Insure thing

Top insurance jobs aren't just for maths graduates, says Helen Jones
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The days when a job in insurance meant trudging the streets collecting weekly subs from housewives have long gone. The industry is growing ever more complex as long-established players merge, new companies enter the market and new products are launched.

Boots the Chemist is just the latest to move into the financial services sector with the pounds 8m launch last week of a range of products from dental insurance to holiday cover. It has joined forces with Royal & Sun Alliance, which will underwrite the scheme and provide the claims services.

As a result of this increasing activity, there is a growing demand for high-calibre graduates in the insurance business. Many firms such as Prudential and Scottish Widows take a set number of actuarial and accountancy graduates each year, but they are not only looking for specialists - general management trainees are also required to work across all areas of their businesses from human resources to sales and marketing. Experience is not necessary for entry to one of the major insurance firm's graduate schemes; they are looking for enthusiasm, flexibility and the ability to work as part of a team.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Widows says: "We take around 10 actuarial students who have a first-class degree in maths, a numeric related degree or a specific actuarial degree such as actuarial science."

She adds that as well as a relevant degree, "potential recruits need to be good communicators, must be able to work as part of a team, be computer literate and be able to take decisions as well as being able to manage people." Successful applicants receive full training at Scottish Widows' Edinburgh headquarters and a starting salary of pounds 17,500. The company is also planning to introduce a fast-track graduate scheme offering general management training this autumn, but numbers have not yet been finalised.

Prudential has a well-established business management scheme, and recruits graduates with a 2:1 or above as well as taking on those with specialist actuarial and accountancy degrees. "We usually take on 30 graduates a year and give them experience across a range of areas of the business through a series of placements. They are also encouraged to network during these placements so that they get an idea of what they would really like to do within the company," says a spokeswoman.

Royal & Sun Alliance, which takes on around 50 graduates a year, says it is particularly keen to recruit computer-literate graduates, but is also seeking graduates with general degrees who demonstrate they can manage change.

"The industry has changed beyond recognition in the last five years," says Gerry Lynch, head of human resources. "We need people who are flexible, confident, enthusiastic and intellectually curious." He adds that the merger between Royal and Sun Alliance has resulted in the "delayering" of management, so that "people progress through the company quicker and take greater responsibility at an earlier age than before".

The starting salary for graduates at Royal & Sun Alliance is around pounds 15,000, and within three to five years they can expect to be in a managerial position and earning between pounds 30,000 and pounds 35,000. Training takes place at a number of sites, including London, Bristol and Liverpool.

The graduate training programme takes two years, and Mr Lynch says it is flexible enough to allow participants to try different things. "We give them the opportunity to try underwriting, trading, marketing, human resources, etc. We also encourage them to study for professional exams, whether they are human resources qualifications, finance or actuarial," he says.