In insurance, close enough is rarely good enough. But when it comes to recruiting an insurance broker, close enough can sometimes be better.

In an industry facing a shortage of talent and stiff competition for experienced brokers, the search for the ‘perfect’ broker can be long, expensive and occasionally fruitless.

But those who are prepared to look outside the existing pool of brokers – and invest in a little extra training – can end up with a superior long-term solution.

HR expert and Managing Director of consultancy Businessary Annabel Rees says: “If you recruit someone who’s 100% fit for a role, they’ve outgrown it already.”

“People thrive on challenge, so always to look to recruit someone who is 70-80% ready for the role and has 10-20% of stretch in them, at the very least,” she says.

Outside recruitment

The psychologist and HR professional of 20 years likens recruitment to hitting a bullseye on a target. “The bullseye is likely to be an experienced broker with industry or product expertise and behaviours that exemplify a high performer in your business,” she says.

“But if they do not exist, then each circle away from the bullseye has components of this perfect scenario.”

Rees recommends looking for someone who has industry expertise, but no broking experience. “Broking is an industry where clients often want to hear from experts first and brokers second,” she says.

Rees knows the benefits of this approach firsthand, having specialised in insurance broking HR for five years.

“We were looking for an aviation broker at one point,” she says. “We weren’t able to find an aviation broker but we were able to find an aviation engineer who had a very strong network in the small regional aviation industry.

“That was a great fit because they had a strong established network, they were credible and the minor part was teaching them to do the brokering component of their role.”

If you can’t find an expert in the field, another solution is to look to the banking and financial services sector. It’s an industry that invests heavily in easily transferable skills, particularly management, Rees says.

“Then you only need to spend time developing their broking skills and you’ve already got a well-rounded manager.”

Tapping young talent

A third option is identifying potential in someone who is still studying or straight out of university. GSA Insurance Brokers’ CEO Paul Hines is a strong proponent of this approach.

“We employ a number of university students and they might work for us one or two days a week while they’re studying.” Hines says frequently they end up staying. “It’s a great time to employ someone because they’re full of aspiration and they want to learn.”

Switching codes

Jane Ellis from HR giant Chandler Macleod says one of the big advantages of hiring someone new to insurance broking is that they bring new ideas because they don’t shy away from challenging the status quo.

“You don’t have bad habits to train out so you’re able to train to your company’s way of doing things,” Ellis says, adding that employing someone without broking experience can often be a cheaper option.

“You don’t get into bidding wars for people who have the skills but have three or four other organisations [bidding for] them at the same time,” she says.

However, she warns there is no “silver bullet.” While recruiting from outside the industry might be cheaper upfront, employers need to ask themselves if they have the time and resources to bring someone up to speed.

“Or are you going to be pulling someone away from their primary responsibilities and then have everything fall in a heap?” Ellis says.

Businessary’s Annabel Rees agrees. She says employers need to draw up a development plan that outlines the training and performance expectations of both employee and employer.

“The times that it doesn’t go well are when people are recruited, pointed in the direction of the desk and told ‘go for it’,” she says.

Getting a new employee up to speed involves helping them complete formal qualifications – like NIBA’s Diploma Tier 1 – and arranging technical training.

Rees says it is important to draw on existing human resources if you really want to accelerate someone’s development. She recommends having recruits shadow an experienced broker and setting them up with a mentor.

Throughout this process, Rees says, it is important to review your new broker’s progress regularly, perhaps sitting down for monthly meetings to discuss their development.

If key performance indicators are not being met, it could be time to rethink the appointment. “If the individual doesn’t come along at the pace that you’re wanting, and you’re providing a level of coaching and development that is multifaceted, then there is a point where underperformance is underperformance,” Rees says.

GSA’s Hines admits hiring from outside the industry is something he’s “messed up a few times”. The warning signs were there, he recalls, but on those occasions he failed to follow his gut instinct.

His advice is straightforward: if you’re not certain, don’t do it.

“Whenever there is a question mark and you’re sitting there stewing over it, don’t take a punt,” he says. Hines is more thorough these days, interviewing each candidate more than once and getting second opinions.

“I’ll take that candidate through the office and get them to speak to directors and other people whose opinion I value,” he says.

“Then after the candidate leaves I check in with those people as to what their view is. Sometimes I also get a colleague to conduct a full interview so I can cross-reference my thoughts.”

But if you get it right and your gamble pays off, you can be handsomely rewarded with great loyalty, staving off future staffing crises, Chandler Macleod’s Jane Ellis says.

“Having a company that has cared enough about somebody’s career to be able to train them and then provide a career path where they can continue their professional development fosters a lot of loyalty,” she says.

Maximising potential

Once you’ve brought your broker up to speed, you need to continue training and challenging them.  Rees says employers should consider long-term rewards like an international exchange or a 12-month career break for young brokers.

More senior brokers could be allowed to buy into the business or work with more independence as an authorised representative.

If you want to keep good staff there is no time to get complacent. After all, close enough is rarely good enough.