Will an MBA make you stand out from the insurance crowd? Alison Boyle reports

For more than two years Alison Douglas from Cox Insurance Retail Division gave up every third weekend in the month to attend lectures and dedicated twelve hours a week to study. Her aim was to obtain an MBA and it required tremendous self-discipline, sacrifice and commitment.

But are MBAs worth all the effort? In the insurance industry do they really make you stand out from the crowd?

The primary purpose of a MBA is to provide theoretical and practical training in general or senior functional management. It usually commands a high salary, but does it have the exclusivity it once had?

With over 10,000 graduates completing an MBA in the UK last year and more students enrolling themselves onto courses each year, many recruiters are saying it is becoming harder for MBA graduates to distinguish themselves.

No guarantee
This is far cry from a few years ago when an MBA certificate was a guarantee of a job.

The number of MBA graduates employed three months after qualifying is one of the 20 criteria used by the Financial Times in its annual ranking of the top 100 international full time MBA programmes.

Last year more than 10% of graduates were without a job three months after graduation, double the number of the previous year.

The students who were hardest hit were those who hoped to go into telecommunications, software and management consulting.

Some consultants believe this may be good news for the insurance industry as they can try to recruit the type of students they would not normally attract.

However, when a random selection of companies in the insurance industry were asked about MBAs - including companies such as Churchill, Lloyd's TSB and Legal and General - all said they have no established policy on recruiting people with MBAs.

David Ross, a Norwich Union spokesperson, says: "An MBA is just another qualification on the CV for us and we don't actively seek to recruit people that have them.

"It is not a focused recruitment drive in the sense that we would look to recruit graduates with degrees."

Douglas is a project manager at Cox and winner of last years' Insurance Times Young Achiever of the Year. The reason she completed an MBA was not specifically to do with job prospects, but to make her a more rounded manager.

She says: "This was not about career progress. I wanted to learn skills beyond my day-to-day job."

For other managers who have completed MBAs, the networking aspect has proved invaluable.

AA Insurance Services managing director Andy Briscoe says: "In my opinion the best value that you get from an MBA is what you learn from other students. It also gives you that confidence to implement business decisions you believe are right."

Briscoe was sponsored to complete his MBA. For those insurance employees seeking to undertake this qualification it would be worthwhile talking to employers about a sponsorship package.

The cost of studying can be extremely high, varying from £7,000 to £35,000.

Whether sponsorship is worthwhile for employers though is another question.

The latest survey from the Association of MBAs (AMBA) found 60% of respondents who were employed during their MBA studies remained with their employers for more than a year post-qualification.

However, a third then left and the survey blames employers' failure to use and reward their expertise - where respondents registered high levels of discontent and frustration.

According to the AMBA, very few full-time students receive sponsorship. Those who do tend to fall into a small number of categories:

  • overseas students funded by their respective governments
  • employees of a limited number of international consultancy companies
  • employees of a limited number of blue chip companies, which have a training and development programme for key personnel.

    As most candidates therefore have to carry on working during their course, part-time programmes are becoming very popular. There is also a distance learning option but the AMBA says if you choose to do this you need a good support network and tutor group to support you.

    There are currently just two UK business schools that offer a management specialism in insurance - City University, London and Nottingham University Business School.

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