Stuffy and boring? Pah! Today's insurance industry challenges perceptions


Insurance used to suffer at the hands of the sexy finance industry when attracting talent but the tables are turning

The insurance industry has a serious image problem.

If it was a person it could hire the X-Factor make-over team and Max Clifford to put its reputation right, but as one of the capital’s oldest industries, it isn’t so easy.

From sipping hot drinks and discussing insurance deals in Lloyd’s Coffee House in 1688 to zipping up and down in the shiny cylindrical external lifts of Richard Rogers’ Lloyds of London building on Lime Street in 2012, London’s insurance industry has grown to be world class.

But reputation wise, it just doesn’t have the spark and sexiness to attract legions of young talented graduates.

Well, that was the impression we were given by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) and its student survey from 2010. It found that 83% of students would not consider insurance as a career option and insurance was ranked a lowly 20th out of 21 industries that students were interested in.


“We believe it is time the insurance market upped its game because it is a great career choice,” says Lloyd Rosenthal, Director, Hays, the leading recruitment expert.

“The average person on the street thinks of working in insurance as cars and houses but it is far more technical and there is a greater choice of interesting areas involved. There’s engineers, aviation, marine, right through to Catastrophe Risk and Terrorism.It has a bad reputation for being a call centre job with grey suits but it’s equally as dynamic as financial markets and it is far more stable.”

“In the last four months we have recruited three times more brokers than this time last year”

Lloyd Rosenthal, Director, Hays


Before the financial crises, the financial markets sucked up many of the talented insurance graduates, an industry seen as being more exciting than “boring” insurance. The lasting effects of this trend are still being felt today.

“It is fair to say that some areas of the insurance industry are still suffering from skills shortages,” says Simon Corke, HR business consultant at Aviva.

“For example, we need more enthusiastic people keen to begin a career in underwriting within our general insurance business so that we can build our talent pipeline for the future.”

It has long been recognised that the insurance industry needs to do a better job of promoting itself and improving its image among graduates.

One thing that insurance does have on its side is its robust nature.

“It is quite interesting , in the last four months we have recruited three times more brokers than this time last year, and last year we were doing really well,” said Rosenthal.

“Compliance is busy, everyone is making sure they are dotting their Is and crossing their Ts. Actuaries are always busy and in demand and the claims business is relatively buoyant.”

As the financial markets have suffered over the past four years, insurance has looked like a more viable option. Especially in the wake of swathes of banking pay freezes.

“Because of the attraction on the financial markets during the boom time, there is a small crop of experienced insurance professionals that tend to bounce around different organisations,” said Rosenthal.

“If you want to go and slog your guts out as a trader you can but there are well-paid alternatives in insurance.”

Caspar Bartington, CII

“There has been a void of people coming up through the lower ranks which has kept salaries at a competitive level which means that as the financial markets experience pay freezes, insurance is generally solid and thriving.”

Insurance may have an image of being less exciting but if exciting equates to pulling all-nighters week after week and never switching off, then perhaps insurance has another trump card when it comes to attracting the country’s numerical whizz kids.

“I think the fact that London is the global hub of insurance is an attraction to job seekers but also the work/life balance is better,” says Caspar Bartington, relationship manager for education, Chartered Insurance Institute.

“If you want to go and slog your guts out as a trader you can but there are well-paid alternatives in insurance.”

So the persuasive benefits are there. What can be done to get the message out to the next generation of insurance industry superstars? The good news is the work has already started.

When the CII survey brought back such bad results, it gave the Institute something of a shake-up. They changed their tactics and launched Discovering Risk. The brightly coloured micro-site has nifty graphics, all of the information students and graduates need to entice them in, even its own game.

“The fact is that insurance hadn’t reached out very well in the past and Discovering Risk not only targets undergraduates but school leavers as well,” says Bartington.

“The bad reputation of the industry is shrinking every year and we have seen a lot of people coming into the sector that would have only considered the financial sector previously.

“We have certainly benefited from the weakness of other sectors in the downturn but also student awareness of what they want out of their careers has changed, they know they will have to work hard and insurance is more robust.”

London’s biggest insurance players are also playing their part in trying to attract talent to the industry.

“Aviva’s apprentice programme is a great example of how we’re tackling this problem and we have recruited some very articulate and confident college leavers into apprentice roles recently and have been really impressed with their aptitude and general ability,” says Corke.

“As a major employer we make sure we are out talking to students and graduates across the country about the great and varied opportunities within the insurance business.”

It’s not just the school leavers the industry needs to convince if the make-over is to have a lasting effect. Perhaps our biggest insurers need to follow suit of Hiscox. A recent television ad campaign enlisted the mellifluous tongue of British TV’s man-of-the-moment Benedict Cumberbatch to tell us that Hiscox is “as good as “ their word.

Or of course there’s Aviva’s use of favourite funny man Paul Whitehouse. These ads can help to increase awareness and wipe-out any lingering ideas than insurance is stuffy and old-hat.

“Working in insurance you are dealing with real, tangible assets and evaluating the risk of hugely important events. It’s far more physical and enthralling than trading shares,” says Rosenthal.

A recent visit to Catlin’s London HQ made my mind up about the exhilaration of the industry. I couldn’t decide if it was the story behind the giant Gilbert & George paintings in the reception area, the Winter Olympics torch or the nose-cone of a crashed rocket that I enjoyed the most.

Yes, a rocket.

You don’t see those at Goldman Sachs.