Originally from Uzbekistan, I came to the UK around ten years ago, completed my A Levels in Maths, Economics and Computing and then moved onto studying Mathematics and Management at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology).
While at university, I enjoyed learning about financial mathematics and knew I wanted to move into the finance sector.
After thorough research into investment banking and equity funds, I realised the insurance industry would suit me. Insurance is such a developing market, it interested me straightaway. I did not want to take a gap year, I just felt I needed to start a job immediately.
Finding a niche
Being the UK’s largest insurer, I knew Norwich Union (as Aviva was then called) would offer more scope. Having done my homework on the graduate scheme I knew I would have the chance to move around into various areas, as opposed to a prescribed route.
I began the graduate scheme in 2004 in pricing and underwriting. The first year I was based in personal lines pricing – this involved pricing motor and travel for both the partners and Norwich Union Direct – where I had to look at what data means and how to analyse this.
I built up my experience and began to learn how to create pricing models, looking after the performance of the products and how to achieve sales targets.
The first year of the scheme offered me a great opportunity to learn technical and develop soft skills and, most importantly, to build a network of contacts across the company.
My second year saw me moving into commercial lines, handling bigger industrial risks in a corporate environment. I was able to become more involved in projects. I really enjoyed the intermediary side where I was selling insurance to brokers and being given projects for high net worth customers.
After six months, I found my work was proving successful. I think the best part about the graduate scheme is trying a bit of everything and gaining knowledge across all departments.
Here and now
I have been in my current position for around two years now and it is quite a varied role. I live in London and am based there two days a week.
For the rest of the week, I typically commute to Norwich to see the team and have one-to-ones to talk through the progress of projects they are working on. I meet stakeholders and check everything is going to plan. Back in London, I digest the information from my time in Norwich and begin producing reports – a big part of communication.
Working in a team of 11, with three direct reports, I am responsible for online trading for the broker market, which is a developing area. There is a high demand from the broker side. I have specific growth targets so I implement these on online systems. I see how quickly I can get these onto the market and assess how much premium it can bring.
At the end of a hectic day, I commute back to London, leaving the stress of work behind and I put my last work thoughts to bed while I am on that train. I have the iPod and the paper to catch up on. Playing squash clears my head and a yoga session helps to relieve any tensions of the day.
Working 9 to 5, oh, and the weekends
I’ve finished my Chartered Insurance exams which are sponsored by the company. Having already reached Associate level, I would be looking to achieve Chartered status. I am offered time off to study which helps. It is still quite tough to study whilst working as the subjects are very technical and beefy so be warned – it is hard but ultimately, rewarding. The best way I found was putting time aside at the weekends to study and taking time off the week before an exam.
The extra qualification gives you real credibility in the market as well as an excellent grasp and knowledge of the world of insurance.
Stresses, strains and big rewards
The stresses involved in the job keep me going. When I have done something and it proves successful, then this is the best part. An example of this was a six-month project I was involved with which saw me bringing senior products into the market, watching the documentation printed, getting the brokers lined up and seeing my first premium. I still have the press articles on my fridge! I felt a real sense of achievement.
When there are tight deadlines to work towards, prioritising can be hard. When you are senior management, it can be a task delegating when you have your own team. Passion is important as often you will have to put in extra time. Some days I work a ten-hour day.
For those graduates looking to enter the insurance industry, when you start out on a graduate scheme you are given a typical career path that you will follow. I set out with the idea that it would take me five years to become a manager, it took me two and a half. So it shows if you have the drive then it is achievable.
A graduate should work out from early on what he/she wants to focus on. Do you want to be a specialist or a generalist? A graduate should be prepared at interview and make sure they are au fait with industry movement. Having a knowledge of the history of the company, an understanding of current issues (broker markets), where insurance is going and the competition is essential. A graduate must comprehend the impacts of the economy on insurance.
Carve your path
Entering the market, you must be acute in spotting opportunities, be very driven and take responsibility for creating your career. The graduate scheme is your chance to do your very best and carve a pathway for yourself.
It remains so important to recruit into insurance and companies are acutely aware they need to bring young blood to the industry. Most young people perceive insurance to be dominated by middle-aged men. But this is far from the truth.
Companies realise they need to bring insurance into the new century, there is now a great deal of scope for a graduate to change what a business does. Insurance is revamping itself, there are so many opportunities out there.
And a little more recently, Elena discusses her role in person