The NIBA mentoring program turns 10 in 2018. It’s hard to believe that from its humble beginnings, now nearly 500 mentor/mentee pairs have been through the program. Insurance Adviser speaks to those there at the start and where it has taken them.

“We had a vision for this program,” says Vanessa Morton, Director of Gary Morton Insurance Brokers and the one who initially came up with the idea to present to NIBA.

“There are so many inspirational and knowledgeable insurance professionals out there in the profession, and so many young professionals wanting to absorb information and learn from that experience.  A mentoring program was the perfect platform for our experienced industry leaders to share their ideas and help young professionals achieve their career goals.”

The original idea, she says, was inspired by the UTS mentoring program, though the NIBA one is vastly different.

And the time was ripe. Back in 2008, mentoring had been on the NIBA Young Professionals Committee for a while and had been taking place on an informal, more ad hoc basis already.

“Rebecca Wilson [of Austbrokers ABS] and I created a small committee and worked together to develop a framework for the program. We ended up putting something together that took into consideration the needs of the insurance profession – we wanted to create something unique,” Morton told Insurance Adviser.

There was an initial pilot and then the program was off.

First cab off the rank

Andrew Faber and Jim Wiechman. One a young broker just starting out in the industry; the other an experienced insurance professional who at the time was National Manager in Construction with CGU.

“I wanted to take part in the program because I had just moved from a Business Development Manager role with Vero to being an authorised representative with MGA,” explains Faber, who is now Branch Manager for Gallagher in Parramatta. “Prior to my role with MGA I had never worked in a broking environment.

“I thought it was really valuable to be able to talk to someone outside my company who was also senior in the industry – just in terms of what I was struggling with at that stage in my career, and to be able to ask the ‘dumb questions’ …”

Wiechman, who is now Underwriting Manager with SURA Construction, remembers Faber as a “very bright and very motivated with a clear direction about where he wanted to be in his mind”.

“He’s now gone on to do bigger and better things … it’s a credit to him for being able to take on senior roles in the insurance industry at this stage of his career,” Wiechman says. “He’s a very capable young man and we need more of him in the industry.”

Faber says one of key things that “stuck” was advice from Wiechman on the value of relationships in the insurance industry. “He told me it was important to ensure what I was doing is done in the right way by my underwriting partner, that I had a good relationship with them, and that we should have a healthy respect for each other because underwriters need brokers and brokers need underwriters – we have to help each other out.”

And that, Wiechman says, is not something that you can learn from a textbook and where mentoring comes into its own. “I was mentored when I was starting out in the industry … not formally, but my boss at the time who guided me, developed my professionalism, and showed me how to conduct myself. That was something I really appreciated as a young professional,” he said.

“Now I’m the older guy, and I feel I should be able to offer some of that to someone. I think it is very important particularly in an industry recognised as a people business where your reputation and integrity is paramount.”

Long-distance relationship

But not all mentoring relationships take the usual path. For Alexandra Gunn and Jenny Bax, it was a long-distance relationship, aided by Skype.

Back in 2013, Gunn was a broker with Far North Insurance Brokers and had just completed her full diploma. NIBA had recommended she participate in the mentoring program which was kicking off for the first time in a regional area. “But I had to find my own mentor!” she recalls.

And she had Bax in mind, as they already had a bit of a rapport through their business relationship. “What an amazing opportunity it was to have Jenny as a mentor,” Gunn, now Area Manager with WFI, told Insurance Adviser. “She is a successful business woman and I was going to be able to tap into her experience and skill.”

Bax says: “I wanted to be part of the mentoring program because I wanted to give back and help give someone else a step up.

“What struck me with Alex was her drive and passion. I saw a lot of me in her. She had the same belief in herself and will to succeed. They were the key drivers for me. She really wanted to make a go of it, and leave no stone unturned in how to be the best version of herself.”

However, just before they were meant to start the program, Bax was posted to the Philippines. “Everyone thought it wouldn’t work but we were determined. Actually, it made us more determined to make it work!”

Gunn recalls: “We went through our calendars and we were very structured about it. We set homework and booked in non-negotiable times when we could call each other. We would talk for about an hour and a half going through what we had achieved, what we were working towards, and planning tasks. We made it work for us.”

It did work. It in fact set the precedent for future mentors and mentees in regional areas to participate in the program.

Why it works

Deliberating on why the NIBA Mentoring Program has worked so well, Morton believes it is the mix of structure and flexibility.

“While the mentors and mentees drive the process, NIBA provides the program and the framework around those interactions,” she explains.

The 12-week program consists of three workshops where the whole group can get together and share their experiences. But the rest of the time, individual mentors and mentees decide when they meet and what they work on. “So there’s flexibility combined with the important piece of coming together as a group. No other program that I know of does that,” Morton says.

Indeed, the mentors and mentees Insurance Adviser spoke to appreciated the flexibility.

“I could decide what I wanted to learn from my mentor,” Gunn said. “I was pregnant when I did the mentoring program. As the only female account executive in a rural brokerage at the time, I was a little nervous to go on maternity leave. I didn’t want to be forgotten. So, I wanted some tools to prepare myself and my assistant when I went away. Through the process, with Jenny’s help, I felt more secure in my role for when I returned.”

As each mentoring pair concentrates on different things, many have participated several times, sometimes in different roles.

Morton herself has been a mentor to a couple of young professionals, including Neal Maidment, now National Marketing Manager, Associations at Gallagher.

“For me there were different objectives working with each of them,” she says.

She adds both mentors and mentees get value from participating. “It is not ‘a cookie cutter’ program. It’s tailored to the individual they are matched with so they get a lot out of it as well.”

Lifelong connections

Many mentees and mentors stay in contact long after the formal part of the program ends for them.

Bax says she keeps in regular touch with all her mentees, including Gunn. “We still catch up and bounce things off each other. I think in mentoring, you can’t start and finish in a set timeframe. To do things properly, we need to create a relationship … and that takes longer.”

For Morton too, her mentor was Graham Cassidy, Broker Development Manager at Steadfast Group. She says: “I still keep in touch with him … he might have started out as my mentor but he has become a great friend.

“You do build long-lasting relationships. We are in a relationship business after all – and the strong relationships we build can mean success, particularly in difficult situations.”

Overall the program has gone from strength to strength, evolving along the way to suit changing needs.

“It has a brand and reputation in the industry and many are putting their hand up to be part of the program,” says Morton. “Rebecca and I are extremely proud of what we have created and the support that the insurance profession has given it.”

The NIBA Mentoring program kicks off again in February 2018. Don’t wait to be a part of renowned program. Apply to be a mentor here  and to be a mentee here. For any queries, contact Arianne Bath at abath@niba.com.au.

What’s in it for me? 

Alexandra Gunn, Area Manager, WFI. (Mentee)

“Mentoring is such a worthwhile experience, especially for those who are ‘young’ in the industry. To have someone senior in the industry put time aside for you – that is liquid gold for your career. To have someone to share your experience with and help you learn and advance your career is excellent. It gives you that sounding board.”

Jenny Bax, insurance professional. (Mentor)

“I get different perspectives. I learn so much from the people I mentor. I learnt that less is more, and if I ask the right questions, people usually come up with the answers themselves. It also keeps me accountable – essentially, am I practising what I’m preaching? I’ve also gained confidence in my ability to articulate what works for me and share some of my pitfalls.”

Andrew Faber, Branch Manager,  Gallagher Parramatta branch. (Mentee)

“It was a great program to be involved in as I was starting out in the insurance broking profession. Being able to call on my mentor – someone outside of my workplace – to talk to was important for me at that stage. Through the program, I also became part of the NIBA NSW YP Committee and eventually Vice President of it. I formed strong industry friendships on the back of that.”

Jim Wiechman, Underwriting Manager, SURA Construction. (Mentor)

“I saw it as a way to stay connected to young people in the industry. It was great working with my mentee, to gain some insight into the difficulties and realities of starting a career in today’s market. Because we all tend to work in our own little worlds, meeting and talking with my mentee was a bit of a reality check. It’s nice to have that.”

NIBA thanks the mentorship program sponsors; AIMS, Aon, CGU, Gallagher, Marsh, QBE, Steadfast.