It's an urban myth that agricultural insurer NFU Mutual uses farmers as part-time salesmen for its products. It's probably typical that the townies should think such a thing, but the reality is that the insurer has one of the best trained professional sales teams in the industry.

“General insurance is not sold by farmers. We have 600 agents and we go to great lengths to make sure they are all effectively trained,” says agency manager Nick Hawken. The agents work out of 350 locations across the country, selling mainly to the agricultural industry but also covering commercial lines and a significant quantity of personal lines.

Most of its new agents have some affinity with the farming community. Older entrants tend to have come from some agricultural sales role, although a few insurance industry insiders, such as loss adjusters, make the switch. Graduates tend to come from agriculture-related degree courses. They all have to learn about insurance and the modern rules for selling insurance.

NFU Mutual instituted a new policy in 1998, whereby its agents must supplement the in-company training and exams with the Chartered Insurance Institute's Certificate of Insurance Practice (CIP). They have to qualify within three years of passing the company's own exams, and the in-company scheme lasts 18 months.

“They have to do the CIP within three years of taking the internal exam, or they must pass five parts of the ACII. We back that up with an assessment programme because the technical knowledge isn't enough in itself – the application is important,” says Hawken.

Most choose the CIP. “The CIP gives exemptions against the ACII and it also gives people letters after their names,” says Hawken. “We take on about 20 new people a year, so there's probably around 60 people working on it at the moment.”

Even for the staff who joined before the new regime, there is a tough continuous assessment process. And NFU is expecting to reassess everyone in the company next year after it has seen the rules and standards laid down by the General Insurance Standards Council.

Brokers may not like NFU Mutual because it sells through agents, but carping on about how it sells insurance through untrained country bumpkins had better stop. The reality is that the NFU agents will be better trained than many broking and insurance company staff. Which means the NFU Mutual feels confident it will have a prosperous future. As the NFU might say: “Get off my land!”