Taking on the risks

Hannah Langworth speaks to Caspar Bartington of the Chartered Insurance Institute to find out what a career in the industry could offer you – and how the CII can help you get there

Why should students consider joining this profession?

Firstly, it's a very stable one. The insurance and risk profession has emerged from the financial crisis and subsequent recession essentially unscathed. Only one company, AIG, suffered any significant damage as a result of the economic problems of the last few years.

Risk is a global business, so it should appeal to students who want travel and international exposure to be part of their job. Going to meet people rather than just emailing them is important in insurance because this is a people profession, so you might get to go all over the world. I know an insurance broker who spends his time flying to Central and South America to meet his clients, who include banana farmers and space observatory owners! Many graduate schemes in insurance feature some time in an overseas office. And the professional qualifications you'll gain if you work in insurance are globally recognised, so it's easy to progress your career in another country if you choose to do so.

The profession is very good at supporting new entrants, and offers different types of very structured graduate schemes which usually involve your employer paying for you to acquire valuable professional qualifications. Also, insurance graduate schemes don't shy away from exposing new recruits to really interesting work - you don't have to start with the most boring parts and work your way up. One of my contacts on a graduate scheme spent their first six months working with fine art clients, and their second in the kidnap and ransom team!

It can be a very rewarding profession too. As well as the fascinating international exposures and experiences, it offers you a meritocratic route to earning significant sums of money. There are many professionals earning six figure salaries, both in the UK and beyond.

What roles in risk are available?

There is a huge range of roles available. Let's think first of all about the key roles to do with providing insurance coverage for potential risks. You can divide this "pre-event" section of the profession into two halves. On one side you have underwriters, who work for an insurance company and, on the other, brokers.

Brokers advise their clients on the risks they face, and advise them on how to minimise them. Once the company's risk profile has been improved, brokers present these risks to underwriters to potentially be insured by the underwriter's insurance company. It's very important for a broker to have good communication and people skills, because the job is all about getting to know underwriters, and assessing what certain firms will and won't take on.

Underwriters decide whether or not to accept the risks presented to them by brokers. They essentially have three choices. They can accept a risk in full that's presented to them, reject it completely, or accept part of it. Underwriters therefore can claim to have a certain power over brokers, which is underscored at Lloyds of London, the City's insurance market, by the fact that the underwriters' chairs are always higher than the brokers' ones!

Underwriters can't just accept a risk on the spot. They look through the client's financial details and history, and do other research. Depending on the type of risk, an underwriter might appoint an expert to help them. For example, they might instruct a surveyor to go to a client's building site to make sure that construction work to be insured is being carried out in the right way.

There are also roles in insurance where you get involved after an event happens by working on the claims being made as a result of that event. These might be for hundreds of pounds, or tens of millions of pounds, or even more. Very large claims are complex, and can take many years to process. For example, it took nine years to resolve a post 9/11 claim made by workers clearing Ground Zero in relation to pulmonary illnesses they'd suffered through not being given the correct protective equipment.

There's also the role of loss adjuster, who deals with the insurance company's clients who've suffered losses or damage as a result of, say, a hurricane or an earthquake. They try to understand what damage has been done, how it was caused, and how the individual or business can be best compensated according to the contract they've got with the insurance company.

Other areas of the profession include reinsurance, risk modelling and risk management, business analysis and business support functions such as marketing, business development and HR.

What do employers in this sector look for?

Employers in the insurance sector are looking for the person with the right soft skills profile, rather than someone who's studied a particular degree subject - in the profession you'll find people who've studied humanities and sciences, as well as business and finance. Some students think you have to be good only at crunching numbers to work in insurance and if you're a people person, it's not for you - but both of those are untrue.

The key requirements are communication, problem solving, analytical, and negotiation skills - and of these, being able to communicate well is the most important, as it connects everyone working in risk. Employers teach graduates the technical knowledge they'll need, but they'll want you to be the type of person who can work well with other people.

The people skills required in different jobs are a little bit different. For example, a broker needs to have commercial intuition because they're there to get the best deal for their clients, whereas a loss adjuster has to have a strong sense of empathy because they go to places where something terrible has happened and will have to work with distressed clients.

How would you introduce the CII? What does the organisation do?

The CII is the world's largest professional body for insurance and financial services. We've got more than 100,000 members in over 150 countries, and we develop and award professional qualifications for those working in the insurance and financial planning professions.

Many of the graduate schemes that employers run will include one of our qualifications, typically the ACII. The ACII is the designation for the Advanced Diploma in Insurance, which is a qualification covering technical topics that it's useful for those working in insurance to know about, such as law, underwriting, broking, risk management and relevant aspects of economics. The qualification gives you a very good in-depth knowledge of the sector.

It's probably the best-recognised qualification in the world in risk, so it's like a second passport in your pocket because businesspeople everywhere know what it is, and what you're capable of achieving if you have it.

For those who want to work in the London market, we also have a qualification called the Award in London Market Insurance (ALMI for short).

You can take these qualifications whenever you want to, which could be while you're at university to give your CV an edge, or alongside a graduate scheme, or later - whatever works best for your career.

Can students join the CII, and how can joining help them get into the industry?

Yes - our student membership is called Discover Membership and it gives students CII membership at about a third of the usual price (£35 per year) but with all the key benefits.

These benefits include access to local and regional networking events, which are great for building up your contacts, and access to online market data, which is helpful for finding out about the profession and preparing for interviews.

Membership also looks great on your CV, and will make your applications stand out.