Peter Hahn is the head of predictive analytics for Zurich North America, where he is responsible for building analytic capabilities that improve business insights, decision-making and performance. Previously, Hahn worked for McKinsey & Co., where he led the underwriting service line for the company’s North America insurance practice and helped P&C carriers apply analytic techniques. He earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School, and holds commerce and law degrees from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

At Insurance Networking News’ Insurance Analytics Symposium in October, Hahn delivered a presentation title “Competing for Analytics Talent,” during which he spoke about what it take to attract and keep the best analytics professionals. He recently spoke with John McCormick, the editorial director for INN, Information Management, and Health Data Management. What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.


In your estimation, how bad is the big data and analytics talent shortage and is it getting any better or is it getting worse?

That was a question we had, too, when we were started recruiting for that talent.

But we found  there is a pool of analytic talent. There are people who have the quantitative skills that a lot of us look for. In some respects, that was a pleasant surprise.

The challenge that we worked through was finding folks who not only had an analytical background but who were able to function in an analytics-for-humans environment.

We were looking for people who could come up with insights and build models that would be implemented through other humans, other people, as opposed to coming up with models or coming up with algorithms that would get coded into engines or websites.

So what we found to be a critical part of our process was really looking for talent that combined both the quantitative and business problem-solving skills – people who had the ability to influence, to communicate –which we felt would be very, very important for their success in an environment where we were building analytics for humans.

Where do you even start to find those people?

We went down a number of paths.

The first path was posting to our external website.  Our postings are automatically raked by the usual set of recruiting websites – Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn and similar types of recruiting websites.  We did see a lot of applicants come through those sources.

The second path – and I really give a lot of credit to my colleagues in Zurich North America – was networking. A lot of folks took it upon themselves to look into their personal networks and to put me in touch with folks that they knew.  And that was very, very fruitful. And I tapped into my network, too. And that produced a pool of very, very highly talented candidates. 

And the third path was using external search firms that are focused in this area. And that was also very helpful in sourcing candidates that we may not have seen otherwise. 

As the applications came in, what type of people stood out?

It varied on the specific roles we were looking for. For example, for our data science roles, we looked for people with computer science, statistics and domain expertise. We looked to see what kind of background they had in computer science, which is much more focused on data structuring, data transformation. We looked at what kind of background they had in terms of logistics. And what kind of experience they had in terms of insurance.

We were looking for markers – track record and success across all three of those dimensions.

Obviously, everyone brought different combinations to the table. We really had to work at it. We couldn’t just code this into an algorithm. We had to do this the hard way. There was some filtering, but we had to look through a number of applications to see what kind of candidates were coming through and who would be worth interviewing.

There is a lot of demand for these people – from Silicon Valley and tech startups. How did you convince them that your organization, and the insurance industry, was where they could grow and prosper?

That’s a common question: How compelling can we be given the amount of activity and the allure of Silicon Valley?

There is a little bit of a self-selection. There are people who are just very much set on being on the West Coast and being in the tech sector. That’s where they want to be and that’s fine.

But there are people open to a broader set of opportunities, such as the talented folks we have. They look for similar things. They want to be challenged. They want to grow. They want to work on interesting problems where they feel that they can make a real difference. They want to work with great people. They want to strike some kind of a balance between what they do in a work environment and what kind of a lifestyle they have.

We felt that, as an industry and as a firm, we offered a good combination across each of those dimensions.

For the candidates coming from outside the industry, we did spend quite a bit of time giving them an introduction to commercial property and casualty insurance.  We had many, many conversations where candidates said they knew nothing about insurance –they didn’t drive a car; didn’t have auto insurance. But once I took them through some of the key dynamics of the insurance industry – some of the things we do, some of the risks we cover and some of the work that we’ve done – a lot of folks became incredibly intrigued. At a glance, they can see that we offer very complex coverage and they’re fascinated.

They’re drawn by the challenge of figuring out what the risks are and putting a number next to it.  How do you put a risk, a number, next to the probability of a natural catastrophe in different parts of the country? How do you put numbers next to the risk of political violence in different parts of the world?  How do you actually understand and qualify those risks? And how do you improve the way we make decisions about covering those risks?  And then how do we help our customers better understand those risks so that they can get better at managing them?

It’s a fantastic opportunity. And I think once people got their heads wrapped around it, I think a lot of them were very, very intrigued and excited. 

How much does compensation and benefits weigh into candidates’ decisions?

It certainly weighs in. I think there is no getting around that.  I would say we have to be competitive. If you are not in the ballpark it’s very, very difficult to recruit.

We are not going to be able to top some of the compensation packages that make the headlines and that’s not our intention.  I think we want to make sure we were competitive and I think in most cases we have been.

But our approach is that we didn’t want compensation to be the swaying factor either way. We want our candidates to make their decision based on being passionate and excited about the work that we do. 

We’ve tried as much as possible to take compensation out of the equation.

You put in a lot of effort to find people, to attract people, to educate them on the insurance business. Once you get them, how do you keep them?

I still spend one-on-one time with every team member on a very regular basis to see how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, whether they’re getting challenged, getting the support, getting  access to the infrastructure and tools that they feel are necessary to do their jobs. I spend just as much time with the team now as I did during the recruiting process to make sure that all the things that excited them about joining us remain true and ongoing.

But I don’t think there is any silver bullet.  I’m acutely conscious of the fact that other companies are putting in just as much effort to recruit these folks as I do to retain them. And I just have to make sure that they’re excited about the work that we do and the impact that we’re delivering.

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