Most graduates get their first job in an insurance firm via an entry-level training programme, which usually lasts for two years. Trainees are assigned to a specific division such as underwriting or actuarial and they then rotate among different teams within the division.
“Our trainees work on interdisciplinary teams and different projects in order to get to know all aspects of the business,” says Alejandro Fernández Campos, a business analyst at Munich Re. “They are part of a team, for example an underwriting or client management unit, from the very first day."
Your traineeship should give you both technical insurance knowledge and enhance your communication skills. “Within 24 months trainees will be provided with a firm grounding in professional, methodological and social skills, but they will also have a network of colleagues all over the world,” says Fernández Campos.
Qualified actuaries are in short supply across the world’s main financial centres, primarily because the barriers to entry are so high. Insurance firms typically only recruit graduates (called actuarial analysts) into their training programmes who’ve performed well in numerate degrees such as actuarial science, maths, economics, engineering, chemistry or physics.
But completing your in-house training isn’t enough to describe yourself as an actuary (you’ll have ‘part-qualified' on your job tile). You must also study for three to six years to obtain a specialist qualification from the external actuarial body in your country – for example the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries in the UK. Thankfully, you can study by distance learning and many employers offer paid study leave and even financial support for course costs.
Once the arduous task of qualification is over, the demand for your specialist skills means you can potentially rise up the ranks comparatively quickly and gain managerial responsibility by your late-20s/early-30s. Most actuaries start out in a particular part of the insurance sector – such as life or reinsurance – but it is possible to change specialisms as your career progresses. You can also move out of industry – 27% of UK actuaries work in pensions, 7% in investment management and 4% in emerging fields like healthcare. Some actuaries work in risk roles in the banking sector or corporate sector, while other remain in insurance but shift into senior marketing, sales or product development jobs.
Underwriters typically boast degrees in economics, business, management, maths or a related subject, although life insurance firms also hire people with biology or medical backgrounds. And after completing their initial two-year underwriting training scheme they are usually assigned to a specific part of the profession – such as property or motor insurance – as assistant underwriters. Because underwriting is core to the business of any insurance company, to move up the ranks you must not only be technically brilliant at assessing risk, you must also build relationships with colleagues in actuarial, claims and other departments.
To move up the ranks you must not only be technically brilliant at assessing risk, you must also build relationships
Career progression in underwriting essentially depends on your ability to handle increasingly complicated and substantial degrees of risk. Making the final decision on pricing risk for a new aircraft or office block requires a steady, senior hand, for example. If you are up to these type of tasks you will be given more managerial responsibilities and may end up leading large teams. Some underwriters choose to advance themselves by moving away from consumer insurance products to complex fields like marine insurance. Reinsurance – where almost every case is large scale and demanding – is another good option for ambitious underwriters. Some choose to use their vast knowledge of the insurance sector to move into sales and broking roles later on in their careers.
Many claims roles are open to non-degree holders and some claims employees spend their whole careers ensconced in call centres. But large insurance firms also run graduate traineeships for their claims departments and these employees are typically fast tracked into management roles. A graduate traineeship won’t just focus on the mundane administration of insurance claims, it will give you a grounding in more challenging areas such as fraud detection or liability investigation.
In more senior claims jobs (which usually come with ‘manager’ or ‘director’ titles) you could find yourself managing a team of claims handlers or investigators. As a team leader you will have responsibility for productivity and profit and for adhering to complex insurance regulations and company policies. As their jobs become more demanding, some claims professionals choose to do a professional qualification from a body such as the UK’s Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters. Rising to the upper ranks in claims also requires you to forge strong relationships with a range of external experts such as lawyers, forensic accountants and loss adjusters.
If you want start your broking career with a two-year graduate traineeship, then target the larger firms such as Marsh, Aon, and Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. You will typically also have to undertake a professional qualification during your traineeship, such as the Advanced Diploma in Insurance from the UK’s Chartered Insurance Institute. Some people begin their insurance careers in actuarial, underwriting or claims jobs, before becoming brokers and leveraging their knowledge of insurance products to give them an edge when dealing with clients.
After completing your training at a large brokerage, you will typically rack up a few years’ general experience (you job title will be ‘account handler’ or similar) before moving into a specialist part of insurance. As in claims, the better jobs tend to be in niche areas of insurance where your clients are big corporations with challenging insurance needs. If you make it that far you will be called a ‘senior broker’. Some insurance brokers progress their careers to management level by staying within the likes of Marsh, while others move to smaller firms where they might have more independence and less onerous sales targets.