Brendan McManus says the industry should beef up its image among graduates and careers advisers

The insurance industry touches the working and personal lives of the entire population and plays an important economic and social purpose. According to recent calculations by the FSA, there are 35 million consumers in the UK buying 77 million general insurance policies every year. There are 10,000 authorised brokers and net premiums are close to £30bn per annum.

Insurers provide cover for every conceivable eventuality, making sure that people's businesses and lives can get back to normal as soon as possible. We are experts in risk, how to manage it, how to mitigate its effects, and what to do when catastrophe strikes. Insurers are all that. Yet to the outside world we are as interesting as librarians and as trustworthy as second-hand car salesmen.

A recent survey for the CII found that students felt the insurance industry lacked intellectual simulation and had an unsexy image.

The survey also showed that university careers advisers say that general insurance companies do not help them attract interest from students compared to other industries.

The latter could be easily remedied: the industry should be contacting universities and local education career advisers to explain the breadth of the industry, supported by up-to-date convincing literature.

If you are expecting careers adviser to sell the role for you, you have to make sure that you sell it them. Attend open days and local careers fairs, join the 'milk-round', sit down with the careers advisers to ensure that they understand your business and the breadth of it.

The insurance industry needs to think about which educational disciplines would make the best insurance people. For example, maths, engineering, social sciences and MBA students could all provide plentiful talent pools.

The banking industry is known for providing branded educational materials to business studies students and putting the brand firmly in their minds when they start thinking about life after university. In addition, work experience and placement years will get students interested in the industry.

But attracting talent is not just about getting candidates in at student level. There is a real need to attract the best from other industries. The strength of your brand can be a real advantage? How the general public views you, will also influence how potential employees see you. Does your brand have the attributes that make your company and indeed the insurance industry an attractive place to work?

Also the work-life balance is increasingly important, along with performance-linked reward, maternity and paternity benefits, flexible working and most importantly career advancement. There has to be a clear path for candidates to follow, with a commitment to training and development. And in today's greener environment your track-record for being a good corporate citizen is increasingly high on prospective employees' agenda.

I don't think we're quite ready for the Army's 'Be the Best' style campaign, but we have a responsibility to shed the "grey middle aged actuary" image still associated with insurance. We should be aiming much higher, perhaps aspiring to a reputation of superheroes who save the day when disaster strikes. Giving the industry a little more ambition could go a long way. IT

' Brendan McManus is commercial director of Royal & SunAlliance