Allianz Cornhill's underwriting academy uses online learning alongside paper-based and classroom teaching, says HR manager Edward Hussey

1. How do you ensure that you recruit and retain the best staff?
You need to build an excellent `employer brand' and a recruitment strategy that attracts the right people to the organisation. Then you must continue to be seen as the employer of choice by your employees in order to keep them. This is only achieved by all of your HR policies working together to reinforce a modern, dynamic and professional culture that people find attractive.

At Allianz Cornhill we are creating that culture through clearly setting out our mission and objectives and ensuring our values are reflected in our actions.

Sophistication in your "routes to market" are increasingly important, that is having an effective advertising brand, productive relationships with third party suppliers and having the right internet presence. Having opportunities and work arrangements that appeal to a wide cross section of the population increases your chances of finding the best people. Finally, assessment methods that are thorough and fair are essential.

2. Some say pay is a bigger issue than image in the insurance industry. What is your view?
If image is defined in broad terms to incorporate areas such as challenging careers and personal development opportunities, working environment, business practices, modern facilities and work-life balance, then it is certainly key in attracting and retaining quality individuals to the industry.

Similarly, while progress has been made in compensation in recent years (partly as a necessity in a tightening labour market) we need to focus closely on ensuring competitiveness and being smarter in the value we get from our compensation and benefit spend.

As the gap narrows between industries in the traditional areas, such as compensation and image, we need to look more closely at being flexible in employment relationships to help to differentiate us .

3. What do you think will have the biggest impact on training and development in the coming months?
It is difficult to see what will arise specifically in the coming months that will be significantly different to the ongoing drive for improved skill and business delivery that should underpin all training and development effort.

The developments in the regulatory environment have obvious implications for training and development, but changes are in place and the next stage will be ongoing review and action for improvements. The ability to respond to the many and various business challenges needs ongoing review and upgrading of core skills alongside business leadership capability. At Allianz Cornhill we have already invested in our underwriting academy and leadership development programmes to meet these challenges.

4.What place will online learning have in the future of industry training?
The potential role of online learning in the industry can be very high - from stand-alone PC study stations through to fully integrated e-learning and HR systems. It can improve access to learning for all areas of an organisation. But fully integrated and tailored online learning comes at a premium. That means organisations have to be clear about the value it will add and how to deliver its benefits.

Allianz Cornhill is delivering business benefit through the underwriting academy where online learning is used in conjunction with paper-based and classroom learning, which in turn is integrated into job competency models. From the industry perspective all the core competencies of underwriting, claims, customer service, marketing, sales management and financial analysis can be supported, in part, through online learning. In addition, professional bodies can and do provide interactive learning tools such as CII, which is used at Allianz Cornhill.

5. Do you think the industry discriminates on the basis of age?
If some of the vacancy advertisements I see are correct, then age is possibly an issue. While they may not specify an age, the adjectives used and skills asked for sometimes imply they are not interested in older workers. That can be very shortsighted. Organisations should have a balance of types; skills and experience that reflect their marketplace, their focus and image. Older people may be better suited to certain roles and environments and often tend to be more stable. That is particularly relevant when recruitment can cost thousands of pounds per head and there is the potential for high turnover.

The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) recognises that online learning is the future of training, says CII President Lillian Boyle

1. Do you think employers in the industry push qualifications and learning enough?
Regulation has increased the need for organisations to demonstrate that their staff have attained, and continue to maintain, levels of knowledge and competency appropriate to the job that they do. Examination success is still universally accepted as the best way to show that an individual has acquired, and can apply levels of knowledge and is a regulatory requirement for financial advisers.

Although some employers in the general insurance sector have embraced this concept, it is clear that there is still a long way to go before everyone has at least a benchmark qualification.

2. The industry has long suffered an image problem, what is the CII doing to address this problem?
The CII has embarked on a programme to ensure it provides qualifications, learning options and membership benefits that are relevant to the needs of the industry. We are already beginning to see the success of this, with companies entering into a corporate arrangement to commit large numbers of employees to relevant CII qualifications.

For example, all 3,500 Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) field sales staff will take the CII's Mortgage Advice Qualification this year. CII initiatives like this send a clear message that the industry is working to ensure practitioners are professionally qualified. This can only enhance the reputation of the sector.

3. What do you think will have the biggest impact on training and development in the next months?
While regulation is driving training at the benchmark level, technical and managerial levels need focus. The merger and acquisition activity of the 1990s has denuded the industry of the skills and experience of underwriters in particular. This has been recognised by organisations like Allianz Cornhill and Royal & SunAlliance, who have both established underwriting academies.

The impact from terrorism, natural disasters and, in the UK, the continuing problem of flooding mean this is an aspect the industry cannot afford to get wrong.

4. What place will online learning have in the future of industry training?
It is quite clear that online learning is the future for training. The CII has recognised this with the launch this year of , our new online learning facility.

This combines the technical content of the traditional CII coursebooks with interactive tutorials, revision facilities and assessments and is underpinned by a learning management system to allow individuals to track their development. But, equally important, online learning allows qualified practitioners to maintain competence. A dedicated `ed.' compliance and competency system is being introduced in April.

For employers `ed.' can be run as part of an intranet operation and management tools allow training managers to track and record individual usage. And it is available 24/7 so that the individual can use the system at a time and place that suits them.

5. What do you think the future holds for the CII, in light of FSA regulation in 2004?
The CII has a good future. The high standards of our qualifications are already recognised on the international stage. In the UK we have an excellent track record of working with the regulators to provide solutions for knowledge and competency needs. It is no accident that over 90% of financial advisers have chosen the CII's Financial Planning Certificate to demonstrate regulatory compliance.

But we cannot rest on our laurels. We recognise that the future goes beyond qualifications in isolation. It will be, at the very least, "about maintaining competence" - to quote the FSA. To this end we are looking at solutions to support life long learning and development, reviewing our approach to continuing professional development and providing accessible and alternative methods of learning and delivery, such as `ed'.

In short, the CII recognises it must be relevant to the needs of the member, employer, employee and the regulator, but it is in an ideal position in the current environment as the industry's professional body to lead the way.