Insurance firms in Asia want UK talent. Unfortunately, they’re still unwilling to pay

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If you were to offer a UK-based investment banker a role in Asia-Pac, they’d probably jump at the chance. However, trying to convince City insurance professionals to make the move is a harder sell, despite firms in the region attempting to persuade them across.

While it’s looking bleak in many parts of the financial sector in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia (particularly for expats looking to move), the insurance industry remains healthy.

To name but a few recruitment drives, Manulife wants to hire around 50,000 Asia insurance agents over the next five years, Zurich Life intends to double its Singapore headcount next year and  Markel International has bolstered its marine team in the island state.

Recruiters suggest that insurance firms are particularly keen to recruit from the London market. This is not surprising; one of the reasons that insurers continue to flock to the City is the ready supply of available talent. As JLT chief executive Dominic Burke described it, London is “the greatest centre of intellectual capital insurance in the world”.

Moving to Asia isn’t always appealing, however, largely because firms in the region are unwilling to match the salaries of insurance companies in London.

“On average, working in Hong Kong or Singapore pays around two-thirds of an equivalent role in London,” says Steve Stubbings, managing director of recruiters Emerald Group. “This can vary; for more senior roles, pay is comparable with the UK, but juniors are usually offered lower salaries than the UK.”

Insurance firms in Asia are keen to hire underwriters and brokers, but one of the key problems they face is persuading actuaries, whose qualification allows them to work anywhere in the world, to move for lower pay.

“The selling points of places like Singapore are the lifestyle – lower taxes, good schools, a safe environment to bring up children – as well as the fact that the growth potential of the industry there is great, so it’s a good opportunity for people currently,” says Stubbings.

There’s also something of a skills shortage in certain areas. In health insurance, for instance, firms are attempting to convince nurses (and sometimes doctors) to make the switch across. This isn’t quite as bad as trying to sway hairdressers and car salesmen into private banking – a technique used to address the extreme talent shortage in this area a few years ago – but shows that there’s a clear skills gap in the region.

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