Efforts to re-enter the corporate commercial market may spark mayhem – but it could also give a much needed boost to our skills

“I fell into it by accident”. How many times have we or our colleagues said this to describe how we started in insurance – often following it up with: “… but I have enjoyed it and wouldn’t work anywhere else”? Objectively speaking, this is a sad indictment on our profession. Here we have vibrant, dynamic, interesting, challenging and rewarding roles and careers, yet nobody knows about it until they are in there.

Why is it that we have failed to create excitement and knowledge about the great careers on offer in insurance, and why does our esteem and professional image lag other professions?

The reasons are probably deep-rooted and longstanding but nevertheless need to be tackled. Unless we do, we will miss out on the best talent and will hold ourselves back from what we could achieve.

However, I believe the tide is turning. For a number of years, several insurers and the CII have been working to change perceptions and increase knowledge on university campuses among graduates and career advisers.

I recently spent time with the 30-plus graduates we have taken on in Allianz this year. What struck me was that for the first time the majority had pre-selected insurance as their first choice.

Some of this was the result of the tarnished reputation of other sectors in financial services and also the lack of activity among the consultancy houses. However, there was no doubt that the message about variety, breadth and opportunity had been picked up.

This encouraging move demonstrates the progress we are making to drive up professionalism and improve the public trust and confidence in our industry.

Yet despite this encouraging development, many leave university and school with little appreciation of industry and trading. This is a real handicap for building skills and capabilities in some of our core technical insurance areas.

Take underwriting. So many of our young people had no real understanding of work, trade processes, hazards and such like. Most will have never heard of a Cooper, for example, let alone details about what they do and what risks or hazards they present to the individual, the firm and the insurers.

Ours is a knowledge-based environment, and passing on these skills and knowledge to our people as soon as possible is a big challenge.

That is why I almost gasp when I hear of several major insurers entering (or re-entering) the corporate commercial market. Where will they get the skills from? After all, only five to 10 years ago they got rid of all that knowledge and experience. Growing it now, nurturing it and developing it, will take a long time.

No doubt in the short term they will buy in skills from firms that have stayed loyal to the mantra of training and development.

But that alone is not sustainable. Not only will this drive up salaries, it will also drive up premiums (and increase losses). And the only way to grab a share of the market and keep their new teams employed will be to buy in business. This borders on insanity for a would-be profession.

I have no doubt that this challenge will work its way through our business and we will all adapt. That is because, after the initial mayhem, it will lead to a greater concentration on skills and capabilities; more appreciation of the knowledge, expertise and experience of our people; more training and development; more focus on professionalism and thus more great careers for those just joining our profession. IT