Money Moves

New course hones insurance agents' professionalism

by Wendy Shair

AIA Hong Kong - innovative training programme for insurance agents
Jacky Chan, CEO, AIA Hong Kong and Macau
Photo: Dickie Tam

Innovative training programme puts talented insurers on fast track towards esteemed industry membership

Customers have rising expectations when it comes to retirement and insurance-related products, and companies working in this field need a strong, quality workforce to ensure optimum business results.

For this reason, American International Assurance Company (Bermuda) Limited (AIA Hong Kong) this year introduced its AIA Premier Academy to recruit and groom potential talent to help bolster the company's future growth.

The establishment of the academy is a strategic initiative to lift the standards of the sales force by putting them on the fast track towards membership of the independent Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) association of life-insurance and financial-services professionals, says Jacky Chan, chief executive officer, AIA Hong Kong and Macau. The company selected 31 candidates out of 100-plus applicants for the two-year programme.

"Since our specific aim is to recruit fresh talent for the field, none of this first batch of qualifiers has previous insurance experience. This means we can train them from scratch, nurturing and grooming them to absorb AIA's 'corporate DNA'," Mr Chan says, adding that the participants are from diverse industry backgrounds, ranging from accounting, auditing and banking to marketing.

The academy will play a key role to help AIA recruit top people to meet the fast-growing demand for sophisticated insurance products, he notes. "We aim to recruit high-caliber young talents in order to fill AIA's pipeline in accordance with our strategic growth plan for Hong Kong and Macau."

High standards

To help insurance agents qualify for prestigious MDRT membership through the tailor-made Road to MDRT programme is a major aim of the training, says Mr Chan. "We've always embraced MDRT as an internationally recognised standard of excellence in our industry, and therefore it's a business imperative. Our selection process is tough, including panel interviews with senior company managers and an aptitude test. Our minimum requirement is a university degree and a year's work experience."

Recruitment criteria are extremely high, he stresses. "We aim to hire people that are energetic and vibrant and offer them on-the-job training. We want to attract new blood and therefore invest substantially in human resources."

The company wants its sales staff to achieve the top standards of excellence and to be recognised as the best and brightest in the industry, Mr Chan points out. In order to perform well in the insurance sector, candidates must be committed to their work and demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit. "They're essentially running their own businesses, so good management skills are also essential."

Service excellence is key, he stresses, adding that the AIA Premier Academy aims to boost the insurance giant's long-term business growth. "We've invested more than HK$100 million in hardware and software and believe this venture is worthwhile for the company in the long run. The hardware includes our premier centre and other sales tools, while the software includes an outstanding group of trainers, consisting of experienced operations managers and MDRT members."

Candidates are assigned mentors to offer valuable advice, ensuring that they learn the ropes from experienced insurance processionals, Mr Chan says. AIA offers new recruits remuneration packages ranging from HK$15,000 to HK$50,000 per month, depending on their professional industry backgrounds and previous packages. This ties in with the goal of attracting people from different disciplines.

Promising outlook

The insurance sector has not been as badly affected by the global economy as some other industries, since there is always a need for insurance products, in good times or bad. "There's still plenty of room for further development and sales growth remains strong in the retirement and medical segments," Mr Chan says.

"The competitive nature of the industry motivates and challenges us. AIA provides our agents with a strong foundation to develop their careers," he notes, explaining that the group has the most MDRT members in the industry, with 812 members in Hong Kong alone.

In order to be successful in the business, agents must believe in and value their work. "It's a meaningful job. Competent insurance professionals must win their customers' trust and gain from the fact that they are devising good outcomes for other people," Mr Chan advises. Although rejections from potential clients are common, this should not discourage them.

"The secret to success is hard work. Competent workers should be able to manage their own time, be passionate about their industry and understand their customers' needs."

Although there is a high turnover of staff in the sector, Mr Chan is optimistic about the future of the industry. "There's plenty of opportunity for good performers to move up the ranks. Once they've completed our programme, AIA sales professionals will be in a position to further enhance their skills to climb the career ladder, depending on their individual preferences and specialisations," he concludes.

Assured of success

  • New academy to recruit and groom potential talent to help bolster future growth
  • Programme places sales agents on fast track towards MDRT membership
  • Tough selection process includes panel interviews and an aptitude test
  • Industry outlook is bright, with room for more growth

Taken from Career Times 11 November 2011, A10

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