A tidal wave is headed our way in the insurance industry—one that will change our business forever and test our resolve as leaders and as companies. As the leader of one such affected company, I welcome this transformation. 

The first signs are already here. The tidal wave is the confluence of two key developments: (1) the emergence of technology as the defining driver of the future and (2) the arrival of the millennial generation as the group that will chart the course over the next decades. Rather than fear this change, we must embrace it for all of the benefits it will bring.

The numbers are startling. As the insurance industry evolves due to technological advancements and as the baby boomer generation hits retirement age, there’s a need to fill 400,000 positions within the next three years, according to The Institutes. These positions run the gamut from underwriters and claims adjusters to data scientists and technologists.

My challenge to all of us who have spent our lifetime in this business is this: we must make insurance a career of choice for the best and brightest who graduate from our colleges and universities. We must adapt to the new order and be flexible in our thinking. Our future depends on it.

We know our industry has an image problem, especially in terms of recruitment. We are seen in some quarters as boring, slow-moving and the definition of old school. Those of us on the inside know this is not true, especially as we adapt to the two-pronged wave of change hitting the insurance world.

The good news is that the new generation of insurance professionals already likes what it sees. The insurance technology provider Vertafore surveyed 4,000 19- to 35-year-olds already on the job. More than 80% say they plan to remain in the industry for as long as possible. And the way they operate is vastly different from previous generations.

When I started in the insurance industry 31 years ago, success was often measured by the knowledge someone possessed—or hoarded. This was the currency a person used to prove value. The ones who had the answers were the ones who got ahead. Today, that notion has been turned on its head.

Sharing and collaboration are now fundamental to any successful organization. The new generation has grown up in a digitally connected social media world that defines both the personal and professional. The insurance industry is perfectly positioned to leverage this new spirit. It makes us more efficient, and it makes us more attractive as a career. But we need to make certain that collaboration is truly rewarded and built into our business practices.

The new generation also gives me great hope for our industry because of their commitment to the greater good and to a purpose-driven life. The insurance industry is a natural place for those seeking such fulfillment, but we need to tell our story in stronger terms. We are the industry that puts lives back together when disaster strikes. We rebuild local businesses and get people back on the job. We are the glue that makes the economy possible in the first place.

One lesson we can all learn from this new generation of professionals is how to navigate work life and personal life. The common term is balance, but that’s always been difficult to attain, and one part usually suffers at the expense of the other. I fundamentally believe that work/life fusion is more attainable than work/life balance.

There’s something to be learned from the way millennials do this. New professionals are much more comfortable in communal workplaces, with flexible hours, and working to accomplish a task wherever that takes place. In many ways, they bring their life to work and work to home. We must adapt to this changing nature of the workplace environment.

There is real value in this work/life fusion. It is common for the new generation to be described as lacking certain social skills, as they often communicate via devices and screens. I could not disagree more, based on what I witness across CNA. Their ability to quickly make connections with people across the globe and to work together in real time is something of a marvel. The new generation is constantly and effectively collaborating, easily providing real-time feedback to peers and business partners. We all can learn this social skill.

The speed of change will have no limits, nor will the opportunities in the insurance industry. The impact of data-driven business models and technological advancements will continue to redefine how we operate and whom we need in our companies. Rather than fear this future, I see it as perfectly aligned with who is walking through our doors.

In my vision of the future, insurance is not just a noble profession, it’s a career of first choice. In many regards, we are there already—a place where trust, sharing and giving back to society defines our nature. Because technology and collaboration are ingrained in millennials’ DNA and what will drive our success, it’s a match made in heaven. We just need to recognize the advantages millennials inherently bring, tell our story and embrace the waves of change.

Dino Robusto is chairman and CEO of CNA Financial Corp.

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