Insurance Business UK’s celebration of the Elite Women making waves across the insurance sector shone a spotlight on the variety of backgrounds and experiences that create an insurance professional. Among the honourees was Brokerbility’s operations director Julie Rayson-Flynn (pictured) who noted that this recognition was a lovely surprise and a testament to the possibilities available across the insurance profession.
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Rayson-Flynn’s introduction to the industry is a familiar one as she joined as a teenager, having been offered the choice of working with Royal Insurance or TSB Bank. The job with Royal Insurance paid £100 more a year, she said, which sounds like a lot when you’re 17. She started as a trainee underwriter in Leicester, gaining a strong foundation of knowledge and progressed to an underwriting role before moving on to AXA and taking on more of the people management orientated position of building relationships between insurers and brokers.
“I switched to the ‘dark side’ as they call it when Brokerbility was set up some 14/15 years ago,” she said, “to help build a group of independent brokers. It was key to Ashwin Mistry and Stuart Randall’s vision that local and independent brokers got their say from insurers. So we have built the network around delivering for those independent brokers who are strong and big enough to run their own businesses and now I manage our group of independent brokers, as well as our insurer relationships.”
An essential part of what creates strong players across the broking sector is being able to balance an entrepreneurial spirit and drive with a consistent desire to do the right thing for clients. Great brokers want to support their clients, she said, and to enhance the professionalism and reputation of the insurance profession. There’s still a way to go for the industry to really create a sustainable pipeline of strong talent, particularly when it comes to creating an environment that is inclusive for women, but the industry has a strong foundation on which to build.
“It was such a great accolade to win an Elite Women award but ultimately it seems disappointing that such awards are still such a thing,” she said. “I remember being at primary school and the headmaster said that girls couldn’t play football unless they cleaned the boys’ boots for a whole term because girls don’t play football. And the world and the country have come on a lot from that, but there is still a long way to go without a doubt.”
Real change starts with every individual business, and when Rayson-Flynn first turned her gaze on the Brokerbility network she highlighted that there were no women directors. Now, across the Clear Group, it’s an almost 50:50 split, she said, with 46% of senior management positions now held by women. She believes that the COVID environment has started to open more eyes across many industries regarding the adaptability of women and many women have demonstrated they can work flexible hours, and juggle professional responsibilities with childcare arrangements.
There are several practical steps that insurance businesses can take to build an inclusive environment, and it all starts with looking to do so. It’s very easy within our current society to feel that everything should come to us, she said, and that we simply need to wait for change to occur. Working from home, everybody can put the time and effort in to speak with each other and to start to open up new discussions about inclusivity.
“There are a lot of businesses out there that are looking to support their staff but I think you have to show that you want it and are looking for it,” she said. “Certainly, that personal drive and finding that thing that makes you tick is essential. I worked out a long time ago that I am a people person, I need to see people, even if that’s just walking down the street and nodding my head at a stranger. So, my business is with people, and I build relationships with them in a multitude of different ways.”
The training side is also essential, she stated, and she has first-hand experience of the difference that great training can make to a successful progression and is passionate about supporting the professional development of others. Brokers in the network can join the Brokerbility Academy and undertake a variety of training sessions, and the academy also takes on apprentices to teach the ropes of what it means to work in insurance broking.
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“One of the most frustrating things to me as the president of the Leicester CII two years ago was the number of insurance brokers, and particularly insurers who don’t engage with the CII - that is your professional body,” she said. “Ultimately, I think what we would all love to see is a change of perspective on of the profession and engaging with the CII is the key to building that.”