Best's Review


Last Word: Personality Traits

A study reveals the personality attributes of insurance executives defy the industry's stereotypes.
  • Lori Chordas
  • January 2016
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Lawyers and politicians are often known to have persuasive and competitive personalities, while health care workers typically have more nurturing and stable dispositions. But when it comes to insurance executives, personality traits are across the board.

Compared to their financial professional peers in other regulated sectors, today's insurance executives are faster moving and are more extroverted, according to a study by executive search and leadership firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

And contrary to popular belief, "insurance executives' psychological attributes showcase the dynamic personality that in many ways defies the industry's stodgy stereotypes," said Limore Zilberman, executive search and assessment consultant for the global firm.

The Russell Reynolds Associates' study was based on data from 87 insurance executives, along with the company's broader database of executives using 60 psychometric scales from well-validated leadership assessments to understand on which scales insurance executives showed statistical differences from other populations.

Insurance executives also tend to be more even-keeled and pragmatic than their counterparts in other financial sectors, Zilberman said. They are 30% more willing to trust others, 24% more detail oriented and 20% more socially confident, the study found. In addition, insurance industry executives are far more likely to worry than their executive peers, "and in their bold, achievement-oriented nature, they manifest a dynamism that stands in sharp contrast to traditional views of insurance executives," according to the study.

"The insurance sector, as a whole, is very steadfast and consistent, but it is also an industry that's very trusting," Zilberman said. "A lot of that stems from the fact that you have professionals who have grown up through the industry.

"Something that came out as a surprise in the study is that there is a very high level of extroversion among insurance leaders," she said. "As a whole, executives scored very high on dynamic personality traits, including being very outgoing, bold and more comfortable in the spotlight. They are willing to move fast and take both action and calculated risks."

There are personality trait differences within the insurance industry itself. Life/health executives are more innovative and "have what we call re-imagining personality traits," while property/casualty executives, immersed in a sector faced with sharp and decisive action under uncertain conditions, generally are "drivers and are forging a strong path," Zilberman said.

Life/health executives are 18% more conceptual in their thinking than their P/C peers, the study found. They are also 15% more open to change, Zilberman said.

Life/health decision-makers are also more data-powered than executives on the P/C side, she said. "That's because they work in a very long-tailed business. So the benefit of having some of that deep and rich data, along with understanding, analyzing and applying it to their customers, is a critical competency needed in their lines of business."

In contrast, property/casualty executives are 21% more independent-minded and are 21% more decisive than those in life/health, Zilberman added. "A lot of that stems from property and casualty being a combination of both long- and short-tail businesses, so that part of the industry tends to move at a faster pace. P/C executives are also under immense pressure of disruption and innovative change."

There's been a shift in insurance executives' personality traits over the years, largely due to recent global economic disruptions, Zilberman said. Prior to the financial crisis beginning in 2007, industry executives were more abstract thinkers, open to change and imaginative, she said. Post-financial crisis, "with the worst hopefully being over," they are more relaxed, socially confident, optimistic, affiliative and variety-seeking, Zilberman added.

What should companies and recruiters look for in future insurance executive hires? "Consider a dynamic profile matching that of existing insurance executives," Zilberman said. Also, insurers should remember that the "right" success profile of leadership and behavioral attributes of top executives may change based on external events, such as generation gaps and regulatory demands, she added.

By Lori Chordas, senior associate editor, Best's Review:

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