Career changes, improving the image of insurers and life after the recession were among the topics under discussion at the latest gathering of the IT Pack in Edinburgh. Danny Walkinshaw listened in on the thoughts of the Scottish broking community

The latest IT Pack event took Insurance Times from the capital of England to the capital of Scotland as the team arrived in Edinburgh.

Just an hour’s flight from London’s City Airport, a group of elite brokers from the Scottish market awaited, eager to share their thoughts on a variety of topics with Insurance Times along with Aviva representatives Brian Wallace and Ian Ferguson.

The group consisted of participants from national brokers and large independent brokers in Scotland. While most of them hadn’t set out to have a career in insurance, H&R Insurance Services partner Shona Robertson said it ran in her family.

“My father set up the company 40 years ago, so I grew up with it,” she said. “I did all the normal things, such as going to university, and I was an athlete for a while, but then I did a masters in insurance and risk management in London.”

Heath Lambert account handler Peter Fraser said he was unsure whether he would spend his entire career in insurance but was excited by the opportunities.

“I’m enjoying it at the moment,” he said. “I’ve been in it for three or four years, and I would like to progress a bit further.”

The assembled brokers felt the insurance industry could do a lot more to promote its image and attract future generations of employees. Aviva’s director of commercial strategy, Ian Ferguson, said the industry was “something everyone should be proud of, considering the economy right now”.

The role of the broker in the eyes of customers, particularly those buying personal lines, came under close scrutiny during the gathering. According to Marsh client adviser Mark Anderson, brokers are often perceived wrongly.

“I think there is this image that brokers are just the middle man,” he said. “People don’t see the service they are passing on to clients.”

Kwik-Fit Insurance account manager Stephen Carella agreed, adding: “We don’t really advertise ourselves and we often keep our cards close to our chests.”

Talk of the recession sparked a strong debate on how the industry was coping in the downturn. Carella said the market was “price sensitive” at the moment. “The challenge is keeping hold of the business you have got,” he said. “It is about taking the customer through the journey and educating them.”

Aviva’s Ferguson was keen to hear how the recession was effecting new business. Robertson insisted: “Everyone wants a deal.” But she added that trying to cross-sell products was proving tough. “Selling optional extras is difficult because people just want the cheapest deal possible,” she said. “That has had an impact and cross-selling is getting harder.”

Marsh client adviser Stephen Randall cited the professional indemnity market as another example. He said the market is limited and becoming increasingly competitive. “You generally find your market has shrunk and the client has contacted three other brokers, so you are fighting against everyone,” he said.

When the issue of dual pricing was raised, Randall claimed it was “a big problem”. Robertson agreed, saying it was difficult to avoid because everyone was competing on price.

On rates, the IT Packers felt that insurers were trying to bring rates increases through, but they had not seen any notable changes yet. “There is always someone that will come in and say we want to rate business,” said Robertson.

Head of Aviva Risk Managements Solutions Brian Wallace was keen to understand how the brokers managed their relationships with clients. Carella believed it was important to keep in contact with clients mid-term. “A courtesy call can go a long way,” he said. “Then when it comes to renewal time, they know you have been in contact throughout the year.”

Attention then turned to the future and how the IT Packers see the next five years panning out for the market and for them.

Marsh placement broker Gillian Kelly felt the major challenge was the threat of the hardening market, which encouraged clients to look elsewhere for their insurance, increasing competition for business.

Kelly also thought there would be a lot more consolidation among regional brokers, as well as insurers, and that the market would harden a little more. Her own aspirations are to develop in her current role. “I would like to still be working within Marsh, but have more responsibility, whether that means moving into a different part of the company or just having a bigger role in placement.”

Fraser said the biggest challenge would be the use of comparison websites in personal lines. “People are able to get deals that are cheap in comparison but the policies are very thinned down. Policies are like an umbrella: you don’t know how good they are until it rains. In this case, you don’t know how good your policy is until you have a claim.”

Robertson predicted more staff may join small independent brokers from the larger firms. “I have had staff coming from bigger brokers to a local broker,” she said. “It is different; your opinions are valued.”

Bruce Stevenson Risk Management’s commercial account handler, Bernadette Douglas, said she made a move to increase her career options. “I went from a national broker to a small broker to try and move up to the next level. Certain things were different.”

The brokers all talked positively about the future of the Scottish market, including Carella, who confirmed there was still a strong local presence of independent regional brokers.

Robertson said there was a lot of competition from consolidators, as well as other acquisitive brokers.

After the formal element of the gathering, IT Pack members chilled out in the relaxed atmosphere at one of Edinburgh’s trendiest nightspots, Lulu Bar and Nightclub.

The participants spoke positively about the event. Kelly said: “I felt it was a great networking exercise. I enjoyed meeting other people in my age group who were facing similar situations in work as I am.”

Randall added: “It was an excellent way of meeting other professionals of a similar age and point in their career from different backgrounds. It's good to meet brokers from other companies, build relationships, and compare opportunities and experiences within the market.” IT

Aviva’s view of the event

“It was a privilege to spend some quality time with these IT Pack brokers. Their passion and enthusiasm for the insurance industry was clear from their comments and engagement during the session – whether we were discussing commercial or personal lines issues. The tough conditions and renewal options available to their customers are not under-estimated, and they have taken numerous steps to do everything they can to provide their customers with first-class local service as a key differentiator. Overall, I was really impressed with the session and the respect and interest they had for each other. We could easily have talked for another few hours.”

Aviva Risk Management Solutions’ managing director, Brian Wallace

“What interested me was the variety of topics we covered: recession, the market cycle, rating, training and qualifications, risk management, local service, competition, securing renewals and the future of the industry. The importance placed on training and qualifications for broker staff is fundamental to the future of our industry as a profession. The ability of qualified staff to deal with customer issues quickly and effectively helps retain customers long term, which is what we as insurers support wholeheartedly. Moving from broker to broker to save on premium year on year does not benefit anyone in the long term.”

Aviva’s director of commercial underwriting strategy, Ian Ferguson