The London Market’s decision-makers need top skills to maintain their high status. But what is the industry doing to promote training, asks Marie-Louise Rossi

The London insurance market prides itself, rightly, on being a global skill centre. Indeed, now that most of the capital that supports the market is based elsewhere, expertise and infrastructure have emerged as London’s raison d’etre; the reason why all the world’s leading international insurance and reinsurance groups continue to have a presence here.

But what are we doing to nurture that talent? A number of reports in the past year have highlighted the non-technical way in which many big risks are negotiated. The criticism applies to the industry worldwide, rather than specifically to London, but it is for us to take a lead in addressing the problem.

London has a tradition of learning on the job. The majority of market practitioners have neither a university degree nor an equivalent insurance qualification. The system has produced many outstanding underwriters and brokers, some of whom have progressed to become successful senior managers.

We need to do more today, however, to prepare our decision-makers. We are in a more competitive, more sophisticated market than ever - one that allows very little room for error - training should be a lifelong process.

Practitioners require greater technical expertise than in the past. A sound understanding of such things as e-commerce, actuarial techniques, risk modelling and data gathering/analysis are among the essential tools of the trade. These qualities cannot replace the flair and innovation for which the London Market is well known, but they are necessary nonetheless.

Indeed, the FSA indicated recently that insurance chief executives will soon be required to understand and take personal responsibility for all business-critical areas of their companies, instead of being allowed to delegate to their deputies.

The IUA’s voluntary code of education and training highlights the need to “create an environment that enables knowledge and good practice to be exchanged freely”. The code invites companies to make a written commitment to putting education and training high on their corporate agenda.

The vast majority of IUA members do take training seriously, and some have an exemplary record. The code encourages all companies to achieve the standards of the best, and provides a useful benchmark.

Our education committee, chaired by Graham Nicholls, is working on a range of certificates specific to the needs of the London Market. These include a certificate for contract wording technicians that, as well as having stand-alone value, will be accredited as a CII module and involves 40 hours of study. The committee also supports the eight cross-market language clubs, most recently helping to launch the Japanese club.

Apart from developing the potential that is already here, an equally pressing long-term priority is to attract our share of the best young people into our industry in the first place. Insiders may realise that international insurance and reinsurance provide a stimulating and exciting work environment, but you try telling that to a bright, ambitious undergraduate.

The IUA and the ABI and many of their members are working to improve links with schools and universities, but our image is another issue that we need to address if we are to attract and make full use of the talent out there.

  • Marie-Louise Rossi is chief executive of the IUA (International Underwriting Association).

Pam Byrnes (020 7617 4452, ) is secretary to the IUA Education Committee and can supply more information