Expertise in Action: Professionalism: Pros & Cons


Qualifications aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to professionalism – training, working together and sharing knowledge across the industry are equally important.

zurich-expertiseAt the recent South West Chartered Insurance Institute conference, professionalism was a major theme in Axa UK Commercial Lines chief executive Amanda Blanc’s keynote address. It struck a chord with me because I know from talking to graduates that one of their drivers for joining the insurance industry is the opportunity to gain professional qualifications.

I tell university leavers there is much more to professionalism than a certificate. It’s a way of conducting yourself, a mind-set, the proper way to do things. I ask them to consider whether professionalism is guaranteed by qualifications alone.

As an industry we recognise that ongoing internal training ensures, no matter what qualifications are held, that a high level of professionalism is maintained. However, brokers don’t always have the luxury of time and manpower to fully embrace training and development.

So how can insurers share knowledge with brokers? Both parties have a responsibility to ensure employees possess the appropriate skills to manage relationships with customers in a compliant way. Large insurers are well placed to pass their expertise to brokers, especially smaller intermediaries that may not have the depth of expertise within their business.

Regulation and professional development are areas in which brokers want advice to supplement their own approach. The amount of information made available on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act is a good example, helping brokers understand the impact on their customers and their business.

Professionalism at Zurich

Each Zurich location has a Chartered Insurance Institute champion, creating a support network for students and providing study time away from the desk. There is also access to experts from the CII, and qualified colleagues to provide mentoring.

Whether qualifications should be compulsory for all, only for certain roles or just voluntary has been debated for years. It all comes down to whether, as an industry, insurance is seen as a service or a profession.

Underpinning trading and business credentials with professional qualifications adds gravitas externally and internally. There are lots of excuses as to why people don’t study but with increased regulation, and consumers scrutinising financial services, the industry should be committed to, and passionate about, its image.

All new recruits are encouraged to study, and it is mandated for graduates. During recruitment, professional qualification progress is checked against the competency for the role.

Zurich recently introduced academies to its businesses, creating a framework of competency, knowledge, skills and behaviour that demonstrates what is required to fulfil roles at each level. These are aligned to the relevant professional qualification level. Academies provide structured learning to keep up to speed with industry issues, technical growth and improve commercial acumen.

Remaining relevant
The fact that so many insurers are providing training to brokers shows there is a demand for information sharing, but how can it remain relevant to the broker market? In order for any training programme to succeed, insurers must understand the key issues brokers face and know where additional value can be provided. This must come from maintaining dialogue on the important matters, and insurers must provide a range of consultancy services and thought-leadership programmes to transfer knowledge to brokers, while intermediaries must be willing to give their time freely.

A key question, however, is the method of aiding brokers. Are one-to-one and group training sessions better than written guides and online content? This depends on broker preference. For example, small intermediaries that face additional time constraints may prefer online content that can be digested when convenient, as opposed to a fixed-time training course.

Indeed, training is more than just passing on technical information. Insurers and brokers need to share strategies for relationship management. Large insurers invest time in the theory, but they need to understand the demands customers are putting on brokers.

Brokers, meanwhile, will be making their own efforts, especially in conjunction with the CII. The body states that more than 50% of customers are likely to purchase from a broker that has chartered status. Customers pay for solicitors, chartered accountants, chartered surveyors and qualified surgeons. Such a status is a hallmark of quality, so it stands to reason that customers want to use a chartered insurance business. It will surely become a prerequisite for tenders and portfolios.

I recently attended the CII Faculties Regional Market Forum in Bristol, and it was interesting to hear Lee Davey, regional managing director at Jelf, talking about the important part insurer training plays within his firm’s learning strategy, and how the broker saw its chartered status as a badge of standards, integrity and honour.

Signing up to the Aldermanbury Declaration sends a strong message to brokers and customers, but also a clear message to staff. It is evidence of an ethical approach to business, and demonstrates a commitment to providing a professional service.

Continuous professional development is also crucial. CPD requirements provide a framework to maintain professionalism, and offer support to brokers in their drive to maintain knowledge.

Maintaining CPD and learning is vital as it underpins corporate chartered status and helps recognise the development needs and individual development plans of staff. Insurers can support brokers’ CPD with technical master classes and seminars, helping them forge closer links with customers and prospects as well as strengthening the insurer/broker bond.

If we agree that insurance is a professional activity, shouldn’t it be underpinned by qualification? Presumably, squeezed finance directors are looking for excellence for every pound spent on business services. For brokers’ fees and insurers’ premiums, it has to be the same.

When it comes to doing what’s best for our customers, qualifications contribute to knowledge – but that is only one of the aspects staff will need as they embark upon their careers. Ethics must also be considered, aligning knowledgeable solutions to customer care.

Ultimately, professionalism is vital for the insurance industry, and what we put in and how we act as role models, both personally and as an industry, is critical for future recruits and the wider economy – no matter which company we work for.

Richard Smith, learning and development manager, Zurich Commercial Broker

Zurich Q&A with Richard Smith

zurich-qaIn recent years the insurance industry has made a concerted effort to improve its record on professionalism.

As well as a renewed focus on internal academies and formal qualifications, the Aldermanbury Declaration, pioneered by the Chartered Insurance Institute in 2010, has also thrown professionalism into the spotlight.

With this in mind, Post editor-in-chief Jonathan Swift recently sat down with Richard Smith, learning and development manager, Zurich Commercial Broker, to discuss this topic through in more detail as part of the latest instalment of Expertise in Action.

Among the topics covered was how professionalism has evolved over the years, the importance of professionalism to insurance consumers, how chartered brokers rank with their insurance partners and how investing in professionalism can help the industry going forward.

Watch the video

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