A more structured approach to recruitment helps brokers get the right staff and satisfy the FSA, says Ian Jerrum

A few years back, brokers around the UK could pick up experienced well-trained staff from local insurance companies. Recently, however, this pool of skills has started to run dry as the major insurers' branch closure programmes have run their course. At the same time, insurers have once again come to appreciate the value of technically experienced staff and are less inclined to dispense with their services.

Meanwhile, the FSA has come up with specific regulations governing training and recruitment issues, and brokers are having to work increasingly hard to recruit and train competent staff.

Under the new regulatory regime, all insurance providers are required to follow a far more detailed and disciplined approach. Brokers must now recruit with reference to a clear understanding of the knowledge and skills required for the specific role.

In many cases, this will be in the form of a clearly defined job description. Some brokers have been doing this for years and are finding implementing an FSA compliant recruitment policy is largely a question of codifying existing practice. Others find themselves on less familiar ground.

Key objectives
Recruitment is in many ways the critical stage in a broker's relationship with a future employee. If you get this right, and set out on a sound footing, everything else should follow on more smoothly.

The key objectives from the employer's point of view are:

  • To identify a candidate with the necessary combination of skills, knowledge, experience and competencies
  • To select the best candidate from among those shortlisted
  • To pick someone who will fit in well with the company and become a valuable and productive long-term member of the team.
  • ob description
    Preparing a detailed and properly considered job description is the essential first step.

    A consideration of how the new role fits in with the firm's strategy should lead to the identification of a job title, aim and objectives - specifying duties and responsibilities.

    This should form the basis of a clear and unambiguous job description, setting out exactly what will be expected of the successful candidate.

    FSA compliance focuses heavily on assessing competence. This requires understanding the specific requirements of each role - a useful way of doing this is to link a list of specific competencies to each job description. It should be possible for brokers to compile their own competency for specific job descriptions - but help is available from professional training and compliance companies if required.

    This new way of working is in stark contrast to the distinctly informal approach taken by many brokers in the past. Where before a firm might simply have been looking for someone with two years' experience and good teamwork skills, now it is necessary to consider the competency level required, the methods by which competence will be assessed, and provisions for training, supervision and further assessments going forward.

    Saving time
    All this emphasis on preparatory work can initially seem like an unwelcome additional burden. But in practice, being clear about what you are looking for saves time and effort in the long term, narrows the field of search to individuals who genuinely fit the role, makes it much easier to conduct structured and effective recruitment, and leaves neither side in any doubt as to the basis on which the successful candidate has been taken on.

    Interviewing, of course, is only one of a range of ways in which candidates can be assessed. Others include:

  • Reviewing qualifications
  • Obtaining references
  • Looking at training records kept by previous employers
  • Formal testing
  • Role-play.
  • Formal testing assessments can be carried out based around modules included in leading insurance training packages such as Tick, which contains a databank of 4,500 questions, or against questions devised in house.

    The precise approach adopted is less important than that the methodology should be clear and consistent. Scenario-based testing or role-play can help to establish how well technical knowledge translates into practical aptitude.

    A combination of techniques is most likely to prove most revealing about the candidate's suitability. Some shine in interviews, where factors such as manners, accent, tone of voice, eye contact, body language, personal appearance, dress and general deportment may prove more influential than in the performance of the role. Others may be good at completing formal testing - but may lack the practical aptitude or interpersonal skills required to carry out a role in practice. Reliance on just one approach lessens the chances of making a sound decision.

    The FSA's emphasis on brokers being able to prove the appropriateness of their competency assessments - not least at the outset of an individual's employment - dictates that brokers should keep detailed records of the selection criteria applied and of candidates' responses and performance. This will help establish the absence of discrimination and satisfy the regulator that compliant procedures have been followed.

    The FSA is non-prescriptive in terms of the precise combination of factors taken into account in the selection process, but the process should be demonstrably consistent and appropriate.

  • Assessment skills

  • One of the most important factors in all this - but one that is often overlooked - is the competency of those within the company responsible for assessing job applicants. Making a proper assessment demands having a sound understanding of:

  • The regulatory requirements
  • The firm's philosophy and approach
  • All aspects of staff assessments and appraisals
  • Good interpersonal skills.
  • The advent of FSA regulation has resulted in some brokers rushing to undertake technical insurance skills training, but continuing to neglect training for the equally important management and supervisory skills which also fall very much within the FSA's ambit. Recruitment is unlikely to prove successful if those responsible within the firm lack the skills to assess candidates objectively and professionally.

    It is important to stress that new recruits do not need to be fully competent to carry out the job for which they are recruited on day one. No one would expect a school leaver to come ready equipped with a full set of skills. But their competence must be assessed and an appropriate level of supervision and a suitable training and development plan put in place.

    Training is a key part of the FSA's T&C regime and often recognised for existing staff. For new staff, a plan focusing on skills gaps identified during the recruitment process is also vital. This is likely to comprise a blend of activity from on-the-job training to workshops, and from e-learning to coaching.

    Thorough and effective selection procedures not only support FSA compliance, but also benefit the broker in terms of:

  • building a stronger team;
  • ensuring the right combination of skills, knowledge, experience and competencies;
  • reducing recruitment, re-selection, training and severance costs;
  • helping to avoid any action by disgruntled and/or dismissed staff;
  • minimising the disruption that even one poorly selected staff member can cause;
  • contributing to overall efficiency of operations.
  • People are any broking firm's most valuable asset. A sound recruitment and training policy is a vital part of maximising the value of this asset. IT

    ' Ian Jerrum is managing director of Searchlight Solutions

    Recruitment quiz
    Q1. Name three assessment techniques for new recruits other than interviewing.

    Q2. What can help to establish how well technical knowledge translates into practical aptitude?

    Q3. Name three factors that may unduly influence an interviewer in face-to-face interviews?