Many young people fall into insurance rather than dip their toe in by choice. But the IT Pack that met in London last week agreed: once you’re in, you’re in it for the long stretch.

The IT Pack returned to London last week for its final session. At the glamorous location of Vinopolis on the South Bank – home to the final of TV’s The Apprentice – a group of young brokers from the south east joined Insurance Times and Aviva to talk through the issues of the day.

First up was the perennial question: why isn’t insurance viewed as a positive career choice, when banking, law and consultancy are?

While most of the young brokers around the table said they had fallen into the industry, one had a surprise in store. Kayleigh Backhouse of Ryan Insurance said she had always wanted a career in insurance and started working in the industry at 16.

“People might laugh, but I just wanted a steady job in an office,” she said.

And that’s what she got. After a spell of work experience in insurance, she took a permanent job and said she hadn’t looked back since.

Another route is following in the family footsteps – like Narvan Gill of Gill Insurance.

“I went to university and studied science, but decided it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I had grown up with insurance, I understood it, so I went to work for the family business.” Now, she takes a lead role in the business and has ambitious plans for its future.

But many of the brokers at Vinopolis had fallen into a career in insurance – as have many others in the industry. But once in, they planned to stay for the long term. There was general agreement that it offered a great way of life and most of those at the session were studying for, or had already passed, their CII exams.

While many of the brokers were happy to work for larger firms for the foreseeable future, one had ambitions to start up on his own at some point. “I’d like to work for myself,” he said. “But I think that’s a long way away.”

But as Ila Hewitt of Thompson & Partners pointed out, it can be difficult to find the time and funding to sit professional qualifications when you work for a smaller firm. She was keen to know if other young brokers felt that taking the time to study was worth it – and received an overwhelmingly positive response.

For Ryan Donoghue of LFC Insurance, the ability to train on the job was what attracted him to insurance in the first place. “I didn’t want to go to university – I was looking for a job where I could train while working and, at my interview, they explained about the CII,” he said.

Other brokers agreed, but admitted that after a hard day’s work, they were reluctant to start studying at home. Many employers gave time during the working day, and some had assessors regularly help groups of students.

“If you can get a qualification, you should just go for it,” Backhouse said. “It’s not going to do you any harm, is it? I would definitely recommend it.”

A look to the future

A healthy mix of brokerages were represented, from the big fish, such as Heath Lambert and Aon, to smaller family businesses. But all the brokers agreed there was a future for broking, and many suggested that the recession had prompted customers to re-evaluate the need for independent advice.

Aviva key account manager Kevin Westcott said that as he travelled to the south on business, he saw brokers of all sizes thriving. “There is a future for consolidation,” he said. “But smaller independent brokers will survive too.”

Unsurprisingly, opinions were mixed on whether it was better to work for a big broker. Hewitt loved working in a firm of just three, being able to turn her hand to anything. “You feel an integral part of everything,” she said. “You always know what’s going on.”

But those who worked for bigger firms had positive tales too. “In my place, if I have any trouble or need to get hold of someone sharpish, I tend to get it,” Daniel Quintin of Heath Lambert said. “I might be a small cog, and there are hurdles and challenges involved, but I really enjoy it.”

Aon’s Kazimierz Layton chimed in: “You have to separate the company you work for and the team. You might be part of a huge company but if you’re managed well in your team, you feel part of things.”

For Gill, consolidation was definitely not on the cards. Would she sell up? “Hell no! People have been talking about the death of brokers for years, but broking has always been there and I believe it always will. People still want to talk to a human being and I think that’s what it comes down to.”

Market view

The brokers had all seen clients cut back on their spending due to the recession, but some had felt the impact more than others. For Layton, who specialises in trade credit, there had been a complete reversal of the client-insurer relationship. While clients were ready to accept the need for higher premiums, insurers were reluctant to underwrite any trade credit risks.

“We haven’t got many markets,” he said, “and we have to look really hard to place the business.”

The group of brokers from PYV had had a similar experience in the recent solicitors’ professional indemnity renewal season. “It’s been horrific, honestly,” Bethany Cannon said. “Lots of insurers won’t even look at the business, and some premiums have gone up by as much as 600%. Some of our clients aren’t sure how they’re going to carry on trading.”

Looking to the future, Hewitt believed that in the coming years, the entire industry would be forced to re-examine policy wordings to accommodate climate change. “Look at what’s happened with flooding already,” she said.

Meanwhile, Layton believed that brokers would have to get closer to reinsurers to help manage premiums. IT

How I made it: Kevin Westcott

Kevin Westcott is a key account manager with Aviva.

I began at Aviva in 1994, working for Norwich Union after three-year stints with both Commercial Union and St Paul’s Travelers Insurance.

I gained my experience in many divisions, including personal motor, household, HNW, commercial property and motor underwriting. They provided me with a solid background and a thorough understanding of what makes a huge UK insurance company tick.

In the late 1990s, I stepped away from underwriting and into account management where I really found my feet. Working closely with national and regional brokers opened my eyes to a totally different environment.

I spent a lot of time with some extremely knowledgeable ‘insurance people’, who influenced me enormously, helping me to understand the everyday trials and tribulations that occur within our industry, especially for brokers.

I learned important lessons along the way, including treating everyone the way you would expect to be treated yourself; this industry has an uncanny knack of dealing unexpected cards at the most inappropriate moment.

It is important to take time out to listen, be open-minded enough to change a perception, weigh up the pros and cons of any situation thoroughly and, if you make a commitment, have the forcefulness to see that decision through to delivery.

Relationship management is a fascinating area, as you meet scores of diverse, driven individuals, all looking for the right answer. The secret is knowing which horse to back and ensuring you make every opportunity count.