February 27, 2013

Regular readers will recall from last week’s issue that Bankstone News has developed an unhealthy fascination with the compellingly ludicrous spectacle that is Insurance Age’s Broker Apprentice. For anyone who’s been living in a cave or doesn’t have interweb or whatever, the set-up is as follows.

Chris “Hanky” Hanks of Alley Ants pretends to be Lord Sir Alan Sugar (flanked by Age editor M. N. U. L. “Kenny” Kenning and his boss Jonno “Swifty” Swift in the traditional roles of Nick and Margaret – though we’re still not quite sure which one’s meant to be which) whilst sundry insurance bods vie for right to be called (fanfare, deep voice) Broker Apprentice.

Episode 4, which went out this week (or more exactly which began sitting in a publicly visible location on the Insurance Age website this week), showed the five hapless contestants attempt to create a two-page print ad to go into “a student newspaper” that would convince bright young people to forget about university and plunge straight into the varied and stimulating world of insurance broking.

First to present his ideas to Chris and the boys was task-two winner Oliver “Olly” Layers, whose ad features a portion of the Lloyd’s building and a giant banner headline proclaiming KEEP CALM YOU DON’T NEED UNI, and explains that “You don’t need a degree to have a lucrative career in insurance broking”. Hanky was hoping Olly’s ad might give him some clue as to what insurance broking is. Alas, he is disappointed.

In Olly’s defence, the ad does make clear that without insurance “the Olympics wouldn’t have taken place,” “you can’t drive your car” and “your first property won’t be covered”. It also reveals (under the heading Insurance Facts!!!) that David Beckham’s clapped out old legs are insured for $70m, a full $32m more than Michael Flatley’s tediously twiddly feet, and that Tom Jones’ $7m chest hair is worth a million more than Rod Stewart’s voice.

In explaining the rationale for his ad, Olly makes an unfortunate slip by saying he is trying to inject a bit of fun and excitement because “insurance is not the most exciting of industries”, before quickly adding “or – it’s not perceived to be the most exciting of industries.”

Kenny agrees that Olly’s copy-light ad is eye-catching, but has concerns, suggesting that as a young person his reaction might be “Ooh, I’ll get to do things with footballers and movie stars – or singers – but what do I do next?” Where, in other words, is the call to action?

Well it’s only a first draft, Olly insists, alluding to the potential existence of a “final version” that would include contact details. It would be “an ad for our brokerage” he says shamelessly and would say contact us.

Next up is Jonathan Gannet, whose ad Hanky likes because it is clean and colourful. “It’s very clean”, he says approvingly, several times. Jonathan’s main headline asks “Are you bright, ambitious and ready to develop your future? Then insurance broking might be right for you.” It goes on to list the benefits of a career in insurance broking, which include earning money “whilst continuing to develop”, portability (“take YOUR career where you want to go”) and “start working in dynamic exciting environment”, before asking provocatively, “Insurance broking – how far do you want to take it?”

The obvious flaw in Jonathan’s ad is that it still doesn’t tell Hanky what insurance broking is. He’s never going to find out at this rate! Plus: Swifty has spotted another problem. It’s Merv Hughes. “I’m nearly 40”, Swifty admits ruefully, “and I know who he is” but does anybody else? Hughes features in a section of Jonathan’s ad that explains graphically how insurance covers “everything from sports clubs to property to famous walrus moustaches”. But Swifty isn’t having it. Struggling to defend the Australian sportsman’s relevance to young people, Jonathan can only offer: “the reason why I settled on Merv Hughes was more because of the moustache” than because of Hughes himself. Citing the increasingly influential “Movember” facial-hair-for-charity phenomenon, he explains that “it is becoming kind of fashionable with young people in a niche way to maybe not grow a moustache but to have like a kind of interest.”

With Jonathan effectively dead in the water, it’s Katy up next. “What does a broker do?” asks an increasingly desperate Hanky. Will Katy’s ad provide elucidation? Yes and No. Her ad provides a lot of information about what one individual broker does – but rather less about brokers in general.

“Insurance broking…. success lies within saying yes!!” her ad declares mysteriously, before going on to suggest that insurance broking will appeal to people who are “18 and like the idea of a successful career in an industry that is stimulating and varied.”

Katy, it soon becomes clear, has based her ad squarely on herself, thinly disguised in male form as Toby Smith. “I have given an example of Toby who was 18 himself,” she says, “and didn’t want to go to university but decided to pursue the brokerage route.” Toby, we read, had an “offer I couldn’t refuse” to join a broking firm, where he had an “impressive salary” and “the option to further my studies” by taking CII exams. Now at the age of 23, Toby (Katy) has an advanced diploma and is individually chartered. “If that doesn’t impress you,” Toby/Katy concludes, “I don’t know what will.”

Hanky reiterates his disappointment over not learning more about brokers in general. WIth hindsight, Katy accepts, she might have done things a little differently. But she says she “didn’t give Toby a pacific title” (Earl of Tahiti or Prince of Peace perhaps?) because she wanted to stress that “you don’t have to do one pacific job to be successful” and that there are “many roles within the industry.”

Katy’s ad does include one interesting novelty that the others lack: a competition. Readers of the hypothetical student paper are challenged to enter a single-question multiple guess competition by text to qualify for the chance to say yes to insurance broking. The question is: what does the FSA stand for (“aside from no nonsense, obviously”, it neglects to add). The options provided are a) Financial Service Authority, b) Financial Service Agency, c) Financial Service Agreement. To which the answer, presumably, is none of the above.

Trick question or not, Hanky reckons it’s still too easy. He tells Katy he likes the fact she’s included a call to action, but thinks her simplistic competition might attract “the homeless guy in the doorway”. “Would you like to have a person who smells sitting in your office,” he asks her frankly, adding after duly noting her apparent unconcern, “I don’t know.” But with his previously noted penchant for cleanliness, Hanky certain wouldn’t want smelly people hanging round the Allez-Ants offices. He tells her she need to tighten up the rules – to exclude homeless people, presumably.

Ashley’s ad also includes a case study (again a barely disguised self-portrait, this time as Mr J Bloggs). His big idea is climbing ladders. This he feels (perhaps prompted by talk of ladders in Task 1) provides the perfect metaphor for the diversity of career opportunities available to school leavers within the insurance broking industry. “Insurance broking has a ladder for everyone,” the ad proclaims, “and within an industry this broad the opportunities are endless” A bit like ladders, really.

Bloggs, we learn, has gone from earning £11k as an office junior to bringing in £40k at the age of 25, and regrets only that he “cannot recommend insurance broking highly enough.”

Hanky thinks the ladder thing has legs. “I thought this was very clever actually, Ashley” he says, adding “the whole notion of climbing ladders is a good idea”. Ash also scores points for being the only candidate to include social media details at the foot of his add, and for having given thought to things like a website, partnerships with recruitment agencies, a programme of school visits and so on.

“I didn’t want it to be too gimmicky or mascots,” Ash says, “I didn’t even want any celebrities in there.” No celebrities seems controversial given the youthful audience at whom the campaign is targeted, but “when you are 18 looking for a job, it’s a serious business,” he stresses – and nobody contradicts him.

Final contestant Holly, on the other hand, has lots of celebrities in her “eye catching” ad. What do Gaga, Rihanna and Ronaldo have in common?, her ad asks. The answer, of course, is insurance! “Insurance is more glamorous than you may think,” it advises us, “with opportunities to travel the world and gain recognised qualifications through the Chartered Institute of Insurers.” If this sounds good, wait until you read on to discover that “Jobs available include Claims Handling, Compliance, Sales, Marketing, IT,” and er… “Aviation and Space,” her list concludes incongruously.

Any suspicions of plagiarism aroused by this abrupt shift from a list of job roles to a list of classes of insurance (possibly featured one above the other in the original source material) is only confirmed when she signs off by noting that “we are looking for dynamic, talented, ambitious individuals to join one of the world’s leading proefessional organisations.”

Whether Hanky ever did find out what insurance broking involves (aside from handsome remuneration, variety, international travel and the chance to mingle with celebrities), Bankstone News remains uncertain, but he generously declares that he has seen five fantastic ads – as good as anything an agency could come up with. He really liked Olly’s Keep Calm don’t go to university thing, but concedes that in the final analysis “I love the notion of climbing ladders.

So it’s Ashley who carries the day, leaving only Jonathan and Holly without a win so far. Holly’s probably not too worried though. She’s roped in all her mates to vote for her on the Insurance Age website and had 96% of the online vote last time Bankstone News checked. If that doesn’t impress you, we don’t know what will!


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