Ask the public how they perceive general insurance and you might get little more than ‘meerkats and opera singers’. What a shame

How do people outside the general insurance industry perceive us? Are we thought of as ‘enemies’, as estate agents have been for decades and investment bankers have been for the past three years? Or do they think of little more than meerkats and opera singers? Perhaps they think of us as people who are happy to take their premiums but reluctant to pay their claims? Although it pains me to admit it, I imagine that far too many of our customers probably think one or more of these things if they are asked about the world of insurance.

Many business owners, chief executives, finance directors and risk managers at larger businesses know the importance of insurance, as they have experienced first hand the things that we can do for their businesses, whether that be in risk management and loss prevention or dealing with claims.

And we like to think of ourselves as an industry and a profession that has a huge amount to offer individuals, families and businesses; as well as making a significant contribution to the wider economy.

I have no doubt that we do all of these things and more. Unlike some parts of the financial services sector, our product is tangible, we create value and, without us, things would literally grind to a halt.

As a profession, we offer many rewarding career opportunities. When I talk to successful people across the sector, most reflect on a career that has offered variety, intellectual challenge and genuine opportunity, regardless of their background, to succeed.

It is also a business in which people, relationships and trust remain at its heart – far more so than in other areas of financial services. It’s equally true that most of these same people, particularly those heading towards retirement, fell into insurance by accident, perhaps unsure of what it meant but thinking it could be a useful stepping stone to better things.

They soon realised that they’d stumbled across an industry full of opportunity. I remember being told by a colleague who retired a few years ago after a successful career, that the reason he joined the industry was that, as an 18-year-old looking for a job, he turned left out of the train station rather than right and walked into an insurance reception rather than a high street bank. The rest, as he said, was history …

The wider world doesn’t seem to understand what we have to offer. We need to create, and believe in, our own industry-wide PR campaign. We have an identity crisis and need to work harder to ensure that the best young people, as well as experienced professionals from other industries, aspire to be a part of it.

The good news is that we will never have a better opportunity than now to raise our profile as a profession that the best young people want to join. I hope that in the future people will be talking about successful careers in insurance, about how they and their peers

have brought fresh thinking and ideas to a profession that still retains all the things that make it good today. They may even admit that they achieved all those things having actively chosen insurance, rather than falling into it by accident.

I’d love to see a graduate intake bragging about their jobs in insurance to their friends in the pub. When that happens, we’ll know that we’re on track. That used to happen in banking. These days, it happens when people get jobs in the digital media industry, to name but one.

If we seize the initiative now, there is no reason why we can’t do the same. IT