Investment banking is proving a big draw for graduates seeking a financial services career, even though insurance has just as much to offer. Anita Anandarajah discovers why

The insurance industry deals with worldwide catastrophes on a daily basis, but as businesses, there is a far more prosaic challenge to face: recruiting and retaining top quality staff.

Lloyd’s chief executive Richard Ward recently acknowledged the scale of the problem, declaring that the market faces a huge shortfall in recruiting claims professionals and financial modelling experts.

The figures tell their own story: 11% of graduates want a career in investment banking, but only 2.5% choose insurance, according to online job service

In the face of such apathy, how can brokers large and small attract, and retain, the best talent?

The answer, it seems, may lie in self-promotion and training.

Former Biba chief executive Mike Williams confesses that the industry hasn’t done enough to inform people of the career options available in the UK and globally.

“Investment banks have spent many years building relationships with universities and colleges. They are in an enviable position whereby a good student looking for a diverse, well-paying career would look at them first,” he says. “They have contacts, literature and people within the institution that promote that proposition.”

It would seem that brokers should be looking to hire more graduates. But, surprisingly, many still believe that school leavers are a safer bet.

Williams says: “You have someone who has shown a certain amount of academic aptitude, is still willing to learn and has not been moulded into certain attitudes by high level education.”

Yet he acknowledges that insurance would benefit from sharing the attitudes of its City competitors: “Clearly we need graduates and high calibre candidates. There is evidence of this demand – the big brokers and insurers look enviously at how accounting firms continue to prosper by recruiting these people.

“Major brokers are tackling this issue more seriously than in the past.”

Perhaps the answer lies in the all-embracing approach taken by broking juggernaut Towergate. It recently abandoned its graduate scheme in favour of a talent recruitment programme which “encompasses all walks of life and academic qualifications”.

Fiona Andrews, Towergate’s head of people development and reward, says: “A fairly staid scheme would limit the people we take in.

“We want innovative and clever people. They could be A-level holders, graduates, people who have changed roles and graduates who are moving from another industry.”

Andrews admits that, whatever their background, it can be a struggle to attract people to choose insurance as their first career choice.

“We get a lot of financial graduates, but broking recruits tend to come from other broking industries as they tend to move around the market over the years.”

Global brokers have a better hand to play with. Lynne Stannard, director of human resources at Aon, says: “We know what people are looking for – sponsorship to achieve professional qualifications, the opportunity to travel, the flexibility of working hours, a good career path and the opportunity to progress quickly through the ranks.”

If insurers are ever to rank with glamorous investment banks when ‘ ‘ graduates rate their career options, these benefits will have to be advertised more widely – something the CII has recognised with the recent launch of its Talent Initiative.

“Smaller brokers have to train talent from the roots up, perhaps to a degree they never had to before. It will be a struggle

Fiona Andrews, Towergate

But for the small high street broker, offering such temptations is simply not an option, and the idea of luring graduates away from investment banks is laughable. They have to take another route ­– grow their own talent.

Andrews, who used to be head of the CII’s insurance faculty before joining Towergate, says: “Unfortunately, there was a time when the smaller broker would recruit well-trained people from insurance companies in their local areas. But as big insurers have withdrawn from many locations over the years, the talent pool has dried up for smaller brokers.”

She adds: “Now smaller brokers have to train talent from the roots up, perhaps to a degree they never had to before.

“It will be a struggle. particularly when they have to balance doing business with the regulatory demands on them, plus training, which they have to constantly keep on top of. It is an endless process to train people.”

It may be tough to train people, but with commitment and determination it can be done.

Manor Insurance is a six-man firm based in Hastings. Managing director Ian Mantel admits: “Retention isn’t hard but recruiting isn’t easy either. The difficulty for us is that Hastings is quite a depressed town, which means expectations aren’t as high among school leavers.

“We don’t target graduates as the nearest university is 30 miles away. The applicants we see are predominantly with GCSEs. A few have worked at the local call centre. We also find that university graduates are not prepared to work for small salaries, so they end up working in the City.”

But Mantel ensures that his staff receive the training that they need. Staff are encouraged to sit for the CII exams, funded by the company. “Within the office, we use the CII-Biba collaboration, Broker Access, which is ideal for the small broker. It helps us prove our competency to the FSA.”

His staff also attend Biba training days held at Bevis Marks or insurers’ offices in the City.

Poaching is another option. On a larger scale, with a staff of 80, the Suffolk-based Davis Group recruits most of its staff from other insurance companies.

But according to its human resource and marketing director Henrietta Flynn, this is because it is right on the doorstep of insurers like AXA, Norwich Union and Prudential.

“Insurers provide very detailed training. When people come to us from a broking firm, they have been trained using a more broad-based approach and may not focus on why regulation is useful and necessary,” Flynn explains.

In companies of any size, succession plans play an important role in retaining employees once they are trained.

Andrews advises brokers to use a competency model, like the CII competency framework, to benchmark knowledge and skills people should have.

This is so they know when to improve and learn to do the next job role. That in itself creates succession feed and gives people a reason to work hard, and to stay in the job.

Whether people come from the local high school or a redbrick university, they are all looking for that motivation.

The driver for this is knowing they are working in a worthwhile and interesting industry and for an employer who cares about and is willing to invest in their career. Every broker, from the biggest to the smallest, can provide that.

It’s about looks, and money

A look at the career preference figures of an online job search service for graduates gives a good indication of the unpopularity of insurance.
On the database of more than 320,000
students and graduates, 40,333 have specified business and management in their career preferences, 35,043 for banking and insurance and 18,257 for accountancy and actuarial work – only 8,042 specified insurance.
A Milkround spokesman says that investment banking institutions tend to attract far more applicants due to the higher salaries and the perception that the ambitious are being offered opportunities.
He adds: “Insurance firms need to shed their stereotypical dowdy image by recruiting more graduates and launching graduate schemes.”
Same rewards
The spokesman says insurance companies could also draw attention to the rewards available. “They tend to offer many of the same rewards as banking, but people don’t realise this. More could be done to market this fact to encourage more interest towards careers in insurance.
“Banking firms do an incredibly good job promoting their
grad schemes, helped by the starting salaries they offer, so they’re always massively oversubscribed.”
The starting salary for graduates at insurance firms tend to average around £22,000 at the very top firms, but it can be a lot lower, Milkround’s statistics show. Accountancy firms tend to pay slightly more on average, at about £25,000. Investment banks offer the top salaries which average £36,000.
Big players in insurance that have had a presence on Milkround include AIG, Allianz, Aon, Aspen Re, AXA, Groupama, Marsh, Miller Insurance, Norwich Union, Saga and Zurich.