Life leads, but insurance firms are expanding again

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Life insurance firms are pushing ahead with ambitious expansion plans and, after a difficult 2012, general insurers and brokers are also looking to recruit again.

Headcount in the UK insurance sector shrunk by 13% in 2012 – proportionately the largest drop of any sector – according to analysis of the FSA register by consultancy IMAS. Meanwhile, research by PWC/CBI suggests that insurance brokers reduced employment in the final quarter of last year.

Now, however, sentiment is shifting. Life insurance is the really buoyant sector, with firms in the US, Asia and the UK all looking to bolster headcount. Guardian Life is hiring 875 new financial advisers this year in the US this year and Northwestern Mutual added 5,000 people in this area 2012. Zurich Life and Manulife have been talking up expansion in Asia.

In the UK, meanwhile, life insurance firms have chalked up five consecutive quarters of strong employment growth, according to PWC’s analysis. Jonathan Howe, UK insurance leader at PwC, says this is down to strong performance in the lead up to the retail distribution review (RDR) implementation, which has buoyed sentiment to a three-year high.

“Life insurers have been building their sales platforms in preparation for RDR, as well as more project-based positions around transformation, IT and financial reporting,” he says.

The picture for general insurance is more mixed. Aviva, Direct Line Group, Groupama Insurances, ING, Zurich and Brit Insurance all cut jobs last year, and Howes suggests that more redundancies could emerge as firms battle against poor investment returns.

However, demand for actuaries remains strong, according to recruiters, even if Solvency II-fuelled recruitment sprees have stalled. Howes says overall headcount is likely to increase in general insurance this year, but a larger number of people are accepting project-based or short-term assignments of a year or less.

Andy Edwards, head of technical insurance at recruiters High Finance Group, says that the new year has brought a flurry of new broking jobs.

“Last year was less of a broker-driven market, and most of the hiring in the Lloyd's market was syndicates or managed agents,” he says. “However, we’ve seen more new roles in the first weeks of January than in the whole of the final quarter of 2012. Brokers are finally beginning to realise their pent up recruitment needs.”

So far this year, AIG-owned Lloyd's insurer Ascot hired John Pilkington to launch a new casualty business, Eastwood & Partners Insurance Brokers named Gordon Brain as commercial manager and has poached JLT’s Simon Collings to head up its casualty business.

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