Caroline Jordan explains the importance of the newly-launched Broker Academy and how it brings together the industry's key training institutions

When it comes to training, it seems apposite to adapt words from former prime minister Harold Macmillan: "Brokers have never had it so good."

The launch of the CII Broker Academy in February has led to a single port of call for any intermediary wanting to train its employees – whether they have just joined or are seasoned professionals.

The academy is a joint venture between the CII, Biba and insurer AXA. It provides access to CII qualifications, learning and development materials, access to face-to-face training and assessment facilities.

In particular, it has brought together content from AXA's highly regarded Campus system and Biba's broker Assess – which is an award winner in its own right.

Norrie Erwin, business development director for the CII, comments that the fact three key providers are working together is more in tune with the present-day broking market.

"Brokers are busy and under pressure. We are seeing consolidation and they want to have confidence in who is providing their training."

He says that more brokers now see training as a differentiator in the competitive marketplace and that the academy is appropriate for large brokers or the smallest independent.

Erwin says the aim of the academy is to be a 'virtual training partner', providing both individuals and managers responsible for training within a firm with practical assistance and support.

"The online nature of the Broker Academy enables the varied services to be brought together in a coherent and accessible manner. Iimportantly, it delivers training and development nationwide, countering the traditional approach of a London/major city centre approach to the provision of training to the broker market."

He adds: "It allows users to match these services to individual development needs through the Excellence Framework. This framework identifies specific competences – skills, knowledge and abilities – for a broad range of broker job roles and matches against these the corresponding training solutions provided by the CII."

Kirsty Gordon, membership co-ordinator at Biba, likens the academy to a department store. "Brokers can go in and select what they want. There is so much choice. At Biba we are about to provide some 200 new learning modules to be added to the system. There is also a new My Planner facility that enables the creation of a personalised learning plan.

"This offers the ability to self-manage the pace of learning by users through email reminders and e-links in the planner. And, we have set up direct links to the CII's online CPD system, providing users with a single CPD record which can be submitted electronically."

Biba will also be providing some of the face-to-face courses which are available through the academy. Gordon adds: "If a broker books a course, it will know that we are satisfied it is fit for purpose and will be relevant for those working in broking, and that includes soft skills and management training."

She says most Biba members are comfortable with online training although face to face remains useful, particularly in more specialist areas.

Meanwhile, Julian Hall, broker training manager for AXA, comments: "I think the Broker Academy is going to become the industry standard. Whether you want technical learning or soft skills, it can be found in the same place. It will potentially have huge reach with thousands of users. It can be easily updated and there are going to be regular upgrades.

"I would also emphasise that ' ' this is not just about being online – there is a lot of face-to-face training on offer and specialist courses – this is a real step forward."

Indeed, AXA Campus has some 8,000 users, while broker Assess has around 13,000 meaning the academy should be by far the most widely used training and development system in the market.

But, what do the broker users think of the academy?

David Marlow, training and development manager for Footman James, says: "We have been users of Broker Assess for several years and found it extremely useful to maintain and assess competence.

"This recent integration means learning materials have been extended and they have also made navigation simpler for both users and administrators."

He says online learning also fits in neatly with the trend towards taking examinations via the web – the CII now offers its exams up to certificate level online.

Marlow says that old perceptions about brokers being adverse to training are generally wrong. "I joined Footman James after working for insurers Prudential and NFU Mutual. There is a huge appetite for training from broking staff and of our 180 people at least 50 already have the CII certificate."

Marlow is also a member of Biba's Broker Assess user group, which meets regularly to discuss training needs and content available through the academy.

"At the most recent meeting, I said we would find it useful to have a bank of motorcycle questions and these have been provided along with taxis – another area where clients are likely to need advice.

"Feedback from the user group is acted on quickly and this means that we can improve usability, deal with new areas as necessary and ensure content is relevant."

And, Anthony Virtue, team leader at broker Sutton Specialist Risks, says: "You don't just give an employee access to the academy and forget about it. This is an important element of a comprehensive training package that each broker needs to devise for their people. We are wholesalers so we also have particular specialist areas and we need to make sure our staff can also offer other brokers excellent service.

"But, the academy is part and parcel of our training programme and I would say it is good value. It also now offers improved functionality, design and content."

Rob Fry, director and training and competence officer with brokers Foster Leighton, comments: "If you're a provincial broker, sending staff to London to attend courses is expensive.

"This online system allows our staff to train from their desks and have up to date information at their fingertips. It deals with skills gap analysis and helps us identity training needs for each member of staff." IT