Jun 16, 2010

Get back to China now if you want a job at an international insurer

As foreign insurance companies struggle to expand in China, they are focusing their recruitment on candidates with strong local connections...

“For overseas Chinese who want to develop a long-term career in China, they should come back as early as possible as local experience weighs much more nowadays. Candidates who have only language skills and overseas experience are not as popular as before,” says Monica Song, senior consultant of banking and financial services, Hudson Shanghai.

It has been tough for international insurers to establish a foothold in the mainland. Regulations prevent overseas groups from operating independently, forcing the likes of Aviva and Allianz to establish joint ventures. According to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, the market share of foreign firms in China rose only slightly to 4.07 per cent in the January-April period.

Who’s in demand?

But the global insurers are still hiring. Song says sales and marketing positions are most in demand. These front-office roles require a good understanding of the domestic insurance environment, so Chinese candidates with local experience are especially sought after.

Overseas academic qualifications and/or international work experience can be a plus. However, as foreign insurers place more and more focus on profitability and sales, English language skills are usually secondary to communicating well with the local regulator and local customers.

International insurers – which mainly target the premium market in first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou – must ensure they hire candidates with the right cultural fit to their customers. They are therefore becoming more reluctant to take on Taiwanese professionals.

“Three to five years ago, Taiwanese candidates were very popular in mainland China, especially in agent recruiting, agent training and marketing. However, it’s changed a lot now. Although both sides speak Mandarin, culture-wise they are very different,” says Song.

Are there any jobs where foreign experts are still sought after? “Senior roles, such as chief financial officer or chief actuary, are where overseas candidates excel for their communication skills, management experience and overseas exposure. This is what most local candidates lack. But these kinds of jobs are not so much in demand,” says Song.

Staffing and salaries

Staff turnover in the insurance industry fell last year because employees were reluctant to move during the economic downturn, but there are now concerns that it will pick up again. “It is challenging for all insurance companies. A competitive salary is important, however retention of quality people in the medium to long term requires a strong commitment to training, career development and mentorship,” says Brodie McDougall, senior manager of Michael Page Finance.

Foreign insurers generally provide higher salaries for medium to high-level managerial positions than local firms. Candidates with more than six years’ experience will get a salary of about 15k yuan to 20k per month, or even higher depending on the job function, says Song. “A manager with 10 or even 15 years’ experience in a local firm normally just gets 20k to 25k monthly and sometimes no bonus at all,” she adds.