People remain central to the success of many businesses. To achieve sustainability, one insurance group goes to great lengths to build a well-equipped workforce.
In a move to equip new advisors with the necessary professional knowledge and skills to excel in the industry, Zurich Insurance Group (Hong Kong) has established a New Advisor Development Centre to centralise the recruitment and training of new advisors since 2004, offering a range of comprehensive training programmes, coupled with an on-going monitoring mechanism.
The group has broken with traditional industry practice with this move. "As a central platform, the centre will regularly review recruitment strategies and campaigns and propose enhanced strategies to management," says Steve Pang, senior manager, Zurich Academy Distribution Development, Zurich Insurance Group (Hong Kong).
The New Advisor Development Centre subjects all prospective candidates to a universal selection process, which include written tests on language, numeracy and logical thinking. Shortlisted candidates attend one-on-one interviews to assess whether they have the right attributes and personality for the job and whether they share the company's philosophy.
All Zurich's new advisors with no industry experience are required to join the centre's two-month training programme. This aims to impart basic knowledge on financial planning, product features and selling techniques, and more importantly, to familiarise them with the company's customer-centric philosophy.
In order to provide customers with the best financial planning solutions, the training schedule focuses on role-play exercises and "field observation practice" that harness skills on customer communications.
"The field observation practice gives advisors the opportunities to accompany their managers when meeting clients. This immerses them in valuable experiences to hone their selling and communication skills and to build up confidence," says Mr Pang, adding that one-on-one mentorship helps advisors to learn from experienced managers.
Zurich's new advisors enjoy an initial two-month training allowance with no sales targets but development milestones to fulfil in that period. "This essentially enables them to focus on their training and skills development without putting them under financial pressure," Mr Pang notes.
While tailored training is in place to help advisors prepare for their IIQE and HKSI examinations, a full sponsorship encourages them to obtain these professional qualifications.
The centre monitors new advisors on a continuous basis, via channels such as regular reviews with managers and mentors.
Aside from this, Zurich introduces a "sales effective model" that facilitates more cohesive training, coaching and mentoring for advisors, helping them to work in a more effective way.
This unique model incorporates five key elements, Mr Pang notes, including goal setting, mentoring, coaching, regular reviews and skills enhancement workshops. "New advisors are equipped with a need-based financial planning discipline. The in-the-field section instils in them the skills and confidence necessary to enhance their effectiveness in the marketplace," he elaborates.
The right match
Zurich's philosophy is to recruit "the right person doing the right thing" and to "retain true talent". The emphasis is therefore on candidate quality rather than quantity.
The company currently has two positions on offer. Candidates for the business development trainee position should have at least a Form Seven education; while prospective business development associates should be university graduates with a minimum of 10 years of work experience.
"We are looking for business development trainees with the drive, initiative and enthusiasm for financial planning. It is equally important that they are committed and have the right attitude," says Mr Pang. "As for business development associates, we are looking for people who have the entrepreneurial and business-minded qualities for future leadership roles."
All new employees who have completed the two-month training programme are offered attractive remuneration packages and systematic career development opportunities. Advisors may take a business development direction or follow a management path after completing their training. They are also given continuous training opportunities via the Zurich Academy.
"The academy aims to build synergy and groom talent for the company," Mr Pang says. In particular, the academy joined forces with Tsinghua University in Beijing and rolled out a joint programme that offers its financial planners a good market overview adorned with in-depth knowledge of the business environment and governance structure in the mainland China insurance industry.
"We will continue to tailor various forms of training, including seminars and workshops, for our advisors, using the Zurich Academy platform. Ultimately, our aim is to equip them with all the necessary and up-to-date skills and knowledge," Mr Pang concludes.