The need to have a recognised professional qualification has never been greater, says Muireann Bolger and it will stand you in good stead if you are made redundant

As the prospect of redundancy continues to loom large for many in the insurance industry, recession proofing has become a key focus in the bid for survival. More people have begun to look at ways of proving their value to their firm or brushing up on essential skills that will help them secure another position quickly if they do lose their job.

It appears in the current climate, the adage that “knowledge is power” has never been more apt as employers place pressure on staff to have a full complement of qualifications.

According to the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), up to 6,000 jobs were lost in the industry last year and increasing consolidation means that more companies will continue to reduce staff numbers.

“The number of people who work in insurance continues to fall. It has been declining for a number of years, but now it is declining at a faster rate,” says CII head of membership marketing Martin Reid.

As a result, the few companies that are recruiting can afford to be more picky when it comes to selecting candidates. “I think employers are in a fortunate position because they can choose from a greater pool of talent. They have more opportunities for appointing the best people for the vacancy and they are looking for more qualified and skilled professional people to join their organisation,” says Reid.

While many industry stalwarts have managed to rise up the ranks without even glancing in the direction of a textbook, Sion Howells, divisional director of recruitment agency IPS Group, says the days of making it on instinct and natural intelligence are over.

“If you go back 10 years you could have people going into the industry as a technical underwriter without needing to have the advanced diploma in insurance qualification. Increasingly, that is becoming very difficult,” he says.

And while many might consider such training as a mere box-ticking exercise, the reality is that more employers are demanding that candidates prove their credentials through qualifications.

“There is a definite shift in the market when it comes to the demand for people to be technically qualified and this has been the situation for quite a while. It has been accelerated by the economic situation at the moment,” adds Howells.

Biba’s technical and corporate affairs executive Graeme Trudgill says increased regulation has also intensified the demand for those working in the financial sector to have a recognised qualification. “The CII certificate does count for a lot especially with the FSA demanding that you prove your competence.”

While the overall number of opportunities in the industry continues to fall, Howells says that it is those in junior and middle management along with administration staff that are most at risk of being left by the wayside. Those with good qualifications are more likely to retain their jobs or find another soon after they are made redundant. “There is still demand in areas where there is a need for a real technical speciality,” says Howells. He adds that less valued staff must look at how to develop expertise to increase their worth to their employer. “At junior level if people are prepared to put in some time and effort, it can really make a difference.”

Qualifications in demand

There are many options for aspiring students. The LIoyd’s and London Market Introductory Test provides a good basis for those who want better understanding of the workings of insurance practices across the London market, while the Institute of Risk Management (IRM) offers a certificate in risk management. But for many firms, the benchmark to kick-start and maintain a good career in insurance is the CII’s certificate in insurance.

And as the pool of potential new recruits deepens, the level of expectation continues to be raised when it comes to training. While the CII’s certificate in insurance is not compulsory, Reid points that many companies increasingly require that all employees working in technical insurance have this qualification as a minimum. He adds the trend for higher and more comprehensive qualifications will continue to increase. “The benchmark has been a certificate. But probably there is going to be a drive to increase this to diploma level,” he says.

Meanwhile, putting in the time and effort to achieve the gold standard of an advanced diploma that leads to chartered status can be a major advantage. Reid says the onus on chartered members to constantly update their skills through a programme of continuous professional development (CPD) will buff up a CV.

“It is very important from an employer’s point of view and from the consumer’s point of view that a recruit is not just somebody who learned things many years ago. They are continually adding to their knowledge.”

Furthermore, people can now take advantage of the additional support, careers clinics and seminars offered by the CII in 60 local institutes around the country. This can be a vital tool in updating skills and making valuable contacts. “The opportunities of talking to someone face to face can be very powerful,” says Reid. He adds that if several people in the area work for one insurance company that is making redundancies, this network of contacts can be a vital source of support. “The local network has an increasing role to play especially during this recession. It provides a number of ways of supporting people at grassroots level,” he says.

Moreover, if a person does suffer redundancy, having a good qualification can increase their chance of moving into a different sector of the industry. “Once you have a recognised insurance qualification it will help you to be able to transfer within the industry more easily,” says Reid. Indeed, some broking firms are actively looking to recruit candidates that have come from other sectors. “Many insurers’ staff are being let go and these are often very skilled and experienced individuals. Brokers are looking to recruit these highly experienced ACII staff,” says Trudgill.

Elsewhere, specialist skills such as loss adjusting continue to be in high demand as those charged with dealing with large claims in excess of £100,000 are an ageing species. The average age of a loss adjuster in Cunningham Lindsey is now 46. While this sector has increased the funding available for graduate training, experienced insurance professionals remain very attractive candidates. The Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusting offers a comprehensive route for those who have completed two years’ professional experience of loss adjusting and wish to achieve chartered status.

Furthermore, Cunningham Lindsey learning and development manager Andrew Jeremy adds there are potential openings in other sectors such as investigations, liability, subsidence, and injury and risk management. He points out that participating in a CPD programme and taking on additional training can increase people’s ability to ease into these areas. “We are great believers in demonstrating professionalism through job-related qualifications,” he says.

Skills outside work

Meanwhile, strengthening the CV doesn’t have to mean all work and no play. Getting involved in the local football team or doing some volunteering can also help score extra points during an interview. “Employers will look at what candidates have accomplished out of the work environment. It shows signs of achievement whether that is in a sporting or social context,” says Howells. “It shows that when you start something, you progress and stick with it.”

Learning a language can also give you an advantage if an employer deals with international markets. “If you can speak different languages in the markets with which your broker deals, that will certainly help you,” says Trudgill.

And if you do end up with the dreaded envelope that signals redundancy, Howells says the key to success is to act quickly and effectively by signing up with a good recruitment agency, networking and updating your CV. “You need to start straight away because psychologically the longer you delay it the harder it is,” he says, “Even if you are being knocked back, if you remain positive, you stand a better chance of making progress.”

Industry training courses

The Lloyd’s and London Market Introductory Test is suitable for those needing to improve their understanding of insurance fundamentals and market practice. The CII recommends that you allow for 50 hours study, or four hours a week over three months for the 90-minute test.

The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) offers an international certificate in risk management. The certificate is of value to insurance underwriters, claims handlers, brokers and client managers, loss adjusters and consultants. It is made up of six sections studied over a six-to-nine-month period and the institute recommends that a person allows for 130 hours study for the examination. Certificate holders can progress to the IRM’s diploma in risk management.

The CII’s certificate of insurance is an introductory course that provides grounding in basic insurance principles. The recommended study time is 50 hours for a two-hour exam. After completion of the certificate, students can progress onto the diploma and the advanced diploma, which leads to chartered status.

The CII’s certificate in contract wording develops knowledge of the key subjects underpinning contract certainty. To acquire the certificate, you must study and pass two units from the diploma in insurance – insurance law and commercial insurance contract wording. There are two exams and the recommended study time is 96 hours for both.

The Cass Business School offers an MSc in insurance and risk management; the only postgraduate course endorsed and supported by the CII. The course can be studied on either a full-time or a part-time basis. The full-time course runs for

10 months from October, while the part-time course lasts 22 months. Students are required to hold a good degree from a British university; its comparable from an overseas university or an equivalent professional qualification. Holders of the CII’s advanced diploma in insurance (ACII) can apply to take a fast-track route to completion, which offers exemptions from four of the compulsory nine core courses.