Mar 22, 2012

Jobs growth and high turnover in Chinese insurance sector

By Jing Yan

The Chinese insurance market is expanding in first-, second- and third-tier cities, backed by local government and big SOEs, according to a report by Deloitte. For foreigners, however, the job opportunities in China's insurance conglomerates stay around top level positions.

Edwin Si, partner and senior consultant, Guardian Executive Shanghai, says branch-head roles suffer from high turnover. Insurers are always looking for top performers and many candidates are therefore able to change roles every two or three years.

The Deloitte report shows that telephone-sales channels have been widely adopted in recent years, while internet sales is beginning to make its mark. As a result, says Si, telesales and customer service representatives are highly sought after.

Actuary, product development, CFO, CMO and marketing roles may provide some opportunities for expatriate insurance professionals, but in general terms foreign nationals are not in great demand.

Alan Beattie, an actuary at Taiping Pension, one of China’s largest insurance brands, is the only Western expat in his company. He says learning Mandarin is important, and he invests a lot of time improving his language abilities. Si adds: “It is stipulated by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission that the CEO and chief actuary roles must have Chinese skills.”

“It is stipulated by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission that the CEO and chief actuary roles must have Chinese skills.”

Company culture is a crucial factor for job seekers to consider. Beattie comments: “Patience is important because you can’t expect things to be always done the way you want them to be done. In China, the decision-making processes can be slower than in other countries, with many different people involved.”

A good first step to securing an insurance job, according to Beattie, is to “make sure you have a CV prepared in Chinese and emphasise anything that demonstrates you can easily fit in, whatever the environment. Try to find out as much about the company as possible, so you can find the most suitable role for your needs and career interests. And pay special attention to how people in the office interact”.

He adds: “After a while you will get a feel for what is appropriate or inappropriate office behaviour. Some Chinese staff have no experience of dealing with non-Chinese, so try to understand their thinking and behaviour. There’s lots to learn, but that’s what makes it so interesting.”