Taking A Chance on Talent

RIST Institute’s Silvan Said on insurance industry training and the best ways to find suitable local talent for it.


Armed with a background in insurance and risk management, Silvan Said is a glove-like fit to head the RISC Institute which he recently founded in Dubai after a successful run in Bahrain and other parts of the GCC.


“Risk management is very fast. All the sectors today such as banks, companies, and all regulated financial institutions must have a risk management team,” Silvan explained sitting in his Jumeirah Lakes Towers office. The problem lies in recruiting the right talent, which never seems readily available.


He would know what he’s talking about, given the experience he’s had. Before RISC, there was Gulf Insurance Institute, a predecessor of sorts in Bahrain that was the brainchild of a team of insurance CEOs who felt the need for a development institution in the region. Silvan was appointed the head and he ran the show for eight whole years in addition to devising the program. 


Eventually though, the institute switched hands to another entity, prompting a move to Saudi Arabia which Silvan decided he wasn’t ready to follow. “Although Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest markets, it made me feel like it would be difficult to run an international business so we parted ways.”


As fate would have it, after the move, the institute resettled into the comfort zone Silvan had known all along, leading him to take the reins yet again. This time around, he seemed at home with the prospect of travel. Hence his presence in the UAE today.


The move allowed him to study the various job markets in the region, each being different in some way or another.


Kuwait has a drive to train their locals much like Bahrain and Oman, but with Qatar being a scarce market, expatriates are added to the roster there. Overall, companies across the GCC face huge pressure from regulators to train locals in technical subjects and optimize the workforce. Yet the attitudes vary from place to place.


“If you compare the KSA and UAE markets, the former is highly focused on Saudiization with a target of 60%, while in the latter, the current participation of locals in the insurance industry is almost negligible,” he said. “The market here is more focused on expatriates, especially on the sales and customer service side. Employers tend to prefer ‘readymade’ expatriates although everyone needs continued professional development.”


Silvan believes that’s about to change as he does see attempts at finding local talent, but certain factors come into play.


“There isn’t any enthusiasm by the locals to join the industry. So much so that I have requests from employers asking me to find them Emiratis,” he explained. “But it’s a problem to find willing candidates for a program that takes three additional months after they finish their college to go into the industry at the bottom-level. No matter how educated or trained they are, they have to start at the lowest rung of the ladder and most Emiratis are not willing to do that.”


Having said that, he does find that insurance companies are also to blame, whom he feels need to make robust efforts to make their industry appealing enough for people to want to join.


“The problem is that we need to present our industry in a better way. Few people know that insurance provides a host of opportunities in fields such as HR, IT, Finance, Actuaries, Marketing, we need everything,” he said believing that insurance companies are not giving young minds the right choice by just relegating them to sales and HR. “They can easily apply their other degrees to insurance.”


RISC has been trying to deflect from this norm in various ways. The programs at the institute run the gamut from weeks-long upscaling courses to year-long certifications and diplomas. Students are awarded professional, globally recognized diplomas from the Chartered Insurance Institute in the UK and the American Insurance Institutes in the US. RISC’s facilities include a virtual lecture space among other things.


While the shorter courses are understandably popular, Silvan has noticed that many students understand the need to expand their education across a year, particularly since most of them balance the studying with their daily work.


Nevertheless, he feels there is one bit of education the hiring end of a job search also needs: a dollop of reality.


“Authorities need to manage their expectation. Nobody becomes a manager on day one. That’s the most difficult part, you have to follow the route,” Silvan said about the complicated process of recruitment and training. “What you end up with is that employers train locals who move away immediately. I’ve had this when an employer had a three-year plan, and at each stage there was a benchmark, but as soon as the employees received their qualification, they left to secure better jobs.”


Another clear issue is the fact that most initiatives that tend to a local population serve to alleviate the day-to-day bustle rather than add to it. “Basically, for someone to wake up in the morning and go to work, the incentive has to be bigger than the amount they receive when they stay at home. Employers need to make their offering more attractive. Yes, they can provide training but the market is what it is.”


Silvan also stresses on the importance of customizing the education to their students’ sensibilities and experiences. “We can’t talk here about wooden frames and freezing pipes,” he exemplified, pointing out the fact that pupils would respond better to situations closer to home and thus more familiar to them.


Continuing the process of tailor-made knowledge, Silvan and the RISC team have continued to focus on initiatives of their own. Ones that ensure that anybody looking for a suitable placement is aided to find it. One of their more successful endeavors was the Employment to Education program which helped graduates enter numerous industries through providing them with the right skills. The initiative took place in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia but relies on public funding, something that eludes them in the UAE, as of now.


In the meantime, Silvan stays optimistic that eventually, he will able to fashion the same environment in the UAE as he did elsewhere, creating more triumphs and a mindset that helps both employers and employees by being neither risk-averse nor RISC-averse.



Silvan Said is a senior level risk and insurance management executive with over 32 years’ experience in the industry and a CII (Chartered Insurance Institute) Accredited Advanced Technical Insurance Trainer. He is Managing Director of RISC Institute which he recently founded in Dubai.


He has been an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute (ACII) for over 29 years and holds the designation of Chartered Insurance Practitioner from the CII. He also holds the Associate in Risk Management designation (ARM) from the American Institute for Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriters. In January 2015 he founded RISC Institute in Dubai which specializes in talent development and training in Risk Management, Insurance and Takaful, Securities and Investments and Compliance and offers its services throughout the Middle East.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *