The Last Word
For the People
Insurers and brokers are adding a new position to the C-suite—the chief people officer.
- Lori Chordas
- February 2020
Richard Branson understands the value of people. “A company's employees are its greatest asset and your people are your product,” Branson, the co-founder of Virgin Group, has been widely quoted as saying.
That idea is gaining traction in the insurance industry. Insurers and brokers have been taking a closer look at their human resources departments and adding a new post—chief people officer—to the C-suite.
Aon in October named Lisa Stevens, formerly of Wells Fargo, as its first CPO. In her role, she will continue to build upon the work of Aon's human resources leadership team and define colleague engagement and culture strategy.
Aspen in September named Mohinder Kang, formerly with U.K.'s Post Office Ltd., chief people officer. Kang transitioned into his role in November and leads the human resources team.
Some may see the CPO as just another fancy title in the C-suite. But Valerie Frederickson, the founder and CEO of executive HR search and consulting firm Frederickson Partners, begs to differ. As the top rung on an organization's HR ladder, CPOs play an integral role in developing and recruiting best-in-class talent and creating a safe and successful company culture, she said.
While some organizations use the CPO title interchangeably with roles such as chief HR officer and senior vice president of HR, others draw a clearly defined line between the positions, Frederickson said.
There is a difference, said Allison McEachern, CPO of RogersGray, a top independent insurance agency based in Massachusetts. “At times the traditional HR function seems very black and white, focused largely on policy, process and rules. But the CPO position is a strategic shift in how companies view people, culture and workplace practices,” she said.
After many lengthy discussions, RogersGray's senior management team made “the purposeful decision” to change the name of its senior-level HR position to CPO to reflect the company's culture and its core values that employees are the heart of its business, McEachern said.
Recruiting experts say CPOs need to possess a number of qualities, including empathy, authenticity, an innovative mindset, and leadership and storytelling skills. Companies also look for CPO candidates with competencies in data analytics, metrics and artificial intelligence, along with a full range of HR skills, including talent and recruitment.
“However, the focus on culture and digital transformation are the primary requirements innovative companies are now asking for in their chief people officers,” said Frederickson.
A global shortage of HR talent, however, will force companies to compete for a “limited segment of experienced HR executives with these new modern skills,” she said.
Frederickson anticipates that over the next five years the CPO title will replace the chief human resources officer title in nearly 90% of insurance companies. “And with that change in title,” she said, “comes an increased focus on using employees and talent as a differentiator and tool used to outperform the competition.”