Aviva Commercial Lines Academy – why it's thriving

It has become a vital part of the business's success

Aviva Commercial Lines Academy – why it's thriving

Insurance News

By Mia Wallace

As the recently promoted COO for SME and distribution at Aviva, the true measure of Sharon Boobyer’s (pictured) success is not how she ascended the ladder of her insurance career, but how she continues to send that ladder back down to help others to come up after her.

When she left school in Belfast at 18, her very first interview was with Commercial Union – now Aviva – and 34 years later, she’s still proud to call Aviva her home. She served the Belfast market on the ground for about 26 years, she said, moving up through the ranks to lead the commercial underwriting team in Belfast before being tapped to become head of trading and schemes for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“That extensive experience in being a commercial underwriter and trading with brokers is what led me to the opportunity to set up our commercial lines academy six years ago,” she said. “I immediately saw what a great opportunity there was for me to help shape and design the academy. And even when I moved into my next role in change and transformation – and into my present role – I’ve still had the luxury of leading the academy and training our people.

“It’s been a thriving career that I’ve had. I have three children and Aviva has supported my work-life balance, and my being part-time while bringing up my children, and all through my career. Thirty-four (34) years later, I can’t believe I am chief operating officer! And being empowered to do this job while living in Belfast through the flexibility of travel and smart working has been especially fantastic.”

Why she’s never looked back after joining the insurance market

There’s a variety of reasons why she has never looked back after joining the insurance sector, she said, but they all come back to her passion for people. She highlighted that whether it’s colleagues, distribution partners or clients, it’s all about the people at the end of the day, and that, early on in her career, she learnt that doing the best you can for the people around you is the real value proposition of insurance.

“I’ve had great leaders, I’ve had great colleagues and I’ve always got a lot of energy from dealing with our brokers in the market,” she said. “When you join insurance, you become part of a family really and you get to know that family. And we’re here to do business - but I get great support from both our people and our brokers and when my role [grew and changed], that energy followed.”

The essential value of lifelong learning

Boobyer noted that a continuous learning piece is integral to understanding how to manage and deliver on customer expectations. It’s only by working with a variety of different teams that you can understand what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, but also how to support them. The academy is about supporting people in achieving their full potential, she said, and she knows from her own experience that access to opportunity is instrumental in the decision to stay and develop an insurance career.

“I’m a multi-skilled underwriter and I still carry my underwriting hat because that’s what allowed me to do so many great things,” she said. “When I started to shape up the commercial lines academy, one of my building blocks was the recognition that people learn in different ways and one size doesn’t fit all. Some people like online learning, others classroom learning; some people learn faster than others. It’s all about creating different types of learning opportunities to suit our different underwriters.

“I’ve travelled around the whole of the UK listening to our underwriters, finding out what works for them and how we can deliver to support them.”

A standout metric for Boobyer is that 80% of Aviva’s underwriters are multi-skilled, with four or more technical licenses. This demonstrates the insurer’s commitment to building great trading confidence both within its underwriters and for the benefit of brokers and customers, she said.

“We’re holding on to our great talent,” she said. “That’s really the outcome we want to achieve and the academy is supporting that because it’s a great confidence booster for people who have that energy and eagerness to learn more and develop their careers with us. But we aren’t going to be complacent about talent, we’re going to digitize and automate to allow better outcomes for our customers, our brokers and our people. The academy is all about developing those skills, and the learning and confidence to be able to do that.”

What’s next for Aviva’s Commercial Lines Academy

2023 was a great year for the Academy, Boobyer said, but she has no intention of allowing the initiative to rest on its laurels in 2024.

“We’re planning on bringing on even more apprentices,” she said. “We’ve had over 700 applications for our apprenticeship scheme in September already, which is fantastic. There are also our new starters which include non-apprentices from other insurers as well - so we’re focusing on giving them the support they need. But certainly, our journey to develop and license multi-skilled underwriters is not slowing down.”

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