December 5, 2022

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Recruiter Kona rebrands to focus on insurance industry only

This week, the recruitment consultancy Kona & Co. Group, based in Melbourne, rebranded to Kona Recruitment. Toth, the 26-year-old managing director said the change reflects its new modus operandi as an insurance-only recruitment agency.

“What we’ve decided to do is drop the mixed message of exactly what kind of brand Kona is and focus on what we really are at our core, which is an insurance recruitment agency,” said Toth.

Until now, the company has served clients across insurance, accounting, finance and construction.

“The reason why we decided to focus in purely on insurances is just market conditions,” said Toth. “Client demand is just so substantial at the moment that we decided it was an opportunity to put all of our resources, all of our time, love, affection and care into the insurance space.”

Existing clients from outside the insurance space haven’t been forgotten, said the managing director.

“So the transition out of construction took place around four months ago and this has been 12 months in the making since I took over the reins in April 2021,” he said.

Kona’s accounting and financial services team is transitioning into the insurance sector.

“We’ve already started that a few months ago behind the scenes,” said Toth.

Given the talent gap across the insurance industry, stakeholders will likely welcome the extra attention to insurance recruitment.

Read more: Does this WTW broker have a solution for the industry’s talent gap?

On the eve of the government’s Budget announcement, Nigel Fellowes-Freeman, CEO of the insurtech Kanopi Cover, told Insurance Business he was hoping for a budget initiative that would ease this staff shortage.

“It is the single greatest challenge for the sector right now. It’s pushing up the market rate of salaries beyond the limit of what a start-up can pay and will end up stalling the growth and potentially shutting down companies across the country,” he said.

Fellowes-Freeman said the “obvious fix” is to encourage the migration of tech talent from overseas. The Kanopi CEO is particularly concerned about the talent gap in the insurtech/IT area.

“There are plenty of talented people that want to work here, but the process of bringing them over is expensive, time-consuming and full of red tape,” he said.

That Budget assistance didn’t come. Toth agreed with Fellowes-Freeman and said the red tape and the cost of bringing someone into Australia can be prohibitive.

However, he said, this isn’t stopping insurance companies looking for overseas talent.

“It’s a huge challenge. So, what you’re seeing at the moment, given the local talent shortages, is more companies coming around to the idea of sponsorship,” he said.

Toth described this shift as “the biggest change I’ve seen culturally in the last two years.”

Mid-tier Australian brokerages and insurance companies, not just the global operators, he said, are increasingly asking him to fill positions using the London market.

However, if successful, that can mean many thousands of extra dollars in visa sponsorship fees for the insurance company.

According to the Department of Home Affairs and other online sources, a work visa to Australia can cost about $2,000-$3,000 in application fees and a further $1,000-$2,000 annually in sponsorship fees.

“It isn’t as easy as it could be, or should be, given the parallels between a London, Hong Kong or New York market and Australia,” said Toth.

However, Toth said it’s not the IT shortage that is pinching the most.

“The priority, in my opinion, will always be towards underwriters, brokers and claims professionals in client facing positions – because that is the heart of the insurance industry, it is a people driven market,” he said.

In November, when IB last spoke to the youthful managing director, he’d just made a unilateral decision to bring in a four-day working week. Everyone at Kona now works from Monday to Thursday.

He copped some industry flak for the move. One broker-turned-headhunter slammed the idea as “absolute nonsense”.

Toth said there have been no major issues staying the course, however.

Read more: Does the industry need to follow Kona & Co.’s four-day week?

“What actually happens when you give your team that level of empowerment and that level of flexibility is it makes them want to go that extra mile for their clients,” he said.

Toth said his four-day week runs alongside a “culture of outcomes”.

“So by that I mean if there’s work that needs to be done on a Friday, or on a Saturday, or a Sunday, the team is beyond committed to it,” he said.

Toth could be something of a pioneer. Belgium approved a four-day working week in labour reforms announced by the government in February. Trade unions across Europe are calling for other governments to do the same.

In the UK, a six-month pilot program was launched in January involving Cambridge and Oxford Universities and the non-profit advocacy group 4 Day Week Global. Sixty (60) companies have signed up so far.