Talent is key

July 15, 2008

I’ve spent the last several days in Taipei, where I’m attending the 44th Annual Seminar of the International Insurance Society. Not surprisingly, given the conference venue and current trends in local business, much of the discussion has centered on the insurance industry’s Asia efforts.

Beyond even talk of the importance of providing appropriate products for different local markets and the various distribution challenges posed by many emerging markets, perhaps the most frequently cited issue facing the industry as companies look to expand around the globe is the talent shortage confronting them in emerging markets.

Many of the panelists addressing the talent issue spoke of not only the difficulty of finding needed talent locally, but of the importance of retaining it once companies had recruited and trained individuals.

Martyn Parker, Hong Kong-based group executive board member and chief executive officer of the Asia division of Swiss Reinsurance Co., conceded that there will always be employee turnover. That said, “The turnover that really does trouble me is the turnover to competitors, which is always disappointing after you’ve invested in people,” he said.

For Swiss Re, retaining talent in rapidly developing Asian markets is more challenging than recruitment, Mr. Parker said. Meanwhile, Michael J. Cassella, senior vp and managing director Asia-Pacific for the Chubb Group of Cos. in Singapore, took the opposite view, to an extent.

“I’d say our greatest challenge is finding the talent,” he said. Consequently, Chubb puts considerable effort into retaining employees in Asia so it won’t have to devote additional resources to finding and developing replacements.

Whether recruiting or retention is the greatest challenge facing insurance industry companies moving into emerging markets, clearly solving the talent issue is key to the success of their efforts.

“I think there’s a strong correlation between companies making the most progress and their talent management piece,” said Swiss Re’s Mr. Parker.

I’ll be posting more to the blog about the IIS in the days to come, and will be writing about the conference more extensively in the August issue of Industry Focus.


Keep it safe and sane

July 3, 2008

At certain times of the year, or in response to certain trends–high gas prices, for example–it’s not unusual to see numerous news outlets tackle essentially the same reaction story. One of the more interesting examples I’ve seen recently are stories assessing the weak economy’s impact on fireworks sales this summer.

While a few of those stories I’ve read indicated fireworks sales slowing in some areas, the majority seemed to be reporting a robust trade in the firecrackers, bottle rockets and various other forms of personal pyrotechnics many consider an essential part of the Fourth of July celebration.

State fireworks sales laws vary widely, with only five states–Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island–banning the sale of consumer fireworks altogether. Still, in states that ban or restrict fireworks sales, it’s often simply a matter of driving across a nearby state line to stock the Independence Day backyard arsenal.

Though I suspect personal fireworks displays will be ubiquitous most everywhere in the U.S. this weekend, I was surprised to learn just how large the fireworks business is in this country.

According to the American Pyrotechnics Assn., the use of backyard fireworks has more than doubled since 2000, with Americans setting off a staggering 238 million pounds of fireworks in their backyards, neighborhood parks, basements or wherever in 2007! Total fireworks industry revenue reached $930 million last year, according to the APA, with $620 million of that coming from consumer fireworks sales.

The association credits the increase in fireworks spending to “an upsurge of patriotism,” along with “an overall improvement in the quality and variety of fireworks available today.”

Whatever this holiday weekend might have in store for you, keep it safe and sane.