Helen Groom grilled six young brokers about careers, their perception of Biba and the industry as a whole

One of the problems the insurance industry has regularly faced when recruiting is its lack of glamour in comparison to other financial professions such as investment banking.

Is the reputation of the "grey men" of insurance an accurate reflection of the industry? And is Biba doing enough to sell insurance as a career to both school leavers and graduates?

Read on for some industry views ...

Name: Alan Pratten

Title: managing director

Heath Lambert major accounts group

Age: 36

Pratten's insurance career began in 1985 when he left school aged 16. Having progressed within the industry, he now manages 130 people and deals with issues such as mergers and acquisitions, and directs Heath Lambert's large commercial client teams.

Pratten says he was fascinated by the Lloyd's market when he first joined the industry - "the range of jobs within the market seemed massive" - and that he still enjoys working in insurance.

However, he doesn't think the industry does enough to encourage young people into the market. Pratten has visited schools himself to tell students about the insurance industry and has recruited new staff members in the process.

But he says: "They didn't know what jobs were available. We need to get out there and make sure people understand the opportunities within insurance.

"The various insurance associations need to talk to the careers services and make sure young people understand the depth and breadth of jobs within the industry."

However, Pratten says Biba is performing well within the market. "It is always interesting and the issues it puts forward are always debated within the industry."

Pratten agrees with the changes that he has seen within the industry, particularly compliance. "The changes that the FSA has brought in are good in terms of client advice, and will help us be recognised as a professional group of people.

"We need to communicate the changes to our clients so that they recognise that there is increased professionalism and they will have to pay a higher fee accordingly."

Name: Chris Greaves

Title: agency manager

Country Mutual Insurance Brokers

Age: 33

Greaves also joined the industry straight from school. He thinks young people see insurance as a stable and "respectable" field, and often fall into it before recognising opportunities to progress later on.

He says, however, that insurance has attracted more graduates in recent years. "More and more people are choosing to come into insurance, rather than falling into it, meaning the industry must have done something to make itself more attractive."

Greaves thinks more progress within the broker community is vital. "The firms that are going to do really well in the future will be those who can attract and retain graduates."

Greaves also says that the industry has failed in the area of technology, specifically connectivity. "The insurers and brokers who crack proper connectivity first will steal a march on the competition."

Greaves has positive views on Biba's role. "Biba is doing as much as it can, but I would like to see it working much more closely with other organisations, such as Cila and the CII.

"Biba has recognised younger people within the industry as a separate dynamic."

Name: Jayne Sedgwick

Title: insurance technician

Marrs Insurance Brokers

Age: 33

Although Sedgwick has worked in the insurance industry for 12 years, she has had no dealings with Biba.

"I don't really know what Biba does for individuals in the broker market," she says.

Sedgwick came into the insurance industry by chance. "It was just a job when I started and I had no thoughts about moving up in the industry, but I find it interesting and will definitely stay in insurance."

The main problem facing the industry, according to Sedgwick, is public perception. Not surprisingly, she thinks Biba and the ABI could do more.

"People don't understand what the industry is all about. At the moment people think it's all a bit of a con, but one of the trade bodies could take this on and explain it to clients better."

Sedgwick also thinks technology could be improved. "A system that could improve efficiency within broker firms, including immediate policy documentation and back-office audit trails, would be an excellent move".

Sedgwick doesn't think there are enough young people in insurance. "Young people tend to move between brokers and insurers.

"I don't suppose they find it enough of a challenge."

Name: Karen Beatty

Title: account executive

Stuart Alexander

Age: 33

Karen Beatty runs Stuart Alexander's wholesale property managing agency network, having joined the company roughly a year ago from AXA.

She has worked in the insurance industry for 15 years, having joined straight from school. She sees her future in insurance.

Luckily for Beatty she is one of the fortunate people who say they love their job.

She says the opportunity to join a blue chip company (AXA) after leaving school attracted her to the industry.

"The fact that that I could progress in the company without having a degree, and could move up in the industry was a huge attraction."

Beatty says she sees a lot of other young people working within insurance, but thinks that Lloyd's tends to be more staid than either the company or broker markets.

And when it comes to regulation, she believes there is a real divide between the generations. "Older people in the industry think there's too much red tape. But younger people see it as a professional and regulated industry, and think that is the right way to go.

"People who have been in the industry a long time see regulation as too difficult, and they can't get their heads around it," says Beatty.

Working closely with Biba is something Beatty wants to encourage at Stuart Alexander, having exhibited at the conference for the first time last year. She says the company receives support as well as referrals from the organisation, which is helping to spread the message about the regulated way of doing business.

Name: Richard Nieuwenhuis

Title: director

James & Lindsay, Colchester

Age: 30

Richard Nieuwenhuis' company has only just become a member of Biba, as part of its membership of The Broker Network, and he claims not to know much about the organisation. "We get all the support we need from the IIB," he says.

During his 10 years in the industry he says things have improved, with brokers now being able to provide more services, such as policy documentation, for their clients.

Nieuwenhuis says that viewpoints differ greatly between age groups within the industry. "People of my generation are ambitious and want to expand their businesses. You get a lot of older brokers who like plodding along and who are looking forward to their retirement.

"Certainly in our age group we are active in promoting, and looking at new ways of expanding the business."

Nieuwenhuis says he is surprised at the staff changes in underwriting in recent years. "There are a lot of young people entering the industry at reasonable levels."

He says the use of technology and how individuals cope with compliance divides the generations. "Younger people are coping with the changes better. Older brokers don't like being told how to run their business," says Nieuwenhuis.

And the future of the broker market will see more community-based firms joining networks in order to become more competitive, he adds.

Nieuwenhuis, who started in the family firm as an office junior, thinks the best thing about the industry is being able to work your way up to the top of the ladder. "There are always opportunities, and there are always new things to learn."

Name: Ben Burford

Title: Croydon office sales manager

Giles Insurance Brokers

Age: 27

Burford joined the industry as a school leaver. The thing that attracted him to insurance was that "anything is achievable".

"Most people tend to fall into the industry but once they're in, they tend to stay." That said, more could be done to let people know exactly what insurance is about, Burford says.

He believes that younger staff, particularly underwriters, are more flexible in their approach to risks, and that the older generation "need to think outside the box and view a risk as a whole, not just look at their rating cards."

While Burford mainly deals with younger underwriters, he finds that more complex risks are passed up the chain to older, more senior underwriters who are unwilling to be as flexible.

But the industry is moving forward. "It's becoming a lot more competitive and people are writing business in a proper manner. With the FSA the so-called cowboys will be run out of the industry, making it more professional." Burford says regulation will impact upon the type of people the industry attracts. "The amount of quality staff will increase, and the younger generation will only know the regulated way of working. It's definitely a step in the right direction."