It was a watershed moment on 18 November of last year when the industry’s two main education providers announced a partnership agreement had been made, in their endeavours to facilitate the higher standards of broker education.
The agreement, which took effect immediately, saw the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance (ANZIIF) become the National Insurance Brokers Association’s (NIBA’s) preferred supplier of broker education. NIBA College has provided qualifications and CPD programs for brokers since 1995 but will cease to exist on 1 September 2016. NIBA retains its member services and lobbying and representation responsibilities, while ANZIIF will focus on education, membership and community projects.
The discussions that eventually led to the agreement began a year ago, according to NIBA’s CEO, Dallas Booth. “We started a process here with the NIBA Board of Directors to do a very serious review of our goals, objectives and priorities,” he tells Insurance Business.
“We did a lot of workshopping around the board table, a lot of internal analysis ourselves as to what we were really here for, and we had to re-establish our own goals.
“There was a question … as to what’s the most cost-effective mechanism for delivery of the education and training commitment,”
“We did a lot of consultation with industry leaders, and a couple of times we went to the whole membership to say, ‘What do you think should be the goals [and] priorities of NIBA as an organisation?’ We got a pretty strong response … that members and industry leaders couldn’t see the rationale for two industry-owned training bodies.
“Secondly, when [employers’] staff asked them, ‘Do I do ANZIIF or NIBA College?’ they didn’t really have a clear answer.”
At that point, Booth says the conversation with ANZIIF began. “That led to a whole bunch of detailed discussions about what each party was wanting to achieve, and the ultimate outcome was a collaborative arrangement.”
The announcement of that arrangement was timed to coincide with the launch of the new ANZIIF Skills Units, which ANZIIF and NIBA describe as “a major reform of industry education”. The Skills Units are FNS15-compliant and the two bodies say the content aims to address industry changes and reflect the needs of both brokers and business.
The new content
The new units will enable brokers to focus on one specific skills area and build their proficiency in that area over a four- to six-week period, as opposed to studying a broader area and completing a unit over a number of months.
“This is a really sophisticated industry with a sophisticated set of clients,” says Prue Willsford, ANZIIF’s CEO. “The kinds of people that are required to work in this industry have to be curious, they have to be adaptable, and they have to be broadband thinkers who are able to apply knowledge effectively in a range of circumstances. We’re really looking to build capability for the industry.”
Willsford’s nearly three-decade career has included roles at the higher end of financial services, and five years as deputy chancellor of Victoria University. “I’ve been lucky enough to see how education transforms people’s lives – for myself, my family [and] the 55,000 students that go through VU every year,” Willsford says.
“For me, working for an organisation that has the potential to impact so many people – not just the people we’re training but all of their clients – is really purposeful.”
Discussing the context around the evolution of the new Skills Units, Willsford says: “In that massive education revolution that’s occurring across the globe, there’s a big difference between knowing things and being able to do things. What we’re really interested in is not just great content but the pedagogy by which that is taught, because we think that great education in this environment is all about the moments of truth, where an individual is adding value to a client.
“The way we’ve designed our education is about having an incredibly high-quality, engaging learning pathway supported by really innovative assessment strategies. Those assessment strategies are all about decision-making, because great decision-making demonstrates the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to be successful as a professional.
“Our education is quite different to anything else I’ve experienced… We’re taking quite a different approach to supporting the industry and how it grows.”
Talking about the new units, Booth says: “There’s a whole new approach to the delivery of this stuff in an e-learning environment that is totally different to anything that’s happened either from ANZIIF or from NIBA College in the past, and that’s the exciting bit… It’s the way in which [ANZIIF] is using the very best of e-learning to deliver this stuff that’s going to be really brilliant.”
Booth points to the benefits of allowing students to study content in bite-sized chunks. “I think that’s really smart because people often want to learn, but they don’t necessarily want to learn the whole thing.
“A lot of employers, particularly the bigger brokers, have got staff with relatively narrow functions and responsibilities. They can just do units of study relevant to that.
“The content that we’ve seen so far from some of the courses … is just excellent. I’m actually quite excited about it.”
Willsford says ANZIIF’s conversation with industry, ultimately leading to the creation of the Skills Units, began around 18 months ago. On the genesis of the new content, she tells Insurance Business: “One of the real changes with the ANZIIF Skills Units is that we’ve engaged heavily with the industry – and using broking as an example – to understand the career path that a broker is likely to take, including saying, ‘If someone comes in and they start off as an assistant broker, what does that look like? How long do they stay in that role? What are the skills that they need? How do you know that they’re ready to move on? How do you prepare them for that next phase?’
“A real career journey conversation is what we’ve been having with industry. That then gives you a career path for an individual, and that career path is supported by knowledge, skills and competencies at each level. When you look at that career path, there is a loose linkage to a Certificate 3, a Certificate 4, a Diploma of Insurance Broking, [etc].
“What the learner actually wants, and what the industry wants is skills that are appropriate at the career level, and getting a ticket is a nice thing to have as a demonstration of that, but far more important is the capability to do that role today.
“Our Skills Units can be linked together to give people a ticket, if that’s what they need or want – and I do think that credentialing in that way is still important. But more important is that I know I have the skills, knowledge and behaviours which equal capability to do my job today.”
Willsford says ANZIIF hopes the new approach will give industry professionals greater clarity around skills and competencies required in order to take the next steps in their careers, and will also assist in making insurance more appealing to jobseekers. “When we’re wanting to attract people to our industry, they can see a structured investment that will enable them to grow, and that’s a critical part of people wanting to join our industry,” she explains.
“[This approach] supports the work we’re doing around careers in insurance. But for those who’ve already joined us, they can actually manage their own career paths themselves in a way that they probably could have before but they had to apply a lot of thought to it. We’re just trying to make it easy for them to understand how they can progress in their careers.”
Consultation and collaboration
An obvious question that arises is around the level of industry feedback ANZIIF has received about its Skills Units, and the overall tenor of those responses. “We’ve had feedback as we’ve developed the program,” Willsford says. “Once we had modules to actually demonstrate to people, we’ve been – with great pleasure – demonstrating them and providing key people with access.
“The reality is, if you’re going to be an industry education provider, you actually have to do that with industry.”
According to Willsford, to date, more than 500 people have been engaged in the review process. “Our board has seen them, our faculties have seen them, the NIBA Education Committee has seen them, most of the NIBA Board [of Directors] has seen them … but importantly, some of our key clients have also reviewed them.”
She says reaction to the Skills Units has been “fantastic”. “You do these things and you know in your heart that they’re good, but you still have to wait to get that resonance back from the industry, and that resonance has been very, very strong.”
“We’re now taking it out to learning and development managers and talking about how we can integrate that offering with existing training within the companies, and again, that’s a very positive conversation.”
College may be unconvinced that the new agreement is the right next move for the industry in trying to maximise the quality of broker education, and Willsford is cognisant of that. So, how would she respond to any scepticism?
“It wasn’t something that was done lightly,” she says. “And a really strong part of that was about NIBA testing our thinking about education, and they were clearly impressed by our commitment to high-quality education and the education revolution we’re undertaking.
“Secondly … we both have absolute commitment to growing the capability and professionalism of the broking industry. That’s our shared purpose. But where we’ve landed is that we both focus on our core strengths, but to the benefit of that shared purpose. They focus on lobbying, standard setting, and what good looks like from that side. We focus on the absolute excellence in terms of the education product and the quality of that.
“You’ve got a fantastic industry association in NIBA. There are lots of smart, committed people who have been part of that journey for a long time, who took a good, hard look at who they are and who we are, and how we can work best together.”
Willsford offers to demonstrate the new Skills Units to any interested persons. “I’d be delighted to personally show them what we’re doing. If someone wants to have a look, who wants to understand it personally, give me a call.”
Booth stresses that NIBA’s commitment to quality broker education and training remains. “We are promoting ANZIIF as a preferred supplier for broker training,” he says. “In response to that, we’re seeking – and we’re being given – close involvement in the nature and content of their courses and the quality of the course content and delivery. That’s very much part of the collaboration. It’s not a hands-off thing. It’s actually a very close working relationship.”
Booth says collaboration will involve formal meetings four times a year, and NIBA will retain its Board Education Committee. “The previous committee was there to guide and assist NIBA College. In the future, it will be there to inform the board and myself about the education and training needs of brokers. We will inform ourselves, through the board committee [and] through our own ongoing links to members, what the education and training needs are from a business point of view.
“Finally, the whole framework will be formally reviewed every two years. So it’s a very close collaboration and it’s intended to be.
“The other thing is that industry representation is still our role, but when we’re talking to government about education and training of brokers, we’ll take ANZIIF with us or will make sure that they’re very much part of that whole process.”
Booth and Willsford are acutely aware of the debate that’s emerged around broker competencies and training, including calls for Innovation & Business Skills Australia (IBSA) to approve an overhaul of the broker education framework. Both leaders say they’re enthused by the interest in continued conversation around a subject of crucial importance.
“We welcome that debate,” Booth says. “We encourage everybody, whether they’re RTOs, broking firms [or] learning and development managers … to put their views forward into the mix, as to what should be the competencies and knowledge and skills of brokers.
Similarly, Willsford says: “It’s great to see people engaging about what great looks like, and understanding that there’s a real depth of knowledge and skill required to build the capability.
“The conversations occurring about the lack of product knowledge … I think that’s a common cry. People always want more product knowledge, and that’s fantastic.”
Willsford highlights the autonomy RTOs have in making decisions to broaden their own content to reflect industry requirements. “ANZIIF has always gone well above and beyond the basic requirements for knowledge in our diplomas,” she says.
“We have always recognised that there’s a huge amount of underpinning knowledge required to be good, and this is, again, where there’s a real difference between building capability and getting a ticket.
“Any RTO is welcome, at any time, through either elective subjects or through how they construct the underpinning knowledge, to ensure that their education is above the minimum standard. It’s something that ANZIIF has always done.”
Weighing in on the issue of product knowledge versus competencies and skills, Booth says: “To be a good broker, you’ve got to know the products… Product knowledge is really important, but a whole bunch of other competencies and skills are also critically important for the person to do the job properly. It’s not just knowing what an ISR policy wording is. It’s far more complex than that.
“I think it’s interesting how, regardless of what’s changed in commerce and the economy, for over 200 years the fundamentals of insurance haven’t changed. You’ve still got an insurance policy based on a contract operating under the doctrine of utmost good faith with underwriters, intermediaries and clients… But lots of things have changed on the surface, in terms of how business is done and what sort of things you’re insuring and what risks are happening out there…
“So it’s absolutely vital that brokers have the skills and competencies to be able to cope with the world that we’ve got today, and with the world of constant change and threat of digital disruption, and offerings from direct and other places… It’s a whole combination of things, and we encourage everybody who’s got a view to put forward, to actually put it forward.”
Booth tells Insurance Business that, when IBSA did its major review of the content of broker training in 2014, RTOs were invited to make submissions. “NIBA did what it always does, and has done for the past 20 years, and widely consults with its members on a regular basis about what are the training needs of people coming into the business,” he says, and adds that NIBA then made its submission.
“There was a totally open opportunity for anybody who wanted to, to put a submission into that process,” he says. “The only other submission … went in from ANZIIF.”
Booth also responds to the suggestion of conflict arising from the fact that Linda Evans – effectively the head of NIBA College – also serves as deputy chair of IBSA. “NIBA does not and has never directed Linda. Linda is in that role in her personal capacity because of her own personal knowledge and experience in education and training in the financial services sector. NIBA has never directed her, and she plays her role as a person of incredibly high integrity and professionalism in that whole process.
“In any event, once NIBA put a submission in, they [IBSA] went out to the world and said, ‘What do you think about this?’ The views of NIBA were tested through those channels anyway, so it’s not as if everything is happening behind closed doors. It’s actually far from it.”
Booth says it’s NIBA’s intention to undertake research in collaboration with ANZIIF, within the next six months, on how the broker world will look in five years’ time. “We want to do some really solid research about that.
“I’m absolutely convinced in my own mind that … [in] financial services and well beyond … the successful employee of the future is one who’s very well skilled and trained, and that’s the only way you’re going to cope with what’s going on around you. But what should be the skills and knowledge to get you to that point?”
Continuing to discuss times ahead, Booth says NIBA will concentrate on its core reason for being – representation and government relations – and on meeting its obligations to current NIBA College students. “They will all get their diplomas or qualifications, and because it’s done under the vocational training framework, they will all stand. They’re all properly accredited.”
Under the agreement, NIBA will continue to award Qualified Practising Insurance Broker (QPIB) status to brokers who meet the criteria.
Booth also says time will be spent in the first half of 2016 examining how NIBA can best achieve its core objectives as the world changes. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re … doing the things that we really should be doing in the best way possible,” he says.
“As we go through and complete our year of transition, we then re-establish NIBA for its next period of life... We’ll be doing our transition, we’ ll be completing our commitment to current students, we’ll be doing a massive legislative and policy process with Canberra, and we’ll also be having a pretty good look at what NIBA should look like in 2017 and beyond.”
At ANZIIF, there’s no shortage of ongoing activity surrounding the launch of the Skills Units. “We have a number of units on the shelf ready to go, but we’re continuing to build that out,” Willsford says. “We’ll be building pretty continuously, I’d say, for the next 18 months.
“We’ll have our broking units ready to go with the new ASQA [Australian Skills Quality Authority] training package that’s due in March.”
“We’re also doing work in claims and underwriting, and we will continue to build out a variety of Skills Units. They will cover general insurance as well as broking. Lots of people go from broking to underwriting, or underwriting to broking, and you need to be able to recognise that career path and [allow students to] pick up the skills [they] need, not go and climb another two-year mountain just to get a ticket.”
As part of its work to ensure its broker education remains reflective of the profession’s requirements, ANZIIF will be using learnings from an upcoming project to be undertaken by its People and Talent Development Advisory Council, which will focus on understanding the employee of tomorrow. “We have a specific project that’s about the future of our employee force that ANZIIF can then respond to by providing the kind of learning that’s required,” Willsford says.
“We’ll continue to monitor things like our student satisfaction, student engagement and, obviously, feedback from the industry – the companies themselves that are usually paying for the education. For us, it’s [about] continuing to engage in different ways across all sectors and at all levels to make sure that what we produce is reflective of what’s required.
“It’s not about compliance. It’s about capability. It’s not about a ticket. It’s about capability. And that’s the journey that I think we all need to go on to ensure that brokers remain relevant over the next decade.”