A leadership crisis for top insurance groups

January 2018

Recent trends have placed leadership and talent questions squarely on the table for insurance industry board members, executives, and regulators. Industry non-executives and executives need new skills and new ways of leading. Disruptions from technological developments and the emergence of new competitors have brought qualities such as flexibility, adaptability, and speed to the fore, while the traditional virtues of stability and prudence remain important. One director asserted that insurance was “by definition conservative, so it can maintain ratings and survive 30 to 40 years to pay claims.”  Yet insurers are seeing new needs for innovation and transformation. The sometimes uneasy coexistence of new and old capabilities has important implications for leadership. 

At the same time, broader trends are posing stark challenges for the leaders of all large institutions. These challenges arise from what public relations analyst Richard Edelman has called “the global trust crisis.” This “began with the Great Recession of 2008, but like the second and third waves of a tsunami, globalization and technological change have further weakened people’s trust in global institutions. The consequence is virulent populism and nationalism as the mass population has taken control away from the elites.” Consumers, employees, and voters are increasingly unwilling to accept statements from the leaders of large institutions at face value or to believe that those leaders are generally competent and acting in good faith. Large institutions, including those whose leaders participate in the Insurance Governance Leadership Network (IGLN), are facing a leadership crisis. 

IGLN non-executive directors, executives, and guests met in London on November 28, 2017, to discuss the leadership and human capital challenges facing the industry. This ViewPoints explores issues from the meeting and broader conversations with network participants. It is organized around the following topics:

  • The social environment calls for new leadership models 

  • Industry transformation makes greater demands of leadership

  • Boards are playing a greater role in talent strategy