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The transition from Insurance Account Handling into an Account Executive

by Heat Recruitment

A talented account handler is a critical asset to any insurance broker and play a hugely important role in helping the account executives service what should be an increasing book of business. That said, having spent several years developing their technical understanding of insurance broking, and mastering the customer service elements to the role, it’s natural someone would look to spread their wings and seek possible avenues to offer career development.

The road ahead is not clear cut; insurance offers many options and seasoned account handlers eager to take the next step will pursue different paths depending on their own ambitions. Whether you actively look to plunge yourself into the world of business development and pursue an account or development executive position, or increase your exposure to larger/corporate classes of insurance, which is progression in its own right, you can’t progress without a clear plan of action.

Barriers to Entry

Typically, insurance firms are reluctant in employing insurance brokers as account executives. Given the investment the firm is making, they usually seek assurances (usually by way of a track record in business development) that the individual will succeed. Recruiting an account executive can pose a significant risk to a broker, especially where they don’t have the financial backing of a consolidator. Whilst many will recruit an AE with their eyes open, knowing the first year is unlikely to yield significant returns whilst they build a book of business, they will want to have confidence that by the individuals second year results will start to come their way.
This is quite often why brokers choose to recruit someone with experience and has already developed and managed a book of business. Despite covenants preventing the individual from taking clients across in their first 12 months, if they believe they could win back 50 per cent of the clients once their covenant has finished, this could be a real windfall for the recruiting business.

Take stock and set your goals

For those looking to make the transition from account handling into an account executive, taking stock of your current skills and setting clear goals for the next five years will help you in mapping out a route to career success. When do you want to achieve this by? How will I make the move? What are the specific skills you need to develop in order to make this step? Will your current firm help you to build these skills? And fundamentally, are these opportunities going to available to me if I stay?

Assess opportunities for progression in your current company

If you are eager to make the move to becoming an account executive, given the barriers outlined above, quite often your best bet may be to look at progressing internally, rather than jumping ship. It’s really important you make your ambitions clear to your existing company, as you need to sound out their appetite for helping you achieve these goals. They also may have a different view on the skills they feel you need to develop, and so clarity from both parties is essential in terms of what’s needed. There may be the opportunity to go on client visits with the account executive, gaining exposure to the demands of a client-facing role. Another possibility would be getting involved in prospecting within your current company, which demonstrates that new business attitude that so many brokers are looking for in account executives in the current climate. Your employer may be able to provide opportunities for growth, but the only way to know is to ask.

Demonstrate your ability and appetite to learn

A good manager will work with you to help you achieve your career ambitions, but only if you demonstrate the desire to learn the necessary skills needed to be successful – namely, to win business. A talented account executive should have an agile mindset; they should be able to build a detailed plan to identify and capitalise on high value clients, in order to show a return on investment.

Being business development focussed is a given; an ability to think outside the box and draw on knowledge of the entire product offering of the firm sees account
executives thrive. Demonstrate your eagerness to improve in these areas and your manager will feel more comfortable putting leads through you and sending you to meetings with account executives.

Typically, an account executive could be expected to generate £150-200K Gross Written Profit in new business in their first year; this will be relative to the commission they are bringing in to the business – generally 20% of GWP – and will need to be in excess of the Account Executive’s salary plus National Insurance contributions, pension and car allowance.

With this in mind, putting together a mini-business plan on how you would propose to attack the market and deliver on these expectations is a great way to showcase your potential. It demonstrates that you have clearly thought about the demands of the role, and given a good insight into the way you view the development aspect of the role. Speaking to another account executive to gain feedback on your business plan can prove valuable in providing market insight and learning to see it from their perspective.

Technical in nature, the role of an account executive is focused almost exclusively on the insurance needs of bigger businesses. While an account handler may begin their career working with SME policies and asking clients a series of standardised questions to determine the best product, a senior account handler will possess the ability to think on their feet to offer a more bespoke package product. Therefore, pursuing a more technical account handling position can also prove to be a great stepping stone into making the transition to an account executive.

Communicating your career aspirations to your manager

While opportunities may exist in your current firm to progress in your chosen direction, you may find the size of your company and the nature of its clients restrictive to your professional development. For example, if you want to deal with corporate risks, but are working in a small regional broker primarily dealing with premiums of up to £25k, your preferred route to progression may be capped by the products you will be advising on and the level of risk you will be dealing with.

Ultimately, the best course of action to take is to have an open and honest conversation with your manager about your development within the company. Is there room for personal growth with the firm? What opportunities exist for career progression and do these align with your own goals? You might not be able to work on corporate accounts with your current company, but there may be scope for building on your skills to eventually become an account executive.

If, on the other hand, sales are not in your future, it might be the case that the next step in your career involves moving to a new company to gain experience working with new products and clients of higher value. Only by communicating with your manager can you put the wheels in motion for your career progression.

If this means looking elsewhere, our specialist recruitment team can connect you with roles that reflect your aspirations and advise on the steps you’ll need to take to secure them.

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by Chris Birtle