December 17, 2015

As the final episode of Insurance Aitch’s Broker Apprentice gameshow aired to web this week, we finally learned what it takes to secure an apprenticeship in the world of broking these days: a grammar school education, an upper second class honours degree in Politics and a post graduate qualification in Law. It also helps if you have already been working for a year or so at one of the UK’s top five insurance broking firms.

Yes, after a series of gruelling cross-examinations at the brutal hands of L+V = Insurance’s Jonno Rawk (flanked by trusty sidekicks Mike Alarums and Mike Cray), this year’s rabble (between whom a belatedly gracious Rork claims it was almost impossible to choose) were finally whittled down to the one who spoke proper, looked and sounded as if he did a lot of thinking, and had the suavitas to never sound bossy or pushy.

As the interviews progressed we learned that Charlie (first into the Rorkster’s den) had initially found himself propelled outside his comfort zone by the novelty of people on the streets of Wimbledon proving less than keen to hear what he had to say. Cool and calm, he handled this rebuff with admirable equanimity.

As the tasks progressed, a casual observer might have misread Charlie’s behaviour as ‘hanging back’ or ‘being a bit quiet’. But what he was actually doing, we gradually came to appreciate, was engaging in calm unhurried strategic thinking. In retrospect, that hand so frequently applied to chin was a clue. Where others simply came up with ideas, Charlie mulled and ruminated, providing insightful generalisations on topics such as reality and practicability.

Was he a leader? He was ‘a quiet leader,’ opined one of the Mikes. He never really said much, but provided a ‘solid core’ that ‘kept the others going in the right direction’.

Dan was an ‘interesting’ candidate, one who claimed to be good at face to face, but quickly proved the opposite in Wimbledon. In his final interview Dan claimed credit for the decision to hand out sweets in SW19, and for “getting some balloons in place.” He admitted, however, that on that occasion the other team had perhaps been thinking a little further ahead.

What did Dan bring to Team Eee Vole? Pretty much just ideas and stuff – that and reminding Charlie and Ginny occasionally to focus on the stated objective of the task in hand. Ideas, of course, are cheap as chips in modern day UK, where you can scarcely swing a cat without striking a good half-dozen inspiring and original concepts.

Virginia was described by a Mike (still can’t really tell them apart, but the swarthy one not the one who does that unforgettably arch sideways glance at Mr Rork in the title sequence) as ‘a great candidate,’ a hard-working team player, and great with people. Not really an ideas person though (Dan did that on her team), but in her defence Ginny claims she kept the boys in check, reviewed everything, made sure they delivered, and was “always trying to throw out their creative ideas”.

Moving on to Team Perspire, we turn first to the enigmatic Tristan “Ché” Octopus-Holster, whom all the judges lauded for his irrepressibly untrammelled enthusiasm. Although accused of charging about like an overexcited puppy, Tris said he’d learned from his hyperactive antics in Wimbledon (see Ep 2) and had had some really good feedback from mentals on the streets.

But L%V= Insurance’s Mike The Other One reckons Tris still has a tendency to let his enthusiasm get the better of him and “go off too quickly”. I thought I was good back in Ross on Wye, Tris, admits ruefully, but the experience of coming up against someone who has a law degree and is dealing in corporate brokers and someone who has eight clients and jets of to New York and Chicago had comes as a salutary shock.

Tris bases his plea for selection as Broken Apprentice 2015 on the argument that he has changed the most as a person and proved his willingness and ability to learn new skills quickly. Possibly a risky gambit. Who, after all, wants an apprentice who is full of enthusiasm and eager to learn?

Next up is Young Nick, whose poker-faced exterior calm masks nothing more sinister or remarkable than a natural charm and outstanding ability as a salesman. Does he need a bit of professional polish? Was his contribution on the ideas side a tad minimal? Mike Thing appears to imply that he does and it might have been. Making his final pitch, Nicky repeats his earlier insistence (see Ep 1) that he is a fresh pair of eyes, adding that these eyes offer a wide view on insurance.

Finally we turn to Emma. Ah, Emma. What can one say about Emma? Apparently one can say that she’s hard working, resilient and ‘not a quitter’. Emma says of herself that she is here to develop her skills, was determined not to take the back seat, immersed herself, spoke to people, and surprised herself.

Didn’t really see her do much, opines a Mike. Didn’t do any leading. Did she do something behind the scenes? Who knows, perhaps she did. She did stand out for her caring-ness. That’s what really matters to me, she admits. Too good-natured, nurturing and altruistic for a go-getting career in the cut-throat world of insurance broking? Possibly. But like she says, she’s here to learn.

At the end of the terminal interviews section we see each candidate asked which other candidate they think should win. Dan is too smart to fall for this and votes for a compromise between ‘me’ and ‘all of us deserve to win it’.

So who likes who here? Tris says he would ‘go with’ Emma. But Emma would pick Nick. Nick in turn likes Tristan. A proper little love triangle there. Virginia and Charlie, however, are happy to choose one another. So, for what it’s worth, everyone gets one vote except Dan, unless you count voting for yourself.

Ultimately, classless class wins out, Charlie romps effortlessly home and the others drown their sorrows (assuming they have any, which isn’t immediately apparent) in something fizzy served in a Champagne flute.

Charlie’s victory is a sign of the times. The days when hard work, charm, a willingness to learn, a few good ideas, and a natural ability to sell were all it took to forge a successful career in insurance are rapidly coming to an end. In future a solid 2.1 from a good university, a postgraduate degree, and some decent corporate experience will be the bare minimum it takes to gain a toehold on the insurance career ladder.

Look out all you plausible chancers: insurance broking is going professional!

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