The ABI’s Future Leaders course, now in its second year, teaches students the dark arts of lobbying and power-broking. Ellen Bennett finds out why the industry needs these skills.

What does Brussels mean to you? If it’s a sprout that starts to appear in the shops as Christmas approaches, you might not be cut out to run an insurance company. Or so says the ABI, which believes the industry’s future leaders need to know their way around the corridors of power in Europe and Whitehall – and has set up a course to teach them just that.

Now entering its second year, the ABI Future Leaders programme is coaching 50 promising students from member insurers in the dark arts of political lobbying and power-broking.

Stephen Haddrill, the association’s director-general and the course founder, believes it is giving something vital to the industry. “So much we do takes place in the public policy context,” he says.

“A lot of insurance is specified in law and there is so much interaction with the government that is necessary for people at the top of those organisations. We’ve got European regulation, national regulation of financial services, and so on.”

The course is organised between the ABI and the human resources departments of its member insurers, and does not cost extra. It is aimed at people who have spent at least five years in the industry and who want to develop their careers.

It started last year when only board member insurers were eligible. But the course was opened up this year to smaller and medium-sized insurers. The number of places was also increased from 30 to 50. At the end of the year, the two sets of alumni will be introduced to each other, creating a networking forum for the industry’s rising stars.

The course takes about five full days in a year. It includes coaching on how lobbying works in Brussels and Whitehall, and courses on important issues such as climate change and regulation.

For Haddrill, the European element of the course is particularly important. “The business community across the UK generally doesn’t have a good grasp of how Brussels works,” he says. “Business leaders find it a bit daunting – possibly even a bit boring – and to take people at this mid-term stage in their careers and give them an insight will bring something to the whole community.”

The ABI works closely with the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), which has a programme to attract talent into the industry. Haddrill hints that the two bodies could look at a similar programme for people just starting out in their career. “The CII does some really great work on skills and we are trying to complement that rather than supplant it,” he says.

“This course delivers a lot of value – and hopefully it doesn’t end there. I hope we can get people started on a journey of exploration of their own.”

Case study 1: Tony Southern, Hiscox

Why did you decide to take part in the Future Leaders course, and what have you got out of it so far?

I saw it as a great opportunity to meet and network with talented people and discuss broad insurance industry challenges beyond my day job at Hiscox. It has also been the chance to have a voice and a level of influence in our industry and the ABI.

How do you think it might benefit your career or help you to do your job, now and in the future?

It is important to look beyond your own business area and organisation, so it is great to learn and get perspectives from others. I am a great believer in the power of shared learning and experience. While some of the participants may be competitors, the issues we discuss are relevant to us all – for example, fraud, flood, defence investment. This has been invaluable.

What has been the highlight?

Meeting other insurance leaders, chief executives and the ABI team.

Do you think enough is done to promote skills and talent within the insurance industry?

It is something employers are addressing. For example, our talent management and development programme at Hiscox has been a great help, but the industry could do more.

I am not sure that we do enough to “sell” our industry to attract the best. That responsibility sits with us all.

What advice would you give to a graduate looking to develop his or her career in insurance?

Get experience across functions – underwriting, sales, operations, IT, finance, claims and marketing. Seek out mentors. They offer great learning, tell you things others do not and can open doors. And, develop your people skills. This is what really counts as your career progresses. Beyond this, look and learn. This is a fascinating place to be. Not many industries face the changes, challenges and opportunities that ours does. Consider developments in the distribution landscape (brokers/banks/direct/aggregators), in risk management (climate change), the competition for brand and customer acquisition (look at the number of insurance ads on television) and, against all this, the huge opportunity for our industry to get closer to its customers.

Tony Southern is sales and marketing director at Hiscox Europe.

Case study 2: Roy Standish, Zurich UK General Insurance

Why did you decide to take part in the Future Leaders course, and what have you got out of it so far?

I was keen to broaden my experience and knowledge beyond my day-to-day responsibility. I also wanted to become more familiar with the work of the ABI and gain a better understanding of the big issues that are so important to the industry, such as the global credit crunch, the growing importance of Europe and the single European insurance market, regulation and compliance, Solvency II, flooding, distribution, consumer confidence and reputation.

To date, I have gained a far better understanding of all these issues, and a lot more. I have built new contacts with a number of the key personnel at the ABI and developed a network of people across the industry; people with whom I would not otherwise have come into contact.

How do you think it might benefit your career or help you to do your job, now and in the future?

It has taught me to consider implications beyond my immediate responsibility and to think more strategically. It has enabled me to do my current job with greater technical skill as well as preparing me for the next step where contact with government, Europe and the media will demand a greater understanding of the big issues as well as the wider political context.

It has complemented my personal development plan and has exposed me to other parts of the industry such as reinsurers, mutuals and life insurance companies. The lively discussion and debate with such a diverse group of talented individuals from a cross-section of the industry encourages creative, broader thinking as does exposure to the variety of different thought-provoking industry speakers.

What has been the highlight?

Our trip to Brussels where we learned about the workings of the European Commission. This included looking at financial legislation emanating from Europe, how it is created and influenced, plus current and future priorities. Other sessions included an insight into life in an MEP’s office, how the interests of the City of London are promoted in Europe, the interaction between the European commission, parliament and council, and a look at stakeholders in the international environment.

Do you think enough is done to promote skills and talent within the insurance industry?

It certainly offers a rich and diverse variety of roles. When I look back at the careers I was considering at the end of my education, I am very pleased that I didn’t go into the banking sector. At Zurich, we have a number of different programmes to attract and retain top talent. Our “Aspire” and “Futures” programmes have received accreditation from the Chartered Insurance Institute and we have a number of talent pools designed to create and develop a pipeline of talent with depth in key populations.

What advice would you give to a graduate looking to develop his or her career in insurance?

Establish any potential future employer’s approach to graduate development, in detail. At Zurich, we launched the global associate programme a couple of years ago, an initiative designed to recruit graduates. Each recruit has the chance to spend time in different parts of the business in different parts of the world. It blends diverse functional, cultural and business exposures to foster broad awareness and engagement. More than 70 graduates joined Zurich at the last intake across 14 different countries.

Roy Standish is City manager at Zurich UK General Insurance.

Benefits for your organisation

• Build contacts with key personnel at ABI
• Enhance your colleagues' key business, personal and organisational skills
• Complement your individual management training/leadership development programme
• Provide another opportunity for them to develop their core competencies
• An opportunity for your staff to attend key ABI conferences and seminars.