Paul Sowden says the insurance industry is lacking the attraction of other professions because it doesn't value its professional qualifications
As a graduate on a management training programme I am fully supportive of the CII's efforts to increase the number of talented young individuals entering insurance. I say bring on the competition. Anything that shows students just how interesting and enjoyable a career in insurance can be and the opportunities that are available is a good thing.
However, I've yet to see any evidence that we are addressing the real root of the problem.
We are like a doctor who is only treating the disease instead of also getting the patient to change his lifestyle to prevent becoming ill again. The patient will get better, but the problem that caused the disease remains and can resurface at any time.
Rather than just speaking to a small panel of young professionals who already work in insurance, the CII needs to go out and speak to a wide range of current graduates and students and ask them what they look for in a career. It then needs to sit down, look hard at itself and ask what are we doing wrong, what are other financial service companies in particular doing right and how insurance needs to change.
It will find that the answer is how we value professionalism. Marvin Bower, the grandfather of management consultancy, recognised back in the 1930s that it was essential that management consultants were seen as professionals. Seventy years later it is a lesson insurance has yet to learn.
Various polls of preferred graduate careers or companies tend to be dominated by careers and companies in accountancy, consultancy, banking and law. These are all careers and businesses that you associate with professionals. Is that a coincidence? I don't think so.
In an environment where nearly 50% of students go on to university, graduates with the level of ability I want to attract to insurance, can no longer distinguish themselves from their contemporaries by having a degree. The ability to earn a professional qualification is now a key determinant in career choice.
I consider myself very fortunate to work for a company that values being ACII qualified as highly as I do. And when my election to ACII is confirmed I will proudly use it. But it is nowhere near as well recognised externally as other qualifications and, more importantly, it doesn't really matter if you don't have it. That is what I would change.
I would copy the way that accountancy or the legal professions operate. So, to become an underwriter or broker you have to be ACII qualified, with say three years' experience.
Election to ACII would similarly bring a significant increase in both salary and authority to set the holders apart from those (very necessary people) in the levels below, such as assistant underwriters, who don't need qualifications to do their job.
Second, I would re-examine the ACII curriculum. While a wide range of other professional qualifications would qualify me to go straight in at diploma in management level - as the first step towards an MBA - (including the CIPD, the human resource qualification), the ACII doesn't.
The ACII should be valued, both internally and externally, as high as any other professional qualification and we're fooling ourselves if we think it is already.
I recognise that my proposals would involve a monumental shift in ideas, working practices and culture, but if the UK insurance industry wants to compete in the twenty first century global economy, then it can no longer rely on talented individuals accidentally escaping the grasp of accountants, banks and law firms and landing in its lap.
I recognise that experience is important. But the insurance dinosaurs who would scream "experience, experience" as a rebuke to my proposals must accept that insurance is not the exception to the rule and it is no longer satisfactory that the insurance industry is 20 to 30 years behind other areas of the financial services sector, in almost every way.
If banks can trust 26-year-olds with millions of pounds and 28-year-old consultants can advise companies on their strategies why should insurance be different?
I hope that the CII's 'talent taskforce' will not take the 'this is how we've always done things' approach that is endemic within insurance and which prevents us moving forward.
But instead it should come up with a solution that means we won't be asking in five or 10 years' time why we still can't recruit enough talented individuals into insurance, even if it means consigning traditional practices to the scrapheap. IT
' Paul Sowden, is corporate management trainee in the head office property and casualty teams, Allianz Cornhill Commercial
The views espoused here are Paul Sowden's and should not be taken as the opinions of Allianz Cornhill or anyone else working for Allianz Cornhill