Tesco leaves carrot and stick on shelf

At an insurance conference I attended 10 years ago, delegates were given a challenge to "think like a retailer". Specifically, they were asked to consider what Tesco would be discussing at their annual conference. Store openings, layouts, product lines, new launches, footfall and Clubcard points all came up.

The exercise was designed to prompt those in the room to consider how successful ideas from the retail sector worked, and how they could align these ideas with those from the insurance sector.

The exercise was theoretical, until last summer, when Tesco Bank contacted the CII after launching its own insurance - with support from Ageas - in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. Tesco was calling to ask how it could ensure its new insurance team was among the most qualified and capable in the sector.

We felt the best idea was to provide Tesco staff with the opportunity to study towards and sit the CII's Foundation test, commonly known as FIT, and Tesco agreed. After a series of presentations to the teams, over 90 per cent of staff opted to take their CII FIT qualification.

The most interesting aspect of Tesco's preparation is that the company didn't provide "carrot" or "stick" incentives to its employees to take up FIT. The employees would complete it in their own time, and work with it alongside the retailer's own induction programme. This would provide staff - some of whom are new to insurance - with a firm grounding in professionalism and sector knowledge.

Study time works out at 40 hours, and covers insurance principles and the regulatory and legal environment. The exam is multiple choice and lasts two hours. Tesco staff weren't fazed at all; as they're finding out, the qualification is a good starting point for candidates fresh to the sector.

Earlier this month we delivered an exam centre to Tesco, so it can run exam sessions on its premises. I was delighted when, four days later, I received the call to say the first tranche of candidates had all passed.

When a successful business enters a new sector, the competition can be forgiven for experiencing a few nerves. When that business is Tesco, even well-established companies have to stand up and take notice.

Neither Tesco nor its employees are taking anything for granted. Setting standards for gaining qualifications and developing relevant skills early on in the company's new venture is a key part of its success strategy.

And if the retailer's success elsewhere is anything to go by, it will be a formidable player in the insurance industry.

Scot Grimmer - Broker Academy Manager, CII

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