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Wiser Academy CEO on his mission to transform the insurance sector

Wiser Academy CEO on his mission to transform the insurance sector | Insurance Business UK

Wiser Academy CEO on his mission to transform the insurance sector

Wiser Academy is a business on a mission, according to MD and CEO Crescens George (pictured) – a mission to transform insurance from an industry back to a profession. Like law or accounting, insurance is a profession at its core, he said, but participants tend to refer to it as an industry. The reason for this, he believes, is that, unlike accounting or law, insurance does not require professional qualifications.

“There are about 350,000 of us and qualifications are not mandatory even though you’re advising the general public on the things that matter most to them, their businesses and personal items,” he said. “Now life insurance is still regulated, you can’t sell it without a qualification. But you can let somebody insure your £5 million factory without any qualifications, though that money and so many people’s livelihoods are at stake.

“So, our mission is to really transform the sector and make sure everyone in the sector is qualified - not just on the theory and the technical aspects of insurance, but also on the right set of behaviours and skills necessary to perform as a good insurance professional.”

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This has been the driving force of Wiser Academy since it started trading independently about eight years ago. It recently welcomed a landmark milestone, being graded ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted following a full inspection in February. The team is absolutely delighted, George said, particularly given that the academy is the only insurance-focused provider that he knows of which has received an ‘Outstanding’ designation.

Regarding the Ofsted report, he noted that he was particularly pleased that the inspectors identified that Wiser Academy’s approach to training and development is much more than a tick-box exercise. The report highlighted the value-add its programme brings for employers, he said, and its focus on making apprenticeships relevant and tailored to each employer.

“I was pleased the inspectors were able to pick that up just from conversations they had with employers and the apprentices,” he said. “We at Wiser Academy have always said we are from the insurance sector for the insurance sector and so, we’re really proud that we created this business, almost out of nothing, to really support the sector.”

The sector has always had skill shortages, he said, particularly because when young people leave school, college or university, they’re not typically thinking about insurance.

When attending career events at schools and colleges, he said, you can see young people flocking to the stands of British Airways, or IT companies, or other elements of financial services. Insurance has a long way to go to showcase the opportunities an insurance career can offer. The reason for this struggle is twofold. Firstly, there is a lack of awareness about what insurance covers. It is only when you get into the detail of how insurance keeps planes in the air and vaccines in production that people start to understand the breadth of its impact.

Secondly, most people nowadays, from children to grown-ups, don’t face insurance on the same daily basis that they do other sectors. They tend to have an interaction once or twice a year and that’s it. However, he said, with gadget insurance and embedded insurance solutions becoming more widely publicised, that is changing, and the insurance sector should capitalise on this market shift.

The time is right for insurance businesses to further invest in training and development opportunities - not least because the value of professional advice has become clearer than ever during COVID.

“Consumers are now doing more research with the help of the internet, they can come more prepared than the person sitting opposite them,” he said. “They understand that there was a certain instance in another company that was dealt with in a certain way, and they question why their circumstances – which are very similar to that – can’t be dealt with in the same way. That’s what we saw with the [FCA BI] test case and it really challenged the status quo of everything.”

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In addition, George said, companies should take advantage of the new reputation apprenticeships, in general, have managed to obtain over the last six to seven years. Apprenticeships have moved a long way from being seen as restricted solely to electricians, plumbers and bricklayers. The stereotyping has changed, and young people are increasingly aware of the benefits these opportunities can bring.

“However, we need to package whatever schemes are created… very well and they have to be very comprehensive,” he said. “We must show people the meaning and the benefits that they get out of it. If you approach a really aspiring, ambitious young person with a standard apprenticeship, he or she may not be as engaged with it. You need to show how this is going to transform their lives and how it’s going to add value to their career and future life. As long as we can do that, we can get more engagement.”

For George, taking advantage of such schemes from the government is a real example of a “no brainer”. Everyone should tap into it, he said, and use it as an opportunity to transform the status quo. The shift towards remote working during the COVID-19 lockdowns revealed the speed of decision-making businesses and individuals can be capable of. Now everybody needs to harness that agility of thought and use it to help create solutions to increase the number of insurance professionals.

“As a sector, we shouldn’t wait for the regulator or anyone else to come in and say it’s mandatory,” he said. “We should take our own initiative and transform the sector.”

That’s what Wiser Academy is here to do, and the business has strong growth goals set for itself – with an eye fixed on doubling its size within the next two years. The firm has a solid basis on which to grow as much as it wants, George said, and with the Ofsted inspection under its belt, the foundations it has been preparing over the last 12-13 months have been firmly endorsed by its regulator.

“That gives us even more confidence, but it doesn’t mean we’re stopping there, and there are still things that we continuously improve,” he said. “But now is the time to grow. Our ethos is strong – we want to support our learners, support our employers and give more value pound for pound, because this is public funding and we understand the seriousness of that and we respect it. So, keeping that ethos combined with the good processes and foundations we have, and we are really ready to grow.”