Caroline Jordan has studied new training initiatives springing up in the industry and finds the CII facing up to the challenges

Think insurance qualifications, think the CII. And while demand for training grows, to date it seems that the institute has no real challengers.

Instead it is strengthening, as its influence reaches into every sector of the insurance arena.

It is moving swiftly from an exam provider to an overall supplier of insurance training for insurer and broking employees ranging from office junior to managing director.

Although some universities offer insurance-related degrees, these have failed to capture the imagination of many students and graduates, and most insurers usually recruit graduates with a a degree in any discipline.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Financial Services has tried to make inroads into the general insurance sector, with an emphasis on management training, but remains a niche player.

"You could say we have the monopoly, but when you have a charter there can only be one body," comments the CII's marketing director Steve Wellard.

"However, if we weren't providing what people wanted, we wouldn't remain in business".

He adds that in recent years the number of candidates sitting general insurance examinations has grown by 50%, an increase that has been fuelled both by regulation and the CII's restructure of its qualifications, which took place in 2003.

This led to a more streamlined and modular approach, which according to Wellard has hit the mark.

"There is now far more emphasis on offering training. We've had particular growth with our Certificate qualification, which many firms now offer to all new joiners so they can show that staff have achieved a level of competence."

Training demand

FSA regulation has created a huge training demand - with the CII in the ideal position to capitalise. Many brokers that previously paid scant attention to training and qualifications needed quick solutions.

Wellard says the establishment of the Faculty of Broking within the CII helped feed information to brokers. It also launched an online training system with Biba, Broker Assess.

But is this merely the bare bones necessary to keep the regulator happy?

Many more insurers than brokers insist that staff study for CII qualifications, and while insurers will often provide the relevant product training free of charge, some brokers question the relevance of such exams.

Rounded programme

Broker Ian Mantel, principal of Manor Insurance Services, says exams are important, but only as part of a rounded training programme.

"We hear a lot about graduates in India. But while the phones are manned by clever people, they often don't have the skills to communicate efficiently with their clients."

Conversely, Mantel warns over employing school leavers: "Brokers require special skills that are different from other office-based professions."

He says broker training requires a mix of courses, including practical experience and formal examinations, adding: "I am always surprised at brokers that don't encourage their staff to take (CII) exams.

"They offer an unrivalled foundation in the industry and understanding of how it operates. Without this no one has the skill to act on behalf of a client in arranging their insurance needs."

Mantel's firm bypasses the entry level Foundation Insurance Test (FIT) commonly taken by trainees and used in many call centres to ensure a minimum knowledge of insurance.

"It is just too easy so we skip it and move straight onto the Certificate, which gives a good grounding. But I would prefer short answers as a format to multiple choice. As it stands there is a big leap to the next qualification, the Diploma."

Positive feedback

Wellard's response to those who say the CII has 'dumbed down' with the launch of FIT and the Certificate is that the widespread take-up and positive feedback prove these qualifications are meeting needs.

"The Certificate requires around 40 hours of study - it's not a pushover. It would suit someone who may be undertaking other training within a business.

"Multiple choice remains popular with candidates and employers and more advanced examinations do allow for essay style answers." He adds that multiple choice lends itself well to online exams, which are now available at 2,000 CII UK and overseas centres following an agreement signed with City & Guilds last year.

"We can offer exams on demand, with results available instantly. Existing CII corporate customers without their own centre who would like one will be able to establish an exam centre at their own premises."

The CII scored another coup when it took over responsibility for the administration of the Lloyd's Introductory Test and Lloyd's training courses.

It has also been appointed to help further develop the Lloyd's training and development centre.

It is understood that the CII's decision to launch a London Market Faculty was a key issue in its favour during the selection process. A further advantage was its existing link with London's Cass Business School, allowing it to offer executive development and an insurance-focused MBA.

Training and qualifications are a high priority at Lloyd's, with a major initiative to boost take-up being spearheaded by Wellington's David Gittings, who is head of the London Market Association's professional standards committee.

Gittings says the percentage of Lloyd's insurance staff with CII qualifications ranges from as little as 10% for some small managing agents to 90% for those more committed to qualifications. "It shows that there is work to be done."

Range of skills

But he emphasises while the CII has an important role to play, there are other training options. "We want to work with a spread of providers and are also working with the Institute of Risk Management and the Institute of Financial Services. A global market needs a range of skills and people."

In recent years universities have become more involved with the industry.

The CII's collaboration with Cass Business School to provide an MSc in insurance and risk management is available to holders of the CII's Advanced Diploma, who are offered a fast-track route to completion.

The MSc is also open to new industry entrants, typically those holding a good first degree.

According to CII director general Sandy Scott: "This initiative will play a vital role in the development of the leaders of tomorrow.

"It completes the CII qualification framework by allowing managers and executives to top up their ACII with a flexible post-graduate qualification that matches their career development."

Last year Scott hit out at the industry for not doing enough to promote training and qualifications, saying research showed "almost 90% of students said they would never consider insurance as a career and that if the industry's reputation remained unchanged, then the recruitment situation would not improve."

Adding value

But it appears things are changing - and for the better. The trend for switched on companies is to offer technical training and qualifications while also ensuring management skills are in place. This is where universities can particularly add value.

Richard Hughes, sales strategy director for international trade and logistics at Willis, took a BA in banking, insurance and finance four years ago at Sheffield Hallam University: "I was working as a claims manager and as a result of the degree I changed the shape of my career," he says.

Hughes was an FCII by the age of 35 but wanted to gain a broader understanding of business. He completed the degree while working full-time through distance learning, but also attended some tutorials at Sheffield.

He concludes: "I met people from small brokers and large firms. It was also useful to meet those from the banking industry on the course. The industry is changing and training needs to adapt accordingly."

And, bearing this in mind, Wellard says the CII is to launch a "job role and competency framework" within the next few months promising to address "business and soft skills in addition to the technical skills needed to work in the industry."

Just going to show that the CII continues to have the future education of the industry well within its clutches.