Broker Apprentice 2015: Showcasing talent

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Broker Apprentice 2015 winner Charlie Barrett and chief judge on the show John O’Roarke share their experiences of the highs and lows on this year’s journey to find a champion

The challenge that involved stopping members of the public on the streets of Wimbledon was Broker Apprentice 2015 winner Charlie Barrett’s least favourite task in the competition.

“I’d never done anything like that before in my life,” he sums up. “When you are on the street and have an alternative agenda, trying to stop people and getting them to speak to you was tricky.”

Barrett admits that he learnt that if you approach people in the right way, with the right offer and a quick explanation, then they would “open up very quickly and aren’t that hostile”.

It was the first formal task of Insurance Age’s six-episode Broker Apprentice video show. The series seeks to showcase the best new talent on offer in the insurance market while taking the contestants outside their comfort zones.

The build-up saw Insurance Age travel the country with interviews in Glasgow, Leeds, Bristol and London designed to ensure that only the finest talent would be chosen to undertake three gruelling tasks along with a final interview to impress LV chief John O’Roarke and win the crown.

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On the streets of Wimbledon the six apprentices who made up the series had to persuade the public of the merits of using a broker. Barrett, however, was in the losing team.

“I was gutted,” he recalls. “Losing the first task was slightly demoralising but we obviously learnt from it and came back from there.”

The participants also delivered a video presentation to high school children extolling the virtues of working in broking and presented a new digital concept of their choosing to their peers at the Broker Expo in Coventry.

Broker Expo buzz

“My favourite one was the Expo because I loved the buzz,” he remembers. “I’d never been to something like that before. Having to come up with a product and pitch it to very experienced brokers who know infinitely more about the industry than I do was very difficult.”

Along with the other members of Team e-volve, Daniel Abbott of Watkin Davies Financial Services and Virginia Church from JLT, he went on to win the next two tasks.

0216-apprentice-quote2John O’Roarke, managing director for general insurance at LV says he particularly enjoyed the school-based task.

“A teenage student audience is a very difficult one to win over,” starts O’Roarke. “I have three teenagers so I experience this on a daily business. Going in to talk to them about insurance makes that task twice as hard.”

What O’Roarke picked up on was Barrett’s ability to connect with people. “If you can engage an audience whether it is clients, insurers or reinsurers or 30 students then you’ll do well in this industry,” he remarks.

The sixth form students voted at the end of the task as to which team had best persuaded them to consider a career in broking. “When I was at school we never had anyone from insurance come in,” says Barrett. “I like to think we introduced them to what insurance really is rather than the common misconceptions about what we do.”

Despite the lack of proactive insurance engagement during his school years, Barrett still chose a career in the profession after university at Newcastle and two further years at law school.

His father had been a credit insurance broker and so he opted to spend two summers of his student years at RK Harrison working in reinsurance broking in Lloyd’s. “It opened up the entire industry to me and I absolutely loved it. I did the law but made a decision at the end to come into insurance.”

He secured a job as a trainee corporate broker at Henderson Insurance Broking in Leeds in July 2014.

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Introduction to insurance

O’Roarke had a somewhat different introduction to insurance. He trained as a chartered accountant beginning his career with AIG in 1984 after being attracted by the prospect of overseas travel. After working in numerous countries around the world he spent 13 years at Churchill Insurance followed by two at RBS when it bought the company. He has now been at LV since 2006 after it acquired ABC Insurance. What has kept him in the industry so long?

“It is very much a people business,” he replies. “Successful businesses generally speaking are so because they have got the people part of it right.

“Secondly, which is perhaps even more evident in the broking sector, is that insurance is very entrepreneurial. You can create and build a business from almost nothing to something that has substance and has an impact. That is the really exciting part.”

Taking on the role of the lead judge is always a serious responsibility. Along with Team e-volve the series also featured Team inspire which was made up of Tristan Antrobus-Holder from Jelf, Towergate’s Emma Garrity and Nick Magee of Alan & Thomas Insurance Group.

The eager professionals were rightly keen to impress and O’Roarke says he formed a very positive impression, listing that he found all six to be energised, professional and great ambassadors for the broking industry.

“Some people on the outside of insurance think it is all grey, dull and boring but you meet six people like that and you would say completely the opposite. It is an exciting industry to be in.”

Barrett realised as he walked into the room on the first day that he was up against “very switched on” competition: “They were all very intelligent, ambitious and driven.” Adding: “They were all nice as well and decent individuals. I got on really well with them.”

Ultimately there could be only one winner. After the three group tasks came the one-to-one grilling with O’Roarke. And Barrett confesses moving away from a team dynamic was tricky. In order to prepare he ran over each task considering where he thought he had done well, could have done better and how his teammates had done. “I was very nervous, extremely nervous,” he says.

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O’Roarke had a straightforward strategy: “It was almost as if I was interviewing to recruit. Is there substance, would you give this person a job and want them to represent your business?”

In the final show O’Roarke praised Barrett’s strategic thinking, team-player ethic and ability to deliver operationally. He expands on why he chose him as the series winner: “I thought Charlie was very authentic. He had substance and wasn’t selling me anything that wasn’t there.

“The school exercise is proof really. I think he has the ability to engage people without being self-important or over confident but with just the right level of self-assurance.”

As the winner Barrett receives an experience day – he has chosen to go hot air ballooning – as well as four mentoring sessions with O’Roarke and a week working with the LV Broker management team.

Vote of confidence

Winning was “a huge vote of confidence” says Barrett who had to keep his success under his hat for several weeks. When the final episode aired and his triumph was revealed the company boss Joe Henderson interviewed him for the broker’s YouTube channel and the congratulations did not stop there.

“I had random markets, underwriters and business development managers calling me up and saying ‘that is brilliant, well done’. Others called up and took the mickey…”

Knowing the outcome clearly helped in watching the shows as they were broadcast but he reveals it was not without its awkward moments.

“In the interview you can hear my voice cracking a bit because I was very nervous which was a bit squeamish for me to watch,” he highlights.

Before the series Barrett stated that if he won he would like to celebrate with a shot of Fireball Whisky in the US. Thanks to his Christmas holiday he achieved the feat.

While he realises the experience day and the prestige of winning is to be celebrated, it is the learning opportunities that he is really looking forward to.

“The opportunity to have mentoring sessions and shadowing board members is for me by far the best aspect of winning as well as the kudos,” he confirms.

This leads to the natural question of what O’Roarke believes he will be able to impart in these sessions. “There are some things that if I’d known 20 odd years ago I could perhaps have made progress a bit more quickly,” he details saying he will share reflections on his time in the industry and where he could perhaps have taken responsibility earlier. “When you are younger and inexperienced you worry unnecessarily,” he opines.

The 2014 winner Daniel Kinlan was adamant that brokers new to the market should take the time to apply and Barrett is similarly minded.

“Just go for it,” he urges.

“I never expected to get on the series and never in my wildest dreams expected to win it. The whole process is very different to your day-to-day job. You have to have the motivation and get up and go to push yourself. It is a phenomenal experience.”

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