Brokers wanting to progress in their careers need to keep their finger on the pulse, says Elizabeth Adams-Reid of the Institute of Insurance Brokers (IIB). "The majority of our members have Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) qualifications and are required to undergo continuous professional development." This is an essential part of their technical training.
Mike Williams of the British Insurance Brokers' Association (Biba) agrees. "Brokers must consider vocational qualifications, which are easily transportable, but they must focus also on technical training."
He reports a strong and growing demand for both the vocational NVQ and Modern Apprenticeship schemes and the Biba-run series of technical seminars. "We provide technical training for brokers of all ages and sizes, from the junior employed in a small domestic brokerage to the senior manager in a global practice."
Clearly, in a changing environment of mergers and acquisitions and of more demanding clients and partners, the upward-bound broker needs to gather every advantage he can seize. As Adams-Reid argues, having an appropriate qualification or technical training will give a broker an edge in seeking a new job or promotion.
Young employees, particularly those working for personal lines specialists, should consider thoroughly the benefits of enrolling in an NVQ course or signing up to a Modern Apprenticeship scheme.
An additional advantage is that government funding is available to employers, running from £2,500 to £6,000 per trainee depending on the course. Other costs will often be reimbursed by an employer at the end of the course.
Run by the Insurance and Related Financial Services National Training Organisation (IRFSNTO), part of the CII, these schemes are particularly valuable for the broker employed in a small or medium-sized firm.
Executive director Tom Evans says that firms benefit by getting a better quality and more competent employee, while the trainee benefits from gaining a recognised and valuable qualification at virtually no financial cost.
Not everything in the garden is rosy, however, and some brokers may find that they have to battle employers who believe firmly in 'seat-of-the-pants' learning.
This is where the rising broker will need to display persuasion and determination, pointing out the benefits to an employer of having a staff member with a rounded blend of technical knowledge, practical skill, and customer-handling experience.
Where brokers will find difficulties is in trying to gain ready access to the training that is around. Evans reports that there are many more potential scheme participants than IRFSNTO can take on. Williams says that there is a huge unmet demand for all types of courses, particularly the technical training seminars. "Employees and employers are equally keen," says Williams, "but the problem is in sourcing the necessary courses."
Recruitment consultants and advisers say that there is a steady demand for people with relevant experience and good technical skills. They emphasise, however, that there is a significant shortage of suitable people, with many applicants displaying low educational and technical standards.
For a broker to progress, there are five crucial qualities. First, a strong and broad knowledge of insurance and risk management must be displayed, evidenced most effectively by possession of relevant professional qualifications. Next, a sound grasp of administration and management will be needed.
Experience-based specialist and technical know-how is a valuable weapon in the armoury, as is a well-founded familiarity with the needs of personal and commercial lines customers of all sorts.
Underpinning those four attributes is perhaps the most sensible yet elusive quality: good customer relationship skills.
The underlying factor that brokers should not ignore is the increasing trend toward qualification. The IIB has for a long time stuck to its belief that anyone giving insurance advice should be properly qualified or at least engaged in a course of professional training.
Not to be outdone, the General Insurance Standards Council is taking a similar stance.