What about working in insurance?

Kieran Corcoran finds out from an Aviva graduate why applying for a job in this flourishing industry could be the best risk you ever take

The UK has a world-beating insurance sector: stable and crisis-free, employing some 300,000 people, and responsible for around £1.8 trillion of investments.

As you'd expect with such a huge industry (insurance provides over a quarter of all financial services jobs), it also has plenty of opportunities for graduates. Jon Marsh is a recent graduate recruit at leading multinational insurance company Aviva, and he took some time out to fill The Gateway in on this exciting and dynamic area of business.

What does an insurance company do?

By taking on risks for people or companies, we give financial stability, and emotional reassurance, for when things don't go the right way. So if you reverse into a car and can't afford the repairs, because of your insurance you know you'll still have a car to use, and can cover the damage to the other person's as well. That way everyone can go about their daily lives without worrying about the unexpected.

And how would you introduce Aviva?

Aviva is the country's largest insurer, and one of Europe's leading providers of life and general insurance, so we're central to the industry. We have 43 million customers worldwide, and we've been around for over 300 years. This means there are plenty of different opportunities here for graduates.

The company was attractive to me Intermediary & Partnership (I&P) because of its big-name clients - for example I could have the opportunity to work with Santander, Barclays, Tesco, and other huge companies. Even as a graduate you're put in a position where you can have a lot of influence and responsibility.

How do you and your role fit in?

I&P, my side of the business, is to do with our relationships with insurance brokers (see box for definition) - every broker has different needs to be catered to. I'm part of a team revamping how we deal online with custom from brokers. Aviva's made a commitment to become the number one insurance company for brokers to work with: they're central to everything we do and give us a huge proportion of our revenue.

Do you get a lot of responsibility?

Absolutely, and that's been a hugely important part of why I like my job so much. Even at such an early stage of my career, I've had the opportunity to influence the business. I've always found that my opinion is trusted and valued, even though I'm younger than lots of people here, which has impressed me.

There are around 20 of us in my team. There are three senior managers, but everyone has the chance to take ownership of tasks and projects. We all have contact with brokers, and responsibility for dealing with people outside the company.

I'm encouraged to think of new things to do, and to find gaps in what we're doing and deliver a solution. Sometimes that manifests itself in a long-term project, sometimes it'll be something you can do in a day. I've found since I've been here that if you find a problem to solve, and can make a business case for doing so, you'll be given the opportunity and responsibility to go for it.

Tell us something surprising about your job.

I've been surprised by how much I've got to travel, to go out there and meet people. Since I've been in the team I've travelled over 12,000 miles for work, all round the UK.

In particular, I've been to conferences and other events, and with that comes meeting people in the insurance industry, and also meeting people in different industries and seeing how they overlap with insurance.

Do you need to be a maths expert to work in insurance?

Doing a maths-based degree helped me, but it isn't necessary for a career in insurance. There are areas of insurance where numeracy is absolutely vital, but certainly for the area that I'm in at the moment, it's not. And your personal skills often trump your technical ones. Because Aviva is such a large company, there are a lot of departments and roles which require very different skill sets, such as customer facing roles, human resources and marketing.

What personal skills do you need?

Being able to work in a team is really important. But just as important is being able to step up and lead, even without being asked to do so. You'll really get on well here if you have the confidence to say, "I'm going to take ownership of this task" without being pushed into it. It's important that you're driven enough to seek out opportunities rather than expecting them to be handed to you, and to be always trying to find out what we can do better.

Why should students consider a career in insurance?

It's a huge global industry, and because of that you have so many opportunities, all over the world. In eight months in I&P I've worked with everyone from marketing to IT, from suppliers to sales, and getting to see all these areas helps you shape your career and get the experience you want from a very early stage.