James O'Sullivan reveals that long-term career opportunities will continue to be available in the insurance industry despite high-profile job culls
On the face of it the UK insurance industry may no longer appear to be the best option for planning a successful long-term career.
A brief glance at the newspapers reveals a glut of job cuts among the major insurers in recent years, a result of not only the need to please shareholders and cut costs, but also as a delayed consequence of the frenetic merger activity of the late nineties and early part of the current decade.
As if this wasn't bad enough, the advance of technology and availability of cheaper labour overseas has led to a further shift to centres such as India and South Africa, particularly where call centres are concerned.
And the final nail in the coffin was delivered last year with New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer's investigations into contingent commissions, which led to serious job cuts at some of the world's largest brokers.
But all is not lost. For every axed job a new opportunity presents itself.
New insurers and brokers are springing up every week as the market constantly reinvents itself, with supplies of fresh capital seemingly always available even during the softest of cycles.
And the growth of new areas such as alternative risk transfer mechanisms and compliance has led to new career paths now opening up in the insurance sector.
According to one London market recruitment consultant specialising in insurance, regulation and compliance is definitely one area in which jobs will be created in the future.
He points out that the field is constantly being developed and enlarged by legislation, which in itself appears to be a never-ending stream.
"If the government or the European Union moves to create more regulations there will be more jobs," he explains. "Certain people like that kind of job. It's a bean counter mentality."
However, sophisticated career aspirants of the future should realise where the real money and interest lies: "Those who are truly creative find that they want to do other things, including actually running firms.
"Although there is always the need for people like this to head new ventures or come on board to existing insurance businesses, unfortunately we can't find people with the experience that firms want."
Robert Charles, associate director at recruitment consultants Joslin Rowe, agrees that the industry's real need in the future is for creative talent, and, perhaps not surprisingly, for the rainmakers - those who can win new client accounts or spy out the right business opportunities.
"The insurance careers of the future will be in multi-skilled client executive roles, alongside new business development," he comments. "People involved with new business have always been the best paid.
"Any company can get by on existing relationships, but in order to prosper, new business is its lifeblood. So these people are paid on success and are - and will continue to be - the most highly sought after in the industry, though they are actually the ones in shortest supply."
He also points to new career areas. "As corporate firms become larger they start to outgrow insurance organisations. Traditional brokers have noted this increasing trend over the past decade, so instead of becoming brokers to these organisations they act as captive advisers to them."
Job for life
"Consultancy has come around not as a solution to market changes but in addition to them."
Charles also agrees that regulatory-based careers are set to last. "We've seen a big uptake in that part of the market over the past eighteen months, though the rush has now died down.
"But things become more regulated over time than less, so for these people it's a job for life. There's no doubt that as far as insurance jobs of the future go, compliance is here to stay."
As far as the CII is concerned, professionalism is the watchword for the future. A CII spokesman says: "The underlying need to be professional is more important than ever before and excellent career opportunities exist for those who build up a portfolio of technical and business skills."
"This should be backed by an ethical approach. Last year the CII introduced a new Code of Ethics and Conduct to articulate the values that CII members should adhere to.
"It also changed to a modular qualifications framework. One of the many benefits of this is that it now offers a flexible approach, enabling practitioners to focus on areas of relevance to their job roles now and in the future."
But just how good is the industry at marketing itself to the staff of the future?
Christopher Dickman, who looks after broking and business development for the general insurance division of recruitment consultant IPS, agrees that insurance still has some way to go in presenting an attractive image to potential underwriters and brokers of the future, and is set to continue to lag behind other financial service sectors in the near future.
"I've done the job for 20 years and insurance has always been perceived as the poor relation to other areas like banking, and I don't see it ever changing - but it's getting better," he says.
Part of the problem, as far as he is concerned, is that the nature of insurance itself is unattractive.
"Essentially banking is an industry concerned with wealth creation, whereas insurance is about wealth protection, so it's a bit dry in that respect. But those who do work in insurance find the human element a lot more interesting."
Charles agrees that the industry needs to push itself more. "Market and brand awareness are the biggest areas the industry needs to concentrate on. It needs to advertise.
"Just look at Marsh. It is one of the biggest brokers in the world but do you ever see a Marsh advert on the television?
"You simply do not see brand-aware insurance-related adverts other than for personal lines or insurance investment products. The industry needs to invest in public awareness."