gyrations in other markets.” he concluded.