Sam Barrett discovers how the CII’s local institutes are keeping alive the very same values that led to the creation of the Federation of Insurance Institutes 125 years ago
It’s 125 years since representatives from the first local institutes met to establish the Federation of Insurance Institutes of Great Britain and Ireland. And while the federation’s role has changed in many ways since then – including being granted a Royal Charter in 1912 to become the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) – there is much that can be traced right back to 1897.
The continuation of some of these early values can be seen in the benefits that members get from their engagement with local institutes today.
In particular, networking, education and professional development are just as evident today as they were back in those early days.
Eleanor Moore is president of the oldest insurance institute, Manchester, which was set up in 1873. She originally joined to help with the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the CII but enjoyed it so much she joined the governance committee, taking on the role of treasurer before stepping up to president.
“Being part of the local institute gives you access to a huge network,” she says. “I specialise in personal lines so my networking opportunities are fairly limited but, through the institute, I now have contacts across the whole insurance profession. It’s so valuable.”
Access to this expertise and support from other members was what really appealed to Melanie Jordan, president of the Insurance Institute of Leeds. She had just started out in her career in insurance when she came across her local institute. “I won an award for my advanced diploma and was invited along to the institute for dinner,” she explains. “I was still finding my feet with my career but they offered me so much support. It was brilliant and I quickly got involved with the council. Although I stood down when I had my baby, I was more than happy to come back when they contacted me again. The institute helped me so much – I wanted to give something back.”
Learning and development
Institutes have also maintained a focus on education and professional development, with this demonstrated by the range of qualifications and CPD events that members can access.
For Louise Nicholls, president of the Insurance Institute of Bristol, involvement with local institutes is a valuable part of career development. She joined the young professional arm of the Leicester Insurance Institute when she was in her early 20s. “Insurance has a really varied careers ladder but without speaking to others, it can feel very insular,” she says. “By getting involved with the institute, you can find out what’s out there and develop the skills to grow and further your career.”
By getting involved with the institute, you can find out what’s out there and develop the skills to grow and further your career
Being a member of an institute can also help members develop new skills. As an example, Ms Jordan points to her experiences as education secretary, a role she took on a couple of years after joining her local institute. “I was organising education events on topics such as diversity and climate change. It was fascinating and gave me an opportunity to explore areas I wouldn’t necessarily cover in my job,” she says. “Being president has been really positive for my personal growth too. I was put off by the public speaking, but my husband and other members of the institute gave me the confidence to do it.”
Being part of an establishment with such heritage is also seen as important by those involved with their local institutes. “History is hugely important: it’s what we’re built on,” says Stuart Harbourne, president of the Birmingham Insurance Institute. “Our Institute was formed back in 1887 to enable likeminded individuals to get together and chat about the market, and this isn’t hugely different to our objectives today. Having this strong history and foundation helps you evolve and move forward.”
The institutes’ experiences during the pandemic are a great example of this, with the changes they’ve had to implement during the last couple of years likely to add a few more pages to their history books. “The pandemic forced us to make the biggest changes for some time,” says Alycia Thomson, president of the Insurance Institute of Norwich. “We had to switch all our CPD and networking events to virtual. It has been positive though, with engagement increasing because members have been able to access events from their desks or at a time that suits them.”
Shifting to virtual sessions was also an opportunity to try new things. For example, the Insurance Institute of Leeds introduced a virtual escape room on the topic of diversity, a virtual book club, online pilates sessions to support members’ wellbeing and even ran a virtual dinner with breakout rooms for networking, a session from the charity and a virtual after-party.
Local Institutes are able to adapt to changing circumstances but they all value the support they receive from the CII. “We work very closely with our regional manager,” says
Mr Harbourne. “They provide us with monthly updates, details of upcoming events and a link into the CII. They really helped during the pandemic too, supporting us with platforms for our virtual offering as well as help to promote the webinars.”
Ms Thomson also praises her CII regional manager, especially for their support with switching events to virtual during the pandemic. She also values the support of other local institutes. “We’ve worked with Suffolk, Ipswich and Cambridge local institutes on CPD events,” she adds. “It’s really nice to collaborate on these.”
There’s also praise for some of the specialist support provided by the CII, in particular its work around promoting careers in insurance to schools, colleges and universities. “They’ve really taken time out to reach out and open doors for us with the local schools and universities,” says Ms Nicholls. “It’s been very successful and we’ve had positive feedback from the students.”
There’s also recognition that the relationship is two-way, with Local Institutes feeding into CII projects through local regional forums. “It works well,” adds Mr Harbourne. “We’re our own legal entity but also an extension of the CII.”
Celebrations for the 125th anniversary of the federation may be about to begin but local institute presidents are already looking forward.
The return of some normality following the pandemic is likely to be their first focus, with excitement gathering around the opportunity to get together again. Ms Moore says that while face-to-face events will definitely return, she’s keen to retain some online events. “We’re going to keep a hybrid approach as it opens our CPD programme up to a much broader audience,” she says. “Some events do work better face to face but we’ll definitely keep some online.”
There’s also a desire to promote the insurance profession more, especially to schools, colleges and universities. “We need to raise awareness of the career opportunities insurance offers,” says Ms Moore. “Once students understand what’s on offer, they think it’s fabulous.”
This builds on a broader diversity piece that many institutes are keen to develop during the next few years. “We’re really pushing for more diversity and inclusion, going beyond gender and race and looking at areas such as neurodiversity,” says Ms Nicholls. “As part of this, we’ve run webinars aimed at employers and business owners with helpful suggestions such as changing a job description to make it more inclusive. The insurance profession needs to represent the wider world.”
Taking this stance should also help to build membership across the local institutes. This is something that Ms Moore would like to see. “I don’t want anyone to miss out because they work for a firm that doesn’t support their professional development,” she says. “Local institutes offer so much, from CPD to social events, and I’d love to see more people enjoy and benefit from them.”
Sam Barrett is a freelance journalist