In the train gang

As the date for the British Insurance Awards ceremony approaches, Lynn Rouse looks at the relative merits of this year's finalists for the Training Award

With the incoming statutory requirements for staff training and competence, every insurance business is having to commit to producing experienced and qualified staff. For many firms, however, the support of individuals' career development and the creation of motivated teams has long been a central part of company strategy. This is especially true of this year's finalists in the training category of the British Insurance Awards. Each has achieved results from their initiatives, driven by business objectives and a determination to exceed compliance requirements.

For the four company finalists, improving overall business performance and profitability was as much an objective as ensuring the competence of staff under the watchful gaze of the Financial Services Authority.

Management level

Both Allianz Cornhill and Legal & General focused on the needs of management going forward - after all, training is not only an essential ingredient for entry level staff. Equally, both were aware that partnering with an external organisation would add quality and credibility, as well as providing sound monitoring and benchmarking.

L&G worked with the Institute of Leadership and Management to develop an introductory certificate in first-line management and an introductory diploma in management for middle and senior managers. Allianz Cornhill, in line with the previous practices of its Underwriting Academy, chose to work with the Chartered Insurance Institute to accredit and benchmark its initiative, which is designed to bring a sound understanding of finance and the effect of underwriting decisions on bottom-line results.

Senior management figures are always tough critics of any organisation's training programme, so one testament to the success of L&G's initiative is the fact that more than 90% of senior managers rated the workshops as either very good or excellent. And since the Management Development Programmes' launch in May 2003, 1200 managers have committed to 4432 delegate training days.

Allianz Cornhill's combination of workplace modules, workshops and assessment has seen 100 underwriters and managers complete its programme, with modules subscribed well into 2005.

Barnett and Barnett's training programme was underpinned by the twin challenges of recruitment and retention for a medium-sized broker located within easy commuting distance of EC3. With no local pool of trained insurance personnel in West London, the key was to attract candidates with great potential and provide them with comprehensive training and career development, but then not lose them to City firms able to offer higher salaries.

And the broker certainly seems to be on track - staff turnover has reached an all time low, with only one person leaving the firm during the past 18 months and then for personal reasons. Equally, the improved competence and skills base is paying dividends in terms of the bottom line - client retention is over 98% and new business is running at 20% of turnover.

First-class approach

Of course, investing time and money into developing first-class training programmes is much easier for large multinationals and national businesses.

As a firm operating on a smaller scale, Barnett and Barnett accepted at the start of its initiative that substantial investment was necessary if it was to achieve its objectives, and allocated a sizeable budget.

For even smaller firms, however, consultancy services, bespoke learning management and reporting systems can be prohibitively expensive. Acknowledging this, coupled with the cross-market need for enhanced competency against FSA benchmarks, underpinned the development of insurance Assess and broker Assess.

The brainchild of the Chartered Insurance Institute, developed in conjunction with the British Insurance Brokers' Association, the ed.assess initiative is internet-based with job specifications as the starting point both for brokers and insurance-orientated programmes - under FSA regulation, any training and competency regime must adhere to the roles employees are expected to undertake, which define the competencies required for that role.

One of the foremost features of broker Assess is a suite of broker-specific case studies to bring key learning points to life by presenting them in the context of real business situations. Many are based on real negligence claims and, as such, seek to teach good broking practice. To date, more than 227 broking firms have taken up broker Assess, representing 3286 users, and 144 firms have taken up insurance Assess, representing 7700 users.

As the remaining finalist, the challenge facing Halifax Home Insurance was distinct again. Having brought its adjusting facility in-house - Halifax Claims at Home - the insurer was determined that all those involved in handling customer claims should adopt a uniform approach with exemplary standards. HCAH went live in the Midlands in March 2003, with full coverage achieved by November last year. To achieve its strategic objective, Halifax decided that all staff should have a relevant qualification and that soft skills training would be as crucial as technical skills.

Role-play

The five-week induction training contains role-play, enabling personal claims consultants to have their development tested before meeting real customers. And the technical training involves classroom sessions with photographs, requiring PCCs to diagnose structural problems and determine whether they were caused by policy perils.

An equal focus is placed on training outside the classroom, with tutor-accompanied walks through residential areas, where building problems are identified and trainees expected to give a diagnosis with recommendations for remedial work. Communication skills are then tested via presentations on sample losses, to ensure trainees can clearly explain the issues to customers.

One of the key objectives is enhanced customer satisfaction and retention, so an external company was used to monitor HCAH's performance against that experienced by non-HCAH customers. Results to date have revealed consistently higher levels of customer satisfaction for HCAH customers, with retention figures for 2003 showing a marked uplift.

Come 7 July, there may only be one winner in the BIA training category but the efforts and tangible achievements of all five finalists should be duly recognised.

BIA FINALISTS - Training Award

- Allianz Cornhill: Financial and Commercial Awareness Programme

- Barnett and Barnett: Growing the Seeds of Success

- Chartered Insurance Institute and British Insurance Brokers' Association: ed.assess

- Halifax Home Insurance: Halifax Claims at Home

- Legal & General: Management Development Programme.

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