Opportunities abound in the insurance sector, with technology set to enable massive change. Russell Higginbotham, the new president of the Insurance Institute of London, is determined to see the sector make the most of this chance.
Japan, Korea and Australia are all among the countries Russell Higginbotham has called home during his 30-year career in the insurance sector, while the US and Germany were both home to him in his younger years. In his career, Russell has spent time in many markets around the world, across both general insurance and life and health. This has given him broad exposure to the insurance industry, which informs all he does today.
"It is a wide world, both for my personal life and my working life," he says, encouraging anyone, who has the opportunity, to broaden their horizons through exposure to international markets.
"Increasingly, firms are offering staff the opportunity for secondments or long-term postings. It is a real opportunity to understand the macro environment in which we operate." Mr Higginbotham recognises it is a tough market right now for both insurers and reinsurers, not least because of the recent flood of capital coming into the sector looking for a good return in this sustained low interest rate environment.
"Ultimately, we are here to pay claims," he says, "and it has been a relatively benign (large) claims environment. It is always good to be able to remind people of the value of insurance and reinsurance when we pay a claim."
Taking the helm
Newly appointed as president of the Insurance Institute of London (IIL), Mr Higginbotham hopes the lecture programme, which forms the backbone of what the Institute represents, will reflect a little of him during his year in office.
Equally important to the Institute is the prestigious Mansion House lunch and also the Young Members Ball, which he says is growing larger every year -- reflecting the increasing numbers of younger people in the sector.
His theme for this year is technology, which he views as a crucial topic, and which will be covered in the forthcoming lectures at the IIL.
"We must be positive about the changes ahead of us and not fall foul of being disenfranchised. Technology gives us opportunities and we need to be embracing those," he says.
Mr Higginbotham speaks equally passionately about the protection gap, which affects economies worldwide and in which the industry itself has such a vital role to play.
"A protection gap means insurers and reinsurers are failing to engage with potential buyers, but technology will help us to understand those potential customers better and to design more suitable products," he says.
"Data also allows us to encourage better risk mitigation and ultimately lower the cost of insurance. Think about smarter homes: machines can help us turn the heating on and off but smarter technology can also warn you that a pipe is leaking -- before it does major damage.
"The whole relationship with consumers can change through better use of technology," he says.
Reinventing the industry
The importance of insurance contracts should not be underestimated, he feels, but the industry has to shoulder some of the blame for not making more of that. "Take your life insurance contract as an example, it is probably the longest lasting contract you will ever take out -- perhaps except for your marriage vows!
"Yet as insurers we really only engage with the customer as they sign the deal and then maybe 25 years later when there is a claim. Technology will help us improve our customer engagement." It is an opportunity, he believes, to "reinvent ourselves".
Apart from the many new opportunities, which may bring new faces to the sector, Mr Higginbotham says those already involved in insurance must maintain their education throughout their careers.
"Continuous education is vital," he says, "and it is up to us at the IIL and at the Chartered Insurance Institute to make sure we deliver the most appropriate continuing personal development programmes for everyone across the country but also the wider insurance community."
One thing that has pleased him in recent times is the number of young people entering the profession.
"We hosted a future leadership event with capacity for 100 people and had more than 300 people apply. I think the industry is in great shape. There is always more to do but we are in a strong position.
"I am not sure whether apprentices or undergraduates are choosing insurance as they leave university but, whatever the reason, we are seeing more of them; and once engaged, they quickly realise the huge number of opportunities there are available within the sector," he says.
But one thing is for sure, Mr Higginbotham is not allowing himself to sit back and think it is a job well done. "We should never be satisfied and we should always look ahead to try to respond to the next challenge," he warns, "as soon as we take our foot off the pedal, we will lose out."
The Insurance Institute of London
The Insurance Institute of London (IIL) plays a major role in supporting the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) in the cause of insurance education and professional development through its lectures, social occasions, networking events and highly regarded research. You can see the full range of the IIL's work at: www.iilondon.co.uk
More than 400 volunteers contribute to the Institute's programme as committee members, speakers, facilitators and authors. Members can find out more by emailing Allison Potts, Institute secretary, with their CV and details of how they feel they would be able to contribute: firstname.lastname@example.org