When it comes to getting your first job in insurance, are the experiences of today's young recruits any different from those of the old hands? Christine Seib talks to six people in the industry to find out how they made their first break.
Ask anyone in insurance how they got into the industry and the answer will always be "I fell into it". So does that mean that no one dreams of being an insurance worker when they are staring out of the classrom windows during lessons? Maybe not. Yet when Insurance Times talked to three young people who got into insurance by unusual means, it found that while they may have fallen into insurance, they now know exactly where they are going.
The insurance PA/PR
Cassie Bellman is an executive PA, public relations and client liaison officer, project manager and all-round fixer at Effective Image. The insurance-specialist presentation and new media consultancy, founded by former Lloyd's broker Simon Hayes, opened its second office in Lloyd's Avenue last month. Bellman, who is 22, finished her degree in business studies at Manchester University last year. She won her job through knowing what she wanted and going after it.
"I worked during my university placement year at Lex Vehicle Leasing, and they asked me to come back in a project management capacity after I graduated. After six or eight months there, I wanted a new challenge, something bigger and better. I heard about Simon through a mutual friend, and that Effective Image was about to expand. I phoned Simon and he invited me for an interview. I started in January," Bellman says.
She says it is it her proven track record in project management for Lex and her positive, can-do attitude that make her right for her job.
"My attitude and my belief in myself and my abilities allowed me the opportunity to develop myself and the company. Certainly, you've got to have great communication skills, tenacity, confidence and flexibility in terms of time and what you're prepared to have a go at," she says.
Bellman says she cannot imagine herself in another job at the moment.
"I'm very lucky to be part of such a developing company and there's a lot of synergy between myself and Effective Image. We've both got very big plans and very big ideas for the future, so hopefully we'll go hand in hand. I love it that no day is the same."
James McCrone is a client manager at Aon Artscope, based in Devonshire Square. The 23-year-old started work at Aon's high net worth arm in Farnborough and Caterham, but moved to London a month ago to handle commercial clients such as art and antique dealers. McCrone completed a business degree at City University, but got his break through his work at a City drinking haunt.
"All the time I was at university, I worked at a wine bar near Tower Hill. I met a chap having a drink there called Mike Eve, who was chief executive of Aon Risk Services. We got chatting and he told me to come in and see what they did. He arranged a couple of interviews because he thought I'd be best suited to the private, high net worth clients," says James.
The Farnborough and Caterham offices were merged to Woking and McCrone spent his time learning about fine art and prestige household and motor business.
"I worked with Linda Collis, who had a very large book of fine art business. She went on maternity leave and I looked after the account for seven or eight months. That's where the learning curve was very steep," he says.
McCrone was approached by a head-hunter but realised they could not offer him the same opportunities that existed within Aon, particularly as he was moved to London soon after. Aon bought fine art broker Needham Jobson late last year and McCrone is now working on accounts acquired. He says it was the service he offered at the wine bar that convinced Eve he was right for the job.
"We had to give a very high level of service, be very efficient for very demanding clients, because they were paying a lot for their drinks. But the harder you worked, the more they tipped, so I think he noticed I knew what clients wanted. In high net worth, you need to be able to understand the client. They'll be at the top of their profession, so they'll be used to very good service from their banks, their accountants, or their doctors, and we need to give that to them as well. Of course, you also need the products to back the services, which our insurance partners can provide."
McCrone is enjoying his job, as well as being busy studying for the ACII, but he would eventually like to take advantage of the extra training and foreign postings offered by Aon.
Steven Tebbutt is an assistant cargo underwriter with XL Brockbank. He spends most of his day on the Lloyd's box with cargo class underwriter Guy Landymore, but catches up on paperwork in the morning and afternoon at XL's St Mary Axe offices. The 23-year-old, whose father is a broker, was temping at RFIB Brokers after finishing his A Levels when he put his CV in the Superinten-dent's Room at Lloyd's in the hope it would lead to a permanent job.
"I'd done work experience with my dad's friends during summer holidays so I knew it was fun. I was using the temping job at Lloyd's as a platform to get a full-time job and I had approached a number of agencies and used word of mouth. I had a couple of offers but I took a job at JL Jones as a cargo underwriter's assistant because I wanted to be on the box, not in an office. I did photocopying, noting, all the normal stuff people do when they start here. The lady I was working for pushed me forward and gave me underwriting authority, which meant I was doing more than other people my age were doing," he says.
When his boss moved to Hiscox, Tebbutt started seeking a new position and, by using contacts within Lloyd's, soon moved to XL Brockbank.
"Brockbank was looking; a number of names got thrown up by brokers, they called me and I took the job," he says.
Tebbutt says underwriters need to be friendly but tough to get along in the hothouse atmosphere at Lloyd's.
"The key is a strong personality, being able to say no in a friendly way and getting along with people. You've got to be approachable because no one will come and see you if they don't like you. You also have to have a good head for numbers and be able to see the difference between a good and bad risk from sometimes very little information.," he says.
Tebbutt is currently enjoying working on the box but would eventually like to learn management skills.
"I'd like to go through the steps of becoming a deputy, then a class underwriter then go into management," he says.
The PR officer
Sharon Curd is a public relations officer with Allianz Cornhill. She started at Norwich Union and became a fleet and liability underwriter at Zurich. She stopped work twice to have her children and returned to insurance both times. Curd always had creative flair and met Cornhill's public relations head while working at Cornhill as an inspector. Six months later a job came up in his department, where she now is a favourite with both the trade and national press.
"I was working for a photo processing company during my college holidays in Brighton, but my dad said I had to get a proper job so I went to see a careers consultant. They showed me vacancies at Norwich Union, Sun Alliance and Guardian and I chose Norwich Union because it paid the most at £2,300 a year. That was in 1979."
Richard Sheikh is the managing director of Camberford Law. He started in underwriting and got his Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) fellowship within four years. However, Sheikh realised that he liked meeting people and was better suited to broking. He started at Camberford in 1979 and worked his way to the top. He is still devoted to training as a method of getting the best from his employees and progressing his business.
"My father wanted me to be a doctor and I got a place at medical school but decided against it because I'm squeamish, I don't like the sight of blood. My father was very disappointed because my brothers were studying to be a barrister and an accountant. A friend was working at Sun Alliance, I went to an interview and they took me on as a trainee because they were very keen on people studying for exams. They gave me an afternoon off each week to study."
Reg Brown is a former president of the Chartered Insurance Institute. He was the underwriter at his own Lloyd's syndicate RE Brown & Others and later became managing director of Markel Syndicate Management. Brown is still regularly seen at Lloyd's lectures and is one of the most recognisable figures in the industry.
"When I left school in 1959 it wasn't a question of "can I get a job?", it was a question of "what job do you want?". I thought about accountancy but more studying and exams put me off. The next thing I could think about from my commerce lessons was insurance. We had a mnemonic BICETAT where B equalled banking, I equalled insurance, C capital, T transport etc. I didn't like the sound of banking, rather dull, so I said "how about insurance?". I knew little about it and no one told me about any exams or studying. The youth employment officer knew of a company that was recruiting and fixed me up with an interview with Reliance Fire & Accident Insurance Corporation in Cannon Street. I passed the interview and the rest is history. Ironically, I spent the next 13 years studying and taking exams. The office I started work in is still there, but it is now a sandwich bar. They probably earn more bread than we ever did!"