As Daniel Kinlan is named the Broker Apprentice 2014, Zurich’s managing director of personal lines, Tim Holliday, tells Emmanuel Kenning how he decided on this year’s winner
A long with “friendly stick” from colleagues, winning Insurance Age’s Broker Apprentice 2014 series has led to many people getting in touch with Daniel Kinlan. Not least of all the president of Aon: “I got emails from various leaders at Aon, in Chicago and all over the world,” he admits. “People came up to me and said ‘well done’, it has boosted my profile in a really good way.”
Kinlan chose insurance over going to university when he was 18 after researching a role at Aon and spotting that there were lots of opportunities in such a big company. And he was not alone in choosing to work in insurance.
Tim Holliday, Broker Apprentice’s very own Sir Alan, also selected insurance as his career path. “I was 26 and had been working in academia and I saw a job advertised for Eagle Star in Cheltenham,” he says. “I am a statistician and it was a role working in financial services.”
After a variety of posts at Zurich, including chief underwriting officer for the UK for seven years, Holliday was made managing director of personal lines this January. So, how did he find taking on the role of leading the Broker Apprentice series? He jokes that he developed an awareness that a future in television did not await him but goes on to add that all the contestants were very impressive.
“The energy of working with people at the start of their careers was good fun,” he says. “I really did enjoy meeting them all.”
Insurance Age ran heats in Birmingham, Glasgow, London and Manchester to get a fair representation from around the country. And Holliday’s first impression of those who made it through was positive: “They were very confident,” he remembers. “For most of them their experience across the breadth of insurance was reasonably limited, because of either age or circumstances.”
On the other side of the fence, Kinlan is keen to highlight that he “got on well with everybody” but says that some people did change during the process: “[They] were trying to impress at the start but realised that being themselves was much better. It was pretty interesting.”
For Holliday the main change as the series progressed was the ability to listen. “We had a group of young, high performers who would be really pushing on in their career, soaking up knowledge, expertise and experience,” he says. “We put them into tasks with people they didn’t know and out of their comfort zone, the big learning was to stop and get other views, talk to other people rather than dash in.”
These out-of-comfort-zone tasks ranged from a site visit through presenting at Insurance Age’s e-broking event, to delivering a speech to a high school audience on the value of careers in insurance. Which then, of all the complex situations, did Kinlan enjoy most?
Even though his team actually lost, his favourite one was for e-broking in Birmingham – “to get the opportunity to talk at Villa Park for 10 minutes was great” – and he enjoyed the school task too, especially after watching it back: “Seeing the amateur dramatics of the other group was quite funny,” he says.
Holliday too confesses to liking the school-based task. He notes that of all the people he has spoken with about the episode, no-one has said ‘I fancy giving that a go’. “It was a very tough and demanding audience,” he recalls. “To go in and talk about the industry rather than pitch a product to what could be a tricky audience was a really good task.”
The series culminated with a one-to-one interview with Holliday. The two main things he was looking for were what the apprentices had learnt from the process and, given the prize of the development fund from Zurich, what they were going to do differently back in their office. ‘How were they going to use the opportunity to develop their career?’ was the question he asked himself.
Kinlan admits to being nervous ahead of the grilling. “On the day there will be questions that you can’t prepare for,” he accepts. “From experiencing the tasks I was confident that I had learned a lot and if I could put that across I thought it would go well.”
In a new development, and an unplanned last minute twist, Zurich also decided to extend a personalised training programme to runner-up Veronica Bell, account handler at Edinburgh-based Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers.
“Throughout the process it was very close between Daniel and Veronica,” says Holliday putting the gap between the two when he came to make a decision as just millimetres. “When I spoke to her she identified a clear need in her development, perhaps more than any of the interviewees about what she wanted to do next. It was an opportunity for us to really help her.”
But Daniel was still the winner. Why? How had he impressed Holliday?
“For someone of his age and experience he came across as very confident and knowledgeable in the tasks,” says Holliday. In addition he lists appetite for learning, strong communication skills, good team-working and a positive impression in the interview process as key factors that helped Daniel be crowned the winner. “When it came down to it, he was the pick among his peers,” sums up Holliday.
He is certainly impressed by how much each contestant picked up with their initial youthful naiveté being seen as a strength rather than a weakness. “It is no reflection on them at all, but where they are in their careers a lot of them probably hadn’t appreciated how many facets and dimensions there are to insurance. The experience gave them the awareness that no matter how successful they have been so far in their careers there is always more to learn, people to learn from.”
Zurich too benefited from the experience, in Holliday’s estimation: “Working on the tasks was a good thing for Zurich as an organisation… it got us thinking about what we do.”
And Kinlan is similarly clear that the experience was one packed full of education. “You think you have learned quite a lot, but when you meet other people, and not just on the apprentice programme but also at Zurich, you realise there are so many different things you don’t know. It opened my eyes.”
With thoughts now turning to the training fund and a tailor-made VIP experience for two – it looks as if a trip to El Cásico in Barcelona is in the offing – the future looks different for Kinlan. After two years in Glasgow with Aon he is heading south for a client service adviser role in London with the broker.
“I want to be market and client-facing,” he says. “I want to be out and about and make a contribution.” And his plans for the training programme could well involve management skills, in preparation for later years. “I can study that when I am relatively young and it just gets my mind in the right way for when I am older. Hopefully [in years to come] I’ll get some opportunities to move into management.”
Looking ahead to future editions of Broker Apprentice, Holliday returns to his theme of how much improvement the contestants made. “The guys have all made huge progress in their careers already and taken a tremendous amount on board,” he says.
And Kinlan is also upbeat. “It is a brilliant opportunity. Even being on camera you are very wary of what you are saying. It makes you think.”
He is adamant that it is an experience any new broker should grab. “Do it if you want to develop your skill sets and your knowledge. It is a good experience,” he confirms.
“I’ll be applying again next year!”
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