A-Z Of Employers: Norwich Union

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The Independent Online

What does it do? The core of the business is insurance, marketed by that annoying/memorable "Quote Me Happy" TV campaign featuring The Royle Family's Craig Cash. Norwich Union is Britain's largest insurer, handling policies for one in seven cars, one in five households and 800,000 small businesses. Life assurance and pensions are also a key part of the business. It all began in Norwich, in 1797, as a fire insurance company, and expansion has been steady. The first overseas agency was opened in 1824, in Portugal, and now the name is spread across Europe and most parts of the world. In 2000, it bought Commercial Union and General Accident and, in 2002, changed the parent company name to Aviva. Further diversification came last year when the motoring membership organisation the RAC was acquired.

Vital statistics: Worldwide, 60,000 people work for Norwich Union, in 25 countries, looking after 30 million customers. More than half the staff work in the UK.

The office: Head office is in Norwich, and there's a centre in York. Bases include London, Southampton, Liverpool and Glasgow.

Is this you? In the UK, about 50 graduates a year are taken on, destined for a variety of roles, including pricing and underwriting for the insurance business, chartered accountancy and actuarial, and business functions such as marketing and HR. You'll need a 2.1 in any subject and be able to demonstrate some key strengths, including what the company calls "the skill of influencing".

The recruitment process: If your application (via www.norwichunion.com/graduates/apply-now.htm) survives initial screening, you might face four further selection stages. These include online numeric and verbal aptitude tests, a telephone interview, an online Occupational Personality Questionnaire (dissected by the in-house shrinks, no doubt) and, finally, the assessment centre. Currently, graduate training lasts two years, during which time recruits move around their business area on six-month placements, developing business awareness, technical skills and all-round professional competence. Actuarial trainees take a little longer, allowing more time to pass professional exams.

Top dollar? Graduates start on £22,000 (a little more for actuarial trainees). In addition, there's a signing-on extra of £1,500 in the first month's salary, and performance-related bonuses from the outset.

Beam me up Scotty? High-flyers will find themselves promoted into management roles before the end of their training. Others will be placed in positions that match the strengths shown during their in-house placements.

Who's the boss? The chief executive, Patrick Snowball, joined the company in 1994. Before moving into the top job, he ran the group's worldwide general insurance operation.

Little known fact: Norwich Union's founder, Thomas Bignold, hit upon insurance as a business idea when, on moving from Kent to Norwich, he couldn't find anyone to insure him against the threat of highwaymen. Norwich was a city built mainly from wood, so his first focus was fire insurance.

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