If the word insurance conjures up images of old men in dark suits and mind-numbing conversations, be prepared for a surprise. Meet the bright young sparks of the industry – the Under 35's Reinsurance Group (U35s). With their five-a-side football tournaments, worldwide trips and educational seminars, they are setting out to prove that working in the London Market can be fun.
“Contrary to what everyone believes, insurance is not boring,” says Crawford Henderson, 32, a divisional director of reinsurance at Willis and education officer and secretary of the U35s.
“The insurance industry is full of charismatic individuals and the London Market provides the perfect environment for people across the disciplines to get together and enjoy themselves.”
The U35s was formed in 1972, aiming to promote interest and knowledge in reinsurance while creating a forum for topical comment, education and social interaction between members.
Despite its title, the organisation is not a club exclusively for the younger generation. Although committee members and those going on the annual trip have to be under 35, anyone can attend the parties, lectures and meetings. There's no membership subscription or entrance fee and the group is a non-profitmaking organisation.
“The idea is to get everyone in the market talking together,” explains Henderson. “It's important for people to get to know each other in this face-to-face industry.”
Patrick Hartigan, director of non-marine reinsurance at Aon, also regards the organisation as “a stepping stone”.
“It's a great medium,” explains the 32-year-old, who is social officer of the group. “Most of the U35s are career-minded and it's very good for promotional reasons.”
The list of present and former participants is impressive. Earlier this year, more than 200 people attended four hours of talks at Lloyd's about the implementation of the London Market Principles (LMP2001). Speakers included DP Mann chief executive officer Nigel Barton and Aon Re International chairman Ross McKenzie. Deputy chairman of Aon and former chairman of Lloyd's Max Taylor has also volunteered to talk to the group.
Penny Reece, 31, Latin American and Caribbean reinsurance broker at Benfield Greig and former media officer of the U35s, says: “The idea is that older members impart their know-ledge to the younger people.”
Let's talk about it
Previous talks and discussions have focused on the value of being a Lloyd's syndicate, Lloyd's broker accreditation, natural hazards, the current state of the market and the hardening of rates.
“There's no point of having a forum just for the sake of it,” says Henderson. “But if there's something that needs talking about or an issue that the younger market needs to know about, then we will cover it.”
Seminars account for a large part of the group's activities and every year there are two courses teaching roughly 20 people the basic principles of either underwriting or business planning.
In November, the U35s hold a “balloon debate”, where an issue is argued from three different points of view before being voted on by the audience. Last year, 150 people attended a heated discussion on the ideal size of a corporation.
Getting out of the office is also important to the association. Day trips to “large risks” spots have led to visits to the Thames Flood Barrier and Eurotunnel. There is also an annual tour of the law courts.
The U35s is now working closely with University College London and plans to set up a two-year diploma to count towards Association of Chartered Insurance Institute (ACII) accreditation.
But at the same time, the group is keen to prove it's not just about learning.
“The aims of the U35s are not set in stone, as different people have different priorities,” explains Henderson. “The social side is just as important and I've made some good friends in the insurance market through the club.”
Each year there are two parties – a summer after-work get-together and a Christmas evening party. In March, 30 of the U35s attended a wine tasting event in the City, which Reece says was “organised for networking”.
Last year there was a golf day in Surrey and at the end of summer the Nursery Cup takes place. Brokers and underwriters battle against each other in a five-a-side football match with a “light-hearted” programme being sold for charity.
But is the U35s really a singles club in disguise? In the past, there's been the occasional romance and even a wedding. But the organisers are keen to ditch the idea that it's a dating agency.
Henderson admits that meeting a future partner or spouse through the U35s may be “a possible by-product of young professionals meeting like-minded individuals” during a social event. Yet he is keen to add the group's focus is on education, education, education – and a bit of fun.
The highlight of the year is the May trip. This year, companies paid £3,500 for their staff to spend two weeks travelling to Spain, Switzerland, Germany and France. The 31 youngsters attended conferences and visited a number of firms, including Munich Re and Swiss Re.
“It was really hard work but very productive,” enthuses Reece. “It was fantastic to get to know some of the people I deal with on a day-to-day basis and see some of the reinsurance markets which ordinarily I would only communicate with via the telephone.”
Out and about
Previous trips have included visits to Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore and Canada and next year the group may venture to Latin America.
“We are an educational society and we have to promote that,” says Hartigan. “But we are very interactive and fairly outgoing.”
In the next couple of months, the U35s plan to launch a website to publish a report of the trip, photographs, the names of the committee and information on future parties and events.
At the moment, 700 fliers are sent by post to the younger reinsurance market, informing them of forthcoming activities.
“We're still on paper and not yet on email, as it's quite hard to keep track of where everyone is,” explains Henderson. “People move around a lot but, at the end of the day, we still feel like a group.”