Until recently, broker training was regarded as the domain of broker bodies, such as the British Insurance Brokers' Association (Biba) and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII).
The large insurers offered some product training, but planned formal programmes were not the norm and many brokers complained of being under-informed on insurers' products.
But those who have signed up to the General Insurance Standards Council (GISC) should now be addressing the issue in order to comply with the training and competence guidelines. It has been estimated that the insurance industry as a whole will spend £16m on training initiatives to meet GISC requirements.
Both brokers and insurers that are members must prove that all employees are appropriately trained and can demonstrate competence on an ongoing basis.
The failings of insurers
But Richard Mikula, broker for Topaz Insurance Services, says there is little evidence of this happening, particularly among the larger insurers.
“Some of the big multinationals are more concerned about the direct side as opposed to dealing with brokers, or they stick to their chosen broker partners,” he said.
Another frustrating point is that some insurers cannot directly answer questions on their products, he adds.
“We know insurers' products inside out. But if we ask them questions, they don't know the answers and don't know all the products.”
Some companies, however, such as NIG and broker-only insurer MMA, offer exceptional training for smaller brokers, says Mikula, which helps to build confidence in the products and the team.
MMA has recently started a new training course for commercial property packages, which covers products and also touches on other issues, such as regulation.
Lloyd's motor insurer Highway has campaigned for its brokers to undertake training courses at the CII, and even foots the bill.
Andrew Macpherson, sales and marketing manager for Dickson Manchester, agrees that there is a lack of training on offer from the major composites.
“We have meetings about products, but we are not aware of any formal training,” he says. Instead, the company spends between £50,000 and £100,000 on its own in-house training for its 60 employees.
Training for broker partners
While smaller brokers may miss out on many of the insurers' training programmes, larger brokers that have partnerships with insurers can take advantage of a range of courses.
Many insurers' courses cover generic topics and “soft skills”, rather than just the hard-sell of their products.
Ian Ritchie, of broker Stuart Alexander, believes that brokers need to seek out what insurers have to offer, particularly in light of the GISC's training and competence requirements. “The training is there,” he says. “It's just a question of whether the broker wants to be proactive and seek it out.”
Stuart Alexander employees take advantage of courses from a number of major insurers. Royal & Sunalliance offer tailored courses to suit each broker's requirements, particularly the computer-based training at their resource centre in Croydon.
“If someone else pays, it's good for us,” says Ritchie.
Allianz Cornhill offers annual courses for broker partners as part of an incentive package. Colin James, broker partnership consultant, says the training is open to small and large brokers alike, provided they have agreed to build their book with Allianz Cornhill.
The schemes are very flexible. “Brokers may have one day of training or we also offer more defined IT training,” says James. “This has been hugely popular, as brokers can decide which areas they cover, at what level.”
Past topics for the one-day course include sales, negotiation and motivation skills. This year's course will focus on presentation skills and will be run by a trained actor.
Zurich's personal-lines division runs very different training programmes for brokers. Zurich's representatives visit the broker to discuss products and help with business procurement, backed up with CD-Roms.
“We offer training in the format of giving advice on marketing campaigns and work with brokers on how they can build their businesses locally.”
Intermediaries can also take steps to ensure staff receive training from outside agencies. Biba recently teamed up with management consultancy Impact Plus to provide business strategy training for small to medium-sized brokers.
The aim is to give smaller firms access to business consultancy at affordable rates. Courses take place around the country for a maximum of ten brokers at a time.
The Institute of Insurance Brokers (IIB) is also launching a new training programme, which will be up and running by the autumn.
Some major insurers have expressed an interest in sponsoring the programme.
Andrew Paddick, director general of the IIB, said: “We will offer practical training, as we want brokers to have hands-on experience that leads to professional qualifications.”
There will be two year-long courses with nine modules each, which take a year to complete, one on personal lines and one on commercial lines.
Courses can be done online, with online discussion groups and self-test questions and links to relevant sites, such as that of the CII.
The site is aimed at the 5,000 broking professionals who have signed up for £60-a-year institute-registered status. Subjects will include product training, sales and marketing, customer care and management skills.
While insurers are clearly addressing the needs of brokers to have access to both product training and general skills updates, there is still an element of disappointment – particularly among smaller brokers – that not enough is being done.
It therefore falls to insurance companies to make sure that brokers are aware of the training that is available to them. In doing this, they can not only promote their brand name and products, but can also provide an invaluable service.