Little bit of a change in course on this post – though having tried my hand at global lager markets, it shouldn’t be a surprise. I thought for a change in scenery I would investigate a career into the extravagant and often headline-grabbing world of insurance. Why ever would you do such a thing you ask? Think of the dinner parties, the conversation massacres that might come of it!
I know, I know. But everyone and their mother wants to be a banker. Even when everyone and their mother hates bankers. I don’t like following the trend. That’s why when all my friends left school to become engineers, I rationalized that the world didn’t need anymore engineers, and that I’d have a much more exciting career with a non-numerical arts degree in business and finance. Because the world would definitely need plenty of those come 2010!
So why insurance? Well I came across an article in the FT discussing how the industry was struggling to convey to students that life in the insurance business was a lot more exciting that made out to be. It got to talking about the often overlooked commercial side, dealing with the assessment of complex risks in areas such as aviation, shipping and property, as well as dealing with the claims following huge natural disasters. But what narrowed my focus was what it had to say about the underwriting profession. This is a role at the forefront of the industry, the bread and butter. The adjectives “entrepreneurial” and “lively” jumped off the page. Surely they couldn’t say that if it weren’t true. Upon further investigation, I discovered that after 10 years, salaries ranged from £100k to £300k. I can live with that. One read through the Lloyd’s of London wiki page and I became very interested. So I tested the waters with an application.
Upon speaking to a representative of Allianz at the Manchester Careers Fair, I thought that would be a good place to start. They were friendly, open, and interested in me. But most importantly, they weren’t just hyping a brand. The rep replied to my followup email, even passed along my name to the recruiting department, so I couldn’t not apply. [If only we were allowed to tell the truth when asked why we were applying to that particular company].
So anyways, I was subsequently invited to sit the usual numeracy and verbal assessments. I can’t remember what they were like. But very standard. And if they were by SHL, I had seen plenty of the same questions before. Come on SHL, how hard is a little originality? If you applied to my company, I’d make you pass Super Mario Brothers 3 in one sitting. Now that’s a test of true skill.
Not too long afterwards I was invited for a 1v1 interview in Birmingham. Upon arriving they were surprised to hear that I had to travel so far.
“You mean you don’t live in XXXX?” My CV in hand, pointing to my degree.
No, I live where it says at the top, where my address is. Pointing to the top of my CV.
“Oh wow, that happens all the time it seems, candidates not living where they got their degree. We could have arranged an interview for you at an office much closer.”
“No worries!” I love commuting.
[Note to self: Underwriting requires a serious attention to detail, but really, not that much].
We sit down in a boardroom and Beth breaks down how the 45-minute interview will proceed. I was a bit worried when she said that it would largely consist of questions about the role of an Underwriter and the company in general. Worried because I had done next to no research on it. Okay, maybe not nada, but everything I read about Underwriting could be summed up in about three bullet points. The rest of the interview would be general competency questions.
I guess this is where I list out the questions asked. I didn’t really fumble on any of them, but I recall repeating my answers quite a bit. There was one though that I plain and simply said I don’t know to. She didn’t seem to mind.
-What do you think Underwriters do?
-What skills do you think an Underwriter needs?
-Explain a time when you needed these skills.
-Why have you decided to pursue a career in insurance?
-Why have you decided to pursue a career in Underwriting?
-Why have you decided to apply to Allianz?
-What do you think you will learn in your three year graduate scheme?
-What challenges do you expect you will need to overcome upon joining us?
-Where do you want to be with your career in the long term?
-What are Allianz’s strengths?
-How do you pronounce Allianz? [Hah! But no. For the record though, it’s Ah-lee-ahnz].
-Describe Allianz’s UK operations. (Uuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh, I don’t know).
-Name some of our competitors (Only remembered three so dropped a name I saw in a magazine in the lobby: “Aon – I think that’s how you pronounce it”. I was then informed that Aon was not a competitor, but a broker, more of a partner if anything. Whoops).
-And of course, Who else have you applied to?
-Tell me about a time when you worked in a team. What obstacles did you need to overcome?
-Explain a role you had where you needed a business focus. What was the most important skill you took from this?
-Tell me about a time when you sought to develop/challenge yourself. What did you learn about yourself from this?
-Do you have any questions for me?
So this is my time to highlight my knowledge of the industry, right? How does one do that exactly? If I needed to ask a question about something, I really wouldn’t be that knowledgeable, would I? And odds are, whatever headline-grabbing industry development I choose to inquire about, is not within the person they’ve chosen to interview me’s area of expertise. So I should ask more about the graduate programme, right? Well no because they already asked me what I thought I’d gain from it, implying I knew everything about it. The website literally only had 250 words to say about it. And a lot of it was huffpuff. See for yourself here.
-I mentioned the “Medical Loss Ratio” law recently signed through in the US regarding the Obama healthcare reforms. How do you think this will affect Allianz’s operations there?
-What challenges/growth prospects do Allianz face in the UK market? I mentioned the rise of niche market insurance companies providing cover to patients with AIDS/HIV and other health conditions, is Allianz moving into this territory?
-How will the Solvency II measures affect business in the UK?
I wasn’t really getting any interesting responses to these and started feeling like a yuppy graduate, so toned it down.
-Where could I be in five years with Allianz?
-What opportunities are there for travel?
-How soon could I start to specialize in a particular field of insurance?
“Thank you kindly for having me in today, I look forward to hearing from you.”
Overall, the interview was about as exciting as a career in insurance sounds. For an industry deeply concerned about its image, the interviewer did nothing to dispel these misconceptions. In fact, when I brought up the exciting things I had read about and aspired to be apart of, she was quick to make me aware that the graduate scheme didn’t touch on these areas. Or at least I think that’s what she said. Her body language and tone certainly suggested my aspirations were a long way off. I think I’ll send off a couple more insurance applications as I’m still quite interested in it. This was perhaps just a bad example.