JLT's Hamish Robert's on why insurers should beware 'The Spinning Jenny'

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  • The ‘Spinning Jenny' marked a tumultuous turning point in the cotton industry
  • The insurance industry may very well be facing similar challenges
  • Traditional broker skills and attributes will still need to exist

One of the biggest changes I've seen in the insurance market over the years has been the increased relevance of facilities, managing general agents and portfolio trades, and for many large brokers and insurers this is now commonplace and a core focus within their companies.

Accordingly, the market has had to learn to balance its desire to commoditise, but not at the expense of client relationships. This is where the conundrum for the more ‘traditional' individual brokers arises.

I don't necessarily view this change negatively, and I truly believe this is about evolution and not revolution. The ‘Spinning Jenny' reference in the title above is no accident as it marked a tumultuous turning point in the cotton industry, and caused uproar among the workers as they feared for their jobs. Fast forward 250 years, and the insurance industry may very well be facing similar challenges - and also in the name of progress.

The need for tradition
Undoubtedly, traditional broker skills and attributes will still need to exist. Skills such as understanding clients' needs, a thorough grasp of market dynamics, and ensuring good relationships with insurers will always remain key to what we do. But brokers will need to reskill - and fast - as they learn to process large amounts of portfolio data in the future, deploying skills such as analytics, maths and IT. Rather than sit back and do nothing - or worse bury their head in the sand - these brokers will need to put aside historical fears and concerns as to job security, and embrace the change. It's coming anyway.

As data becomes king, the brokers of the future won't necessarily be the keen, personable ‘chirpy chappies' that we seem to have afforded the profession in the past. Instead we'll begin to see young people with a different set of skills joining our beloved industry such as analysts, mathematicians, statisticians and actuaries.

At a recent graduate recruitment fair in London the insurance industry - when compared to our sophisticated cousins in the banking and accountancy sectors - was described as the City's ‘best kept secret' for youngsters looking to develop a career.

I agree with this as I still believe insurance is one of the most exciting and rewarding industries to work in, and young people coming into it are lucky to be part of what I suspect will be seen in the future as the industry ‘big bang'.

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