The Survey Says
The pandemic changed the workforce—how we work, how we interact with clients, how we recruit and retain employees, and much more.
Nationwide’s recent Agency Forward research, done with Edelman Data & Intelligence, focused on the future of work and sheds light on how the insurance industry is changing, including client relationship challenges, increased digital communication, and rethinking hiring practices and salaries. The survey, fielded in February 2022, included 1,000 U.S. employees in an office setting, 400 independent insurance agents, 400 middle-market business owners, and 399 small-business owners.
Working with Clients
Building and maintaining client relationships proved difficult during the pandemic, although digital communications helped. Insurance professionals across all roles reported significantly digitizing their customer communications during the pandemic, including engaging in more emails, videoconferencing, text messaging and social media communication.
Relationship management has improved, but it’s still not back to pre-pandemic levels. Close to half of agency principals and about a third of producers and customer service representatives find customer relationship management challenging today.
Many of the changing trends in insurance are positive. The industry was quick to respond to the shifting needs of its workforce. For example, 58% of principals invested in technology to help employees communicate and collaborate with others in the office; 53% implemented new technology to optimize business organization, such as digital storage, content management, email software, etc.; and 51% conducted training sessions for employees on how to guard against risks such as cyber attacks, phishing and ransomware.
These efforts seem to have paid off, as 84% of salespeople and CSRs reported that they feel more confident in their abilities to use digital tools, platforms and applications than they did before the pandemic.
Changing Work Environment
White-collar office employees in general are about evenly split in their work model preferences: 30% favor fully remote; 35% favor full-time in-person; and 35% favor a hybrid of the two.
However, in the insurance industry, there is a preference for the hybrid model: 54% of salespeople and CSRs said they favor the hybrid model; only 18% favor full-time in-person work; and only 27% prefer full-time remote work. There’s alignment in the belief that employees will provide the most value for the company when working in a hybrid model. Across agency roles, 61% of principals and 53% of salespeople and CSRs believe employees will provide the most value when working in a hybrid model.
While most employees (62%) wouldn’t consider leaving their job based solely on their employer’s return-to-work plans, 68% said flexibility is a key factor in evaluating a job. Gen Z and baby boomer employees are more likely to prefer full-time in-person work, while millennial employees are more likely to prefer full-time remote work. In this competitive labor market, it’s clear to see the importance of considering giving workers continued flexibility and approaching how and when work gets done through the lens of employee personalization.
Prior to the pandemic, about 18% of Nationwide’s workforce was remote; now most workers are hybrid. We continue to invest in our associates and are focused on adapting workspaces to create a world-class working environment that fosters collaboration, makes everyone feel valued (whether in the office or remote), perpetuates Nationwide’s caring culture, and empowers our people to do their best work.
Help Clients with Evolving Risks
As business owners roll out go-forward work plans, here are some important topics to broach with these customers.
- Cyber liability insurance is important no matter where their work takes place. Employers said their likelihood for a cyber attack increased during the pandemic, but alarmingly, at least four in 10 workers haven’t received training to protect against cyber threats.
- Strong employee benefits with offerings like group and specialty insurance plans, traditional retirement plans, or voluntary benefits like pet insurance can help attract and retain workers.
- High labor demand sometimes leads to rushed hiring processes. Employers must continue thorough employee screening, onboarding and safety training to reduce risks with less-experienced workers and help maintain reasonable workers compensation rates.
- Don’t forget the business continuity planning lessons learned through COVID. Even if workforces are back in person, business continuity planning will remain vital for preventing lengthy disruptions that could be brought on by supply chain issues, significant weather events or other challenges.
- Private company management liability coverage is essential for companies of all sizes and sectors to help reduce exposure to employment-related liability in today’s constantly changing business environment.
Gary Douglas is president of Nationwide National Partners.