Salt of the firth

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Seasoned insurance personnel are in great demand in Glasgow as it builds its reputation as the insurance capital of Scotland, reports Sam Barrett

Strong rivalry exists between the two Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Residents of each city dispute who has the best shopping, the best beer, more recently the best football team, and even the best deep-fried Mars Bars.

However, when it comes to insurance, Glasgow definitely has the upper hand. Around 4500 people are employed by the general insurance market in the city, according to research from Experian, making it the biggest employer of insurance personnel outside London. By comparison, there are only around 300 people working in the general insurance market in Edinburgh, where the primary focus remains on life assurance and pensions.

"It has been a battle," admits Brian Davis, regional business manager for Allianz Cornhill Engineering, "but while Edinburgh is the financial services and political capital of Scotland, Glasgow is definitely the insurance capital. In the past, an insurer may have considered having their main office in either of the two cities but now they'll go for Glasgow - perhaps leaving a smaller office in Edinburgh to serve that area." By way of example, Mr Davis says that all his engineering competitors are now based in Glasgow.

Scottish base

Other players are also sizing up the city for their new offices. Primary Broker Services recently opened a base there to build its presence in Scotland. So far, it has recruited seven people and plans to grow to more than 30 during the next few years. Likewise, although it has not committed to any specific locations yet, CNA Europe is known to be considering Glasgow for its Scottish base.

Winning this inter-city insurance battle, however, has not made it particularly easy for Glasgow employers to recruit. Edinburgh may be just 40 miles away but getting candidates to make the journey across is very difficult.

"It's the M8," summarises Sarah McParland, director of Search Consultancy.

"It doesn't seem very far between the two cities but people just aren't prepared for the journey - it can be a killer."

She estimates that during rush hour it can easily take an hour and a half to cover this distance. "We'd probably place half a dozen people a year that are willing to do that commute - people just don't want to undertake it. Some of the people on our books specify a maximum journey time of 10 minutes."

The cost of commuting can also prevent people contemplating the journey.

An annual season ticket for someone commuting from Edinburgh to Glasgow would cost around £4000. That may be fine if the salary on offer is £40,000 or more but with starting salaries around £12,000 in this sector, few would be willing to delve that far into their pockets.

Salaries are on the up, however, as employers try to attract the ever-elusive appropriately qualified employees. For example, in its salary survey for 2005/2006, Joslin Rowe reports that a much-sought-after new business development executive in broking can expect an annual salary of £40,000, compared with £35,000 last year.

"It's been a candidate-driven market for the past year or so," confirms Andrew Kermack, financial services consultant at the agency. "The market is buoyant and there just aren't enough people with experience to go round." In particular, he has found a real shortage of business development and relationship management executives with at least five years' experience.

Faced with this candidate shortage, benefit packages have also improved.

Ms McParland says that during the past 18 months, flexible packages have become all the rage in the city. "Employers used to offer a basic salary plus a pension but now, especially among the start-ups, we're seeing more flexible benefits, such as childcare and gym membership."

Mr Davis has also found that getting the package right is essential, especially with all your competitors on the doorstep. "Our underwriting academy provides great training but there's a real danger that our competitors view it as a training ground for them too, picking staff off once they're qualified. To prevent this happening, we do pay a lot of attention to how we look after our employees," he says. "We provide our engineering surveyors with good company cars so they can carry out their jobs in comfort but also make sure they have a clear management programme if they want to develop their careers with us."

Pull of the Clyde

While Glasgow may be experiencing challenges in trying to attract the extra required candidates from Edinburgh, it is doing better than regional insurance centres south of the border. This seems to be especially true of telephone-based customer service roles. "We find it much easier to recruit for our Glasgow office than for Manchester," says Adrian Webb, spokesman for Esure, which has 900 employees in its Glasgow-based claims and contact centre. "It's a great city with a really well-established history of insurance, which means there is a good pool of knowledgeable candidates to recruit."

Mr Davis adds that Allianz Cornhill Engineering employees based in England often ask about relocating to Glasgow. "We do get more requests than we can accommodate, because they want the lifestyle," he explains. "It can be a very successful move. One of our surveyors moved up from Manchester in the early 1990s and he loves it here. He now owns a kilt and has learnt to play the bagpipes."

SALARY EXPECTATIONS IN GLASGOWUNDERWRITINGUnderwriting assistant £13 000-£16 000Personal lines underwriter £15 000-£20 000Senior underwriter £25 000-£45 000Compliance £25 000-£40 000CLAIMSClaims assistant £12 000-£15 000Claims handler £14 000-£18 000Claims manager £20 000-£35 000BROKINGAccount broker/handler £16 000-£20 000New business development executive £25 000-£40 000Personal lines broker £14 000-£17 000Technical £18 000-£25 000Source: Joslin Rowe Salary Survey 2005/2006.
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