With the high net worth property sector seen as a glamorous business, Rachel Gordon discovers insurers and brokers find it easy to attract recruits
Insurers and brokers across the board are still finding it difficult to attract the right employees. However, the high net worth property sector is proving to be an exception to the rule. HNW is often considered the glamour end of the business, where there are more applicants than vacancies, higher salaries and, it seems, a higher proportion of graduates than in standard insurance. Whether in-house for an insurer, as a broker, or working for an outsourced service provider, such as a valuer or loss adjuster, there is plenty of variety.
According to Martin Hall, general manager for Zurich Private Clients: "Around 60% of our employees who visit clients' homes to do appraisals have fine art degrees and many are ACII-qualified. We rarely use agencies to attract staff as we receive applications on spec or people want to move from within Zurich. We've taken on some staff from our standard home insurance divisions, with individuals moving from Portsmouth to our office in Cheshire. Some other good people have been ex-brokers. All see it as a growing and exciting part of the business."
In his view, people skills matter all the more as Zurich "only sends its own people to clients' homes - there are others in the market that use valuers and even estate agents".
However, others argue this is not a problem. Charles Dupplin, head of Hiscox's art and private client division, comments: "Having a strong interest is fine but a Beidermeyer furniture expert, for example, is not going to be busy all the time - this is why we bring in experts and there are some excellent firms we work with."
He says underwriters need particular qualities: "We are slow at taking people on because we don't want to make mistakes. It's far from just being interested in art or antiques. You need to be a bit of a carpet dealer, to have the smell of the souk in your nostrils, which means having commercial awareness and seeing the broker as your client. Underwriting in this sector can be stressful - there are often large sums involved and the UK is far more competitive than the rest of Europe."
John Sims, Chubb's head of personal lines insurance in Europe, says there is no set background that makes someone right for a customer-facing job, although he comments that ex-brokers often have good people skills. "It's not about selling normal insurance - we emphasise we want to pay claims. Our staff have to be flexible, not least as clients may only be available at weekends or evenings." Chubb, like other insurers, says most training is in-house - there are no set courses to build a career in the HNW industry.
Even though most insurers point out that their clients are primarily rich business people, they do have celebrities on their books meaning maintaining confidentiality is vital.
As a broker, Lorraine Robson, personal insurance business manager for Towry Law, says applicants need excellent product knowledge and dedication.
"It's not about working in a call centre, being script driven and moving on once the policy is sold. In HNW, it is about selling a lifestyle concept."
Most training, says Ms Robson, comes from insurers that carry out internal and external training and this is backed up by CII examinations. The recruitment process, she explains, involves a minimum of two interviews and the candidate would always be asked to offer a presentation or carry out a role-play demonstrating client service skills. This would be accompanied by paper-based verbal, numerical and general insurance knowledge skills testing.
"Their team-playing skills would be assessed, as it is vital that the candidate does not display an 'it is not my client' type mentality, which could challenge the service delivery. We seek empathy and maturity."
At Axa Art, UK underwriting manger Shane Colvin says the number of graduates applying for jobs within the fine art and HNW household market has increased considerably and that those with an interest in art would tend to be favoured at interview. One reason is that salaries tend to be better than those paid by many dealers, galleries and auction houses.
"Our surveyors are all art historians and can, therefore, discuss with a degree of authority clients' art collections, which is often the closest thing to their heart."
He adds that claims staff are particularly valued. "It's a sad fact claims departments are often perceived as being the bottom rung of the insurance ladder. Speaking as someone who started their career settling claims, I know full well the true importance to a client of an understanding insurer. Our representatives will often visit a client to settle a claim on the spot. Obviously, the employee needs to feel comfortable dealing with any claim situation as they may be confronted by tears or fury."
Angela Ellis-Dunn, unit partner, client relations at adjuster Ashworth Mairs Group, says when it comes to new recruits, first impressions count.
"We generally look for those who are experienced and qualified. We expect the right business attire, manner, body language and grooming. Customer service must be exemplary."
She says adjusters with the company undergo in-house training and take CII and Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters' examinations. "There is a continual battle for talent in insurance but HNW always attracts people - and seems to have an appeal to females."
Mr Sims adds: "HNW is not about selling a commodity - it is a value-added service. Building up a good team takes time, which is why our employees get a lot of approaches."
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