Canadian Underwriter

How to open your doors to diversity

December 1, 2018   by David Gambrill

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When it comes to workplace diversity, Canada’s property and casualty insurance industry could use a bit of a boost. Statistically, the industry is lagging behind other Canadian workplaces when it comes to diversity. What would it take to bring more international recruits into its ranks? Not as much as you might think.

Canadian Underwriter recently approached three students who graduated from Humber College’s Insurance Management – Property and Casualty Postgrad Program in Toronto. All three students shared their experiences looking for work upon their arrival in Canada (their stories are reproduced below). As part of their successful integration into the P&C workforce, each confirmed the essential role of co-op, internship and work placement programs as a way for insurance organizations to find top talent.

“Regarding co-op, internship, and work placement opportunities within [Canada’s 17 insurance education programs], from a Career Connections perspective, we would encourage the industry to incorporate more opportunities for student engagement in the workplace,” says Margaret Parent, director of the Insurance Institute of Canada’s professionals’ division. “Fortunately, in general, we have seen an increase in opportunities. In fact, many organizations are building in more opportunities for part-time work and summer placements. Opportunities for experiential learning help students get exposed to insurance, even in simple ways, that help give meaning to their studies.”

Diversity in the P&C industry
Minority groups are generally under-represented within the industry, as noted in a recent demographics report by the Institute. The proportion of insurance professionals born outside of Canada is 15.7%, which is below average relative to the general Canadian workforce. In Statistics Canada’s 2016 census, for example, 25% of people in the country’s general workforce were born outside of Canada.

What are the benefits of broader diversity within the P&C industry?

Individuals with different talents, skills and experiences expand the collective knowledge and skillset of the entire organization, allowing a company to offer more to its clients, as noted in the blog Innovation within a company is enhanced by having a broader diversity of perspectives on staff. Also, language skills can open up new client markets for an organization. Finally, inclusivity is a personal value that many Canadians wish to see reflected in their workplaces, helping a company to attract new talent to its ranks.

The good news is, Canada’s P&C industry is starting over time to become more inclusive, even if it has a way to go to catch up. Visible minorities have increased their presence in the P&C insurance industry over the past decade. In 2017, 16% of respondents reported being part of a non-white ethnic group, up from 13.6% in 2009.
Canadian insurance companies have made major strides in recruiting more people into the industry generally, thanks in large part to the growth of academic opportunities and entry points. In 2007, Canada had four college and university programs with embedded Insurance Institute of Canada courses in the curriculum. Today, 17 college and university programs have been established across the country; three Ontario-based programs offer a post-graduate certificate in insurance — Humber, Fanshawe, and Centennial.

“This substantial increase in the number of full-time insurance programs at the college and university level is contributing to a pipeline of graduates coming into the industry,” Parent observes.

Diversity and Work Placements: Success Stories
How can work placement opportunities embedded within insurance programs attract fresh, new international talent to the industry?
Canadian Underwriter put the question to three recent graduates of the Humber insurance management program. Each discussed the important role of the program’s work placement program in their education and subsequent employment in the industry. Here are their success stories:

Mohammed (Nisar) Ansari
Claims adjuster (automobile accident), Economical Insurance
Six years ago, Mohammed (Nisar) Ansari moved to Canada from Mumbai, India, where he was a claims manager in life and health insurance. His personal odyssey brought him into Canada’s P&C industry, where he now works as an accident benefits adjuster for Economical Insurance.
In India, he worked for three-and-a-half years at ICICI settling health, disability and death claims.
He got into life insurance after completing a degree in alternative, naturopathic and homeopathic medicines. Owing to the requirements in health and medical insurance, Ansari found his background in medical science gave him an edge for a career in life insurance. He finished his post-graduate education in insurance and risk management in India in 2008 and started a career in life insurance.
A childhood friend, an engineer living in Calgary, Alta., inspired him to come to Canada. “When he took his vacation in India, he always talked about Canada. ‘Canada, Canada, Canada,’” Ansari says of his friend’s influence. “It was in my head, so I thought, Let’s go for it.”
Ansari obtained permanent resident status in Canada and landed here in June 2012. That’s when he first realized one critical requirement for find work in insurance – work experience. “When I landed in Calgary, I was looking for a job,” he says. “But the main challenge, which I felt immediately, was to get Canadian experience. Even though I was very new to Canada, whenever I was going to job interviews, they were asking about Canadian education, Canadian experience.”
Ansari leveraged the experience he already had in India to land a job as a customer service representative at ICICI Bank Canada in Calgary. He then found a job in insurance in 2013 as a medical and health claims administrator at ICICI International.
But two years later, Alberta’s oil patch turned into a rough patch. The province’s economy foundered and Ansari lost his job. After working in retail for IKEA, he contemplated a career change. He moved to Toronto, figuring there would be a larger pool of opportunities.
Now graduated from the Humber program, Ansari reflects on what the industry can do to buttress industry recruitment efforts. He looped back to his first few months in Calgary, seeking his very first job in Canada, and emphasized the importance of on-the-job workplace experience.
“The industry could do better by providing more co-ops and internship programs for visa students,” says Ansari, who found a co-op opportunity at Desjardins through the work placement program at Humber. “So when the students have theoretical knowledge, and they can apply that knowledge in a practical way, they have some co-op opportunities and internship programs available to them. It is not easy to find a co-op program or internship program for everyone. That’s one of the challenges.”

Harold Pan
Claims advisor (auto physical damage), RSA Canada

Harold Pan came to the Canadian P&C industry by accident – literally.

“It’s from my experience, right?” he explains. “I’ve had two car accidents. I called in to make a claim, and I felt that was an interesting job.”
Perhaps a more central motivating factor was the quality of life he perceived in the insurance industry, which was in stark contrast to irregular sales shifts at Leon’s Furniture Sales. Pan worked at Leon’s for seven years, after moving to Canada from China in 2010.
His background in China was in microbiology, which he says he did not pursue in Canada because of the length of time it would take to become qualified as a technician or health care worker. Since he enjoys communicating with people, he decided to try his hand in sales at Leon’s.
“I’m a sales person, I had to cold call,” Pan describes his job at Leon’s. “The job is a shift, it’s not fixed. It could be Tuesdays or Saturdays – every day is different. For young people, or for older people who are retiring, it’s a great job. They pay everybody well. Everything’s great, the people are great. But if you want to have a family, or if you want to study to improve yourself, you can’t. They change the schedule every day of the week, so I cannot plan. I have two kids. My wife complained, ‘Why are you always working at night?’ So, it was not ideal. I always planned to change, but it’s hard.”
Pan saw greener grass on the claims side of the fence. Apart from his direct personal experience as a claimant, Pan had a colleague whose daughter worked in the insurance industry. “She has a stable job, a 9-5 job. I thought, ‘That’s very attractive to me. I can spend time with my family, and I have a good income. What else do I need? I need nothing else, right?’”
Pan started to look for insurance programs and found the program at Humber. His work there won him the Tretiak Award for being the top student in Canada in a full-time insurance program.
One of the things he noticed right away is that a lot of insurance is learned by talking to people in the field. He cites the example of figuring out how the terms of an insurance policy apply to a specific fact situation.
“You read it in a book, but it’s hard to apply it in reality,” he says. “You may know the policy, but if you want to apply it to a claim, especially an accident, which term, which clause do you need to apply? It’s difficult. You need more of a chance to connect with the industry and, if possible, an internship – that would be great.”
Students in insurance programs need to connect with the industry early in the learning stage, Pan says. “If you have that connection, it’s very easy to get in touch with the company [to receive additional insights or information]. Second, it’s good for the company, too. They can get people to work for them right away.”

Tricia Beckford
Customer service representative, Dream Insurance Brokers

In moving to Canada from her native country of Jamaica a year ago, Tricia Beckford, a broker at Dream Insurance Brokers in Toronto, also made the transition from an insurance company to the broker side.
In Jamaica, she graduated with a degree in Accounting just over 13 years ago; she then quickly found work through a friend at The Insurance Company of the West Indies Limited. She started as a client service representative (CSR) and worked in other capacities at the company, including credit control representative (accounts receivables), and accounting assistant.
She stayed with the company until August 2017, when she decided it was time for “a change of scenery.” She found herself Googling insurance programs and found the Humber program offered in Toronto. “I was looking for a one-year program in the P&C sector, and at the time it was the only program in Toronto I found that fit into that category.”
One main attraction was the program’s attention to leadership. “Having been in the industry for as long as I have, and the experience that I have, I believed leadership would be the next step for me.”
Beckford moved to Canada with her spouse and three children (her eldest is seven; her twins are each four-years-old).
While the work in Canada was familiar, some things were not quite the same. “It’s different in some respects, especially auto,” says Beckford. “It’s different in terms of coverage, but in the basics of what insurance is, it’s much the same.”
She also made a switch from the insurance company to the broker side. “I was with an insurance company for the entire time [I was in Jamaica],” she says. “I did work alongside brokers at some point so, to some extent, I had a relationship with brokerages. I really didn’t see myself initially working in the broker field, but it’s not something I have regretted at all.”
She got her job at Dream Insurance through her work placement program at Humber, an experience she describes as invaluable. Although sourcing paid internships in the industry proved to be a challenge, everything turned out well in the end. Work placements are particularly important for international students. “It might depend on the individual, but international students will generally have to work at the same time they are going to school,” she says. “So, if the position is unpaid, it would mean that they would need some kind of support during that time.”

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