Emily Soppet is ‘half-way to 50’ and happy to be a broker, her teenage dreams of medicine and acting long gone. But how, she asks, can the industry attract more like her?
When I was 10, I was adamant that I was going to be a doctor. By 13 I knew that I was destined for great things on the stage.
The reality today seems to be far from those dreams; but here I am, half-way to 50 and enjoying the lifestyle of a young insurance broker in the City (well, Battersea is near enough isn’t it?).
After three years of studying music at university I changed direction to become a full-time commercial broker, yet four years on I still get the same blank faces when I reply to the dreaded question “And what do you do?”
Some progress has been made recently to encourage young talent into insurance, but for many of the young brokers who have “fallen” into their jobs, what incentives are there to stay as a local broker and ignore the homing beacon calling them into the City?
And how can we make sure that future generations want a career in broking, not just the first job that’s within commuting distance? Every detail counts when searching for a new role: pay, pension, parking.
These so-called perks have become a deciding factor for many young people when choosing between jobs, not least because of the economic climate.
This is where small brokers need to offer something extraordinary to entice talented young people through their doors.
Insurers have the facility to offer a good pension, private healthcare and company discounts to their staff whereas many small brokers can struggle to meet the daily costs of running an office. Introducing a simple share scheme could greatly improve retention rates of younger staff.
Taking on young employees can also be a risky business for the brokerage. Will they stay to gain qualifications and leave after a year? Will their enthusiasm wane, leaving an employee with little experience and little incentive?
These questions crop up time and time again for most brokerages and, although taking on young employees can seem an enormous gamble, it is a bet that they all need to take. Alexander Miller took a gamble when it employed me, but I believe that it has paid off for both parties.
Melanie Hampton, my managing director, has given me a great insight into working as a broker in London.
Her 25 years of experience in dealing with difficult clients (and underwriters for that matter!) has given me invaluable guidance when I am in unfamiliar territory.
London is supposed to be the third most expensive city in the world to live in, but you can justify the extra expense when you have the world’s leading insurers on your doorstep.
I still get a sense of excitement when I visit an insurer in the City, although I’m the first to admit that I may have gone into meetings in the past with “all guns blazing”.
However good my intentions might have been, this approach was not the best for either my client or for me. I constantly have to work at achieving a good balance between client and insurer and, invariably, may need the odd prompt to ensure that my enthusiasm does not work against me. This is where I must heed advice from my more experienced peers.
Similarly, being a little younger than those in my brokerage has meant that I have been able to put new systems in place which may have gone unnoticed.
A few “modern” technological advances have been introduced into our daily working lives such as online quotations, online MID updates and the wonderful world of scanning! Which, love it or hate it, is now an essential part of our routine and one that will not disappear any time soon as clients demand documents at the drop of a hat.
Many of the professional clients I see can initially find it disconcerting that a young insurance broker is dealing with every intimate aspect of their business.
We have to work harder to earn our clients’ trust than ever before. When something goes awry, we are expected to drop everything; when something goes right we seldom get any recognition. This recognition has to come from the brokerage if we are to attract new talent. They must feel valued.
Yes, being a young broker does have its pros and cons but I believe that this is the initial route the insurance leaders of tomorrow should be starting on. I have had personal advice from experienced professionals every step of the way and not for one moment have I been left to the devices of a training programme.
The number of policies I deal with every day ensures that I always have enough variety to occupy me and keep me enthusiastic, and the size of my department (that is, one) ensures that
I always feel valued, not just a number in a cubicle on the 100th floor.
Small brokerages will entice young talent through the doors only if they have a flexible managerial stance, quality training and the promise of career progression. If they offer their employees that little something extra then both parties can look forward to a long and happy working partnership.
Am I worried about the future? Yes of course I am, but with more than four years broking experience under my belt I may not feel all that much older, but I certainly do feel a little wiser.