In Scotland's yard

The insurance industry in Scotland is booming, with Edinburgh and Glasgow in particular stamping their authority on different insurance sectors. Rachel Gordon compares the relative merits of the two destinations

Glasgow is Scotland's candidate to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, it was announced at the end of September. Certainly many in Glasgow were happy to have beaten Edinburgh, which also threw its hat into the ring - the old rivalry between two remains intense.

In insurance terms, however, the two share joint honours. As far as the life industry is concerned, Edinburgh is the star player, housing the head offices of Standard Life, Scottish Widows and Scottish Life; for general insurance Glasgow wins hands down. All the major general insurance companies have offices here and it is also home to many call centres that service the industry.

At the start of the year, the new headquarters of the UK Call Centre Association was opened in Glasgow. There are now 56,000 workers in the Scottish call centre industry and Esure is among the insurers to base such an operation in the country. However, there are fears that the sector will be hit by the trend to offshore jobs to India, and politicians such as Lewis Macdonald MSP are calling for staff to be highly skilled to cope with competition. He says: "We know that one of the main reasons contact centres locate in Scotland, and remain here, is the availability of a skilled workforce."

Contact centre

Outsourcing business Rubicon operates a contact centre in Tannochside near Glasgow, a business it took over this January from Direct Financial Advisory Service.

Diane Bromley, HR director, says there is competition from neighbouring call centres for the best people: "We're looking to take on more managers and advisers. We have about 100 staff and the space to employ around 200. It's a challenge to find the right people because this is a competitive environment and we require excellent customer service skills."

The business is based around inward and outgoing calls services on behalf of a range of companies, including Argos, with staff required to sell insurance products such as household and personal accident.

Ms Bromley adds: "Since we took over, we're making it a better place to work. Everyone benefited from a pay rise and better bonus system and we're putting in place a new training programme. We've also set up a staff forum."

She knows that it cannot stop there, however. A recent decision taken by one broker is likely to keep all its rivals on their toes. Kwik-Fit Financial Services, based in Lanarkshire, recently appointed former Pontins Bluecoat Rob Hunter as its minister of fun - a full-tie position. His role is to inject playfulness into the workplace and help with fund-raising and other charity work.

Kwik-Fit already has a good reputation for staff perks, including a chill-out club, with pool table, games machines, satellite television, board games and books, and a team of volunteers are creating a garden - with half a day off a week to complete the job. This is on top of other traditional benefits such as pensions, and health insurance. For £5 a month, employees can do classes in Pilates, yoga, massage, outdoor sports, self-defence and circuit training.

Commercial touch

Personal lines in Glasgow is only part of the story. The city is home to a host of large commercial brokers. Melvyn Mcdonald, commercial risk director for Opus Corporate Group, based in the city, says competent technical people tend to be loyal to their companies: "We employ 10 staff and have only replaced one in the last two years. Unlike call centres, the commercial brokers tend to employ older people in their 40s and 50s who can form a rapport with senior clients."

Although there is only about 50 miles between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with the train journey taking about 45 minutes, he says most staff up to middle-management level live locally. "It's not like London where people are more willing to travel longer distances, but that's not to say a good corporate broker cannot find a decent package here," he comments.

Elaine McCrink, a senior consultant with Glasgow-based Elite Insurance Appointments, says the market in Glasgow for commercial brokers is buoyant: "It's a candidates' market with rising salaries. Companies are also looking after their staff to boost loyalty."

Employment opportunities

It is not unusual to see senior positions within brokers being advertised at salaries in the region of £50,000. Ms McCrink says poaching is not that common and, for ethical reasons, it is something Elite does not indulge in but she says anyone with commercial experience and ability and who is looking for a move will not be waiting long.

It is understood, however, that this trend was bucked earlier in the year when a team left Aon for Marsh in Glasgow, although Marsh had no comment.

More jobs are expected at broker Bruce Stevenson, a dynamic Edinburgh firm that recently opened a Glasgow office.

On the underwriting side, liability company Novae recently set up a Glasgow office, headed by underwriting manager Dominick Rogers. He says the office is being set up as a reaction to broker demand for underwriting presence and expertise in the region. It will provide underwriting and support service to regional brokers marketing professional indemnity, directors' and officers', medical malpractice and general liability business.

Thriving sector

Mr Rogers was formerly with Royal and Sun Alliance for 17 years and says Novae represents an exciting challenge: "There is more business being done in Scotland than in the past as insurers now have more skilled people and a thriving broker sector. We are looking for skilled people with experience in professional indemnity in particular, and wages and packages have gone up."

As a Glaswegian, he is proud of the city and says it is a great place to live and work. "The community and social side includes hill walking and skiing; and, in recent years, the cultural side has developed with more restaurants opening, many of which are better value than London."

Despite Glasgow's pre-eminent position in the general insurance market, Edinburgh should not be completely ignored. Simon Bolam, principal of EH Ranson says: "Edinburgh and Glasgow are like chalk and cheese but both have successful financial centres. From my perspective, we've always had a loyal workforce and competition has come from the life industry, although redundancies in this have probably helped us."

He adds from his point of view, Edinburgh is his preferred location to live and work - his home is in the city centre - but points out that if you want to make it big in commercial, then Glasgow is the place to be.

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