Colin Lloyd talks to Richard Senior about how the industry helped his professional development
' Ever since the FSA seized control of broking activity, brokers have had to adapt, educate others and re-educate themselves in order to satisfy compliance specifications.
The industry now has a different look and feel to how it was just a decade ago. One noticeable effect of regulation is the plethora of experienced brokers who have pledged a lifetime of service to the market and now face yet another challenge - compliance.
For others, regulation may make early retirement appealing, or indeed the idea for acquisition particularly among smaller provincials. Whatever the bottom line outcome of regulation is, continuing the professional development of brokers is paramount.
Colin Lloyd speaks to Richard Senior, operations director at Folgate's SMg Risk Solutions, to find out how the broking market has accommodated his personal and professional development needs and to discuss the future for development strategies.
Colin Lloyd: How did you get into insurance?
Richard Senior: I was educated privately and had a strong academic background and believed that I would leave school, go into banking and become a bank manager.
Around the time of graduating from school I spoke to a family friend about my proposed career in banking. He replied: "Banking? No no, it's too confined with a small hierarchy and you'll reach a glass ceiling too early in your career, you want to get into broking."
He went on to explain the intricacies of the market, the excitement of competing over very tight margins and percentage changes, retirement at 40 and substantial bonuses. He really sold me the idea. He also advised me to write to all the brokers.
I sent my CV to every broker in my area and eventually got a job with a national broker. Just a few months later when the stock market crashed I watched traders shouting, swearing and competing over really small percentages and tight margins on the TV news, and only then realised the family friend had actually meant stockbroking.
Lloyd: What training did you receive in your first role as a broker?
Senior: Back then, insurers developed strategic educational programmes for each new entrant. Broking houses failed to match any such programmes due most likely to size and cost. National brokers obviously had more money to spend, which reflected in the level of training and development offered.
On my first day I had an issue with my superior, who continually handed me filing and paper sorting tasks. I understood I was at the very bottom of a long ladder, but I was frustrated with not being given a chance to work on more exciting projects. It was at this point my employers realised that a training programme was needed and I was promptly moved to the personal lines department where I stayed for two years.
The advantage of working for such a large enterprise meant my training was aligned with the CII exams. Almost immediately I was granted day release to attend college to study for a CII qualification.
At the time, other students from one particular insurance firm were doing the same. In fact, their study time formed part of a six to eight week induction programme before they were able to work full-time.
I could see the benefits of such a structured approach to learning, but I preferred the vocational training the broking market provided.
I experienced independence earlier in my career than my insurance counterparts and felt as though I had a greater understanding and skill for fostering client relationships.
Lloyd: Have business operations changed since you first entered the market, with particular reference to the FSA?
Senior: Essentially no. I have witnessed various market trends come and go, the obvious change as you mention being the FSA. The industry has become sharper and there are operational procedures that you now have to comply with.
Really the extent of market changes depends upon how an individual's personal and professional development has evolved.
If you are always re-educating and learning more about the complexities of the market then you evolve in line with market trends.
It's when the market grows quicker than you that people start to fall behind and encompass difficulties.
The most noticeable difference between the way business is conducted now and the approach taken in the early stages of my career was the concept of on-the-job training.
In the past, weight was placed on social interaction and this is an area lacking in training and development within the industry now. The exposure a broker has in front of a client has reduced dramatically over the years. Customer contact has always been an area of interest for me and often led to new business.
The fundamental problem for insurance, which has not changed over the years, is you are selling a product nobody wants to buy. The only time clients get any value out of the product we sell is when something unpleasant happens. Therefore it is important to me that the client receives professional advice based on the integrity the situation deserves.
There is no doubt that the professionalism of the industry has improved, which is the irony of the FSA. It has been brought in to protect the consumer, but in reality it has confused matters by complicating the process.
A further change is the interaction between broker and insurer. Not too long ago it would be common to see the two entities chatting over a pint of beer as a networking exercise. Unfortunately, those relationships are dwindling in today's market, although the business process is becoming slicker and faster.
The real start to my professional career began when I joined a regional broker as an account handler and left as an associate director. It was then that I really appreciated the on-site training I had received that provided me with a platform to build upon.
What really worked for me in this instance was my technical knowledge. Because I went from a national to a regional broker my knowledge base was greater than everyone else. I learnt here that you do not have to know a lot more than everyone else does to look brilliant.
Lloyd: How have you pushed for professional development?
Senior: I have always been ambitious and looked at where my future lies and what my next role or position at a company would be. You have to want progress to get a company to invest in you. I have moved around on average every four years. I feel this is long enough to have progressed to a decent level.
If you haven't progressed you must ask yourself why and move on. I am now in a position where the next stage of my career is to achieve an MBA. This qualification embodies my professional development. The accreditation will be carried out via Folgate's management academy, which is a key selling point for the business.
I am in no doubt that within five years the professional development of employees will be a significant marketing tool used by super provincials to attract candidates.
From a retention perspective a well-trained and educated workforce implies a better service to the customer. But it is an added burden to employers to retain a quality workforce. Benefits and educational strategies will ultimately contribute to business objectives as a priority.
The future for professional development is in the hands of each broker and insurer, however under the watchful eye of the FSA I am confident that the end result will be a better level of service for the customer.
' Colin Lloyd is head of operations at Reed Insurance