Too often training is seen as an excuse to get away from working or a waste of time when there are policies to be sold. Both views are drastically wrong, writes Arnie Harmsworth
Training and development are core principles that underpin the success and continuing development of any intermediary business and yet mention of them often evokes one of two responses - "great" or "not again".
Training is not just about learning or adding another procedure to a business, it is about developing an individual to meet their needs and those of the firm.
The Financial Services Authority (FSA) expects all employees to be appropriately trained for the role they perform - and to be able to demonstrate this, the Training and Competence (T&C) handbook will provide full information on expectations.
From a working viewpoint, understanding the perception of training is one the first barriers to get across.
Many see training as an intrusion into their working time and therefore their ability to sell; others see it as an escape from their day-to-day chores.
Some are know-it-alls who have been advising for years, and some are still wet behind the ears and aching to learn more. A one-size-fits-all approach is seldom successful and getting the right balance is essential.
For large businesses with ample resources, training is something that can be delegated to a single person or department and money thrown in to ensure the requirements of the FSA's T&C rules are met. But what about the sole trader or the small office environment where time and money are precious?
It is important to understand what training is required and how to record, monitor and track its effectiveness. Training is not simply about product knowledge and IFAs being able to impress clients by coming up with yet another qualification or percentage statistic off the top of their heads.
Salespeople and admin workers rely on company literature when compiling research or making recommendations and there is no shame in referring to key features documents.
So, should IFAs put themselves under pressure to pass tests with percentage pass rates or focus on developing knowledge and information that would be really useful to them and their clients? The success of training relies on its relevance to the role and the benefit it will bring.
Organisation is essential to putting an effective training regime in place. One of the first things to establish is a practical and easy-to-use continued professional development (CPD) file which records and monitors training received and includes a training needs analysis, job description, personal development plans, appraisals and any one-to-one meetings and key performance indicators.
A simple spreadsheet would be the easiest way to do this and there are many templates available online.
One of many online resources is www.businessballs.com, which provides several useful documents and templates for free.
Alternatively, IFAs should not feel ashamed to ask for assistance and plagiarise associates' templates.
Do not forget about the insurance companies too; many are working more and more closely with intermediaries and are willing to offer support and assistance.
Once a template is in place, the next step is to work out what the training need is and where to get it. Many of the industry trade associations such as the British Insurance Brokers' Association and Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries offer conferences, training opportunities and presentations which are useful as a refresher or to spark discussions to obtain alternative viewpoints.
Many insurers regularly hold training roadshows throughout the country or at their head offices providing product- and industry-specific training.
However, often smaller businesses or sole traders do not have the time or resources to attend such functions and miss out on these valuable opportunities. So what then?
The internet is a powerful tool for anyone seeking to enhance their knowledge and maintain awareness and many insurers offer online training support for their intermediaries.
Reading articles can also be classed as training which can be added to CPD files where relevant.
Think about how much can be learnt by reading an issue of COVER. It must be worth a good half-hour or more on a CPD summary.
Many evening and night classes at colleges offer a cost-effective way to improve an individual's social and psychological skill, abilities, knowledge, confidence, self-esteem and value to the company.
Online, one-to-one and distance learning techniques are all excellent means of increasing awareness of competence in all matters relating to product knowledge, regulation and personal development.
But while professional training is essential, it is important that all staff achieve their personal and emotional needs and ambitions.
The greatest compliment to any organisation comes when its staff progress to bigger, better roles and sometimes different firms.
People learn in different ways and at a different pace. There is always the "sponge" in the office who soaks up any and every piece of information, and others who can only learn by implementing what they have heard or seen into their role.
Training needs to be adaptable and varied to ensure any person attending gains the most from it; talking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs or the Johari window model is not going to turn everyone on.
Most people know how they learn best - trainers should ask them and arrange a training module for each staff member which complements their learning style.
Many companies maintain and contain control and responsibility for the training and recording of their team's CPD, but training is a personal and essential part of any development.
By transferring responsibility to the individual to ensure their training is recorded and up to date, a team gains accountability for and ownership of their development. Managers should offer the opportunity for the individual to request the training they require and many of the day-to-day responsibilities and burdens for maintaining training and competence for the team will be transferred from their shoulders to those of the team, making the team feel more integral to the development of the business.
The time saved by transferring the everyday chore of maintaining training records will free time to concentrate on other aspects of the business, providing the team's CPD is reviewed and supervised.
Once a training regime has been implemented, it is essential it is regularly monitored, recorded efficiently and reviewed for effectiveness because the FSA will expect to see a comprehensive record of training.
For businesses with additional employees many other documents and processes should be in place such as a company handbook which includes an outline of the expectations of the FSA and the company, procedures manuals, job descriptions, confidentiality agreements, appraisal systems and so on.
Many templates for these documents are also online.
The FSA's Treating Customers Fairly drive can also be used to enhance knowledge by using research of clients' expectations and demands.
Despite the incestuous nature of recruitment in the protection industry, firms should strive to bring in new faces from outside the protection market, people without any preconceived ideas and bad habits of long-established processes and regimes.
They should train these new recruits in identifying new opportunities and markets, allowing them to concentrate and identify new prospects and avenues of business which will assist in reducing any churning, and promote recent healthcare innovations such as those that reward individuals maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
There are not many innovative ideas and often what needs to be done and implemented has already been devised.
Responsible employers should be committed to providing staff with an environment in which they can enjoy their roles and develop their business along with their personal skills and abilities.
Managers do not have to do it all themselves and they should always value highly the input and enthusiasm of staff and encourage an atmosphere which is dedicated to safeguarding their opportunities and rights as individuals.
Arnie Harmsworth is sales and compliance manager at Preferred Medical
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