Each year The Insurance Institute gets a new National President. This year, we are delighted to announce it is Linda Gallagher, Joint Managing Director of First Ireland. In a recent interview, she spoke with Irish Broker Magazine about her background in the insurance industry and how her involvement with The Institute has supported her career. Read on for the full interview.
Linda, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career to-date?
Certainly, I’m Joint Managing Director of First Ireland and joined the insurance industry almost 39 years ago in 1982. I’ve spent my entire career in Insurance Broking, and in First Ireland I have been blessed to work with a very dynamic team. With my colleagues, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed adapting to the ever-changing business environments.
I’m married to Cathal and we have two daughters, Lauren and Megan.
What motivated you to take on the Presidency of The Institute?
My primary motivation for taking on the president's role is that I have been a member of The Insurance Institute since I started working and I have always identified with their mantra of educating, inspiring, and connecting members of our industry. When I joined the insurance industry back in the early 80’s I had a mentor who was in no doubt about the importance of professional education. In hindsight, that encouragement at the early stages of my career was significant, which is why I am so keen on encouraging ambitious young people in the industry to not stop after their entry level exams, but to continue on with their journey and study for advanced qualifications.
Why are these qualifications so important?
I have heard so many of my predecessors talk about the positive impact of professional qualifications and lifelong learning on their confidence, and I really identify with that. It’s not just the learning, it’s the calmness that you get from knowing that you have a strong grasp of the fundamentals of your profession. A role like mine presents a continuous stream of challenges. Although the nature of those challenges changes, the core principles that I have absorbed through my studies on both the life and general sides of our business, continue to serve me and our clients very well.
Finding the time can’t have been easy?
You’re right, the combination of studying, working, parenting, not to mention trying to fit in some sort of social life, presents a serious challenge and I’m often asked today how I managed to fit everything in. The key is time management really which for me meant developing a ‘very early morning’ habit. I have always been reasonably well organised and that’s a big help. It’s essential to make sure that all the time you spend at the books counts. In that regard, I’m very impressed with the learning supports and study plans that The Institute now provide for all their students. These supports have been developed by educational experts who have the student’s success at the heart of everything they do. Using feedback from both members and best practice guidelines, these supports aim to help all those studying create the structure that is so important in maximising the value of their time.
So what’s new in The Institute in 2021?
The most significant event in The Institute this year is the launch of the Higher Diploma in Insurance Management. Previously referred to as the Management Diploma in Insurance, or MDI, the programme is now a Level-8 and has been recognised on the National Framework of Qualifications. This development is a very significant addition to our schedule of academic programmes and is a major step forward in our attempts to move our students up the qualifications curve, which is of fundamental importance to our Industry.
The early-stage qualifications such as the Accredited Product Advisor (APA) and the Certified Insurance Practitioner (CIP) are more about the student absorbing information and technical detail, and while that’s really important, the Higher Diploma is at a much different level. The programme is very much about the development of higher-order learning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and presenting information logically and coherently. These are the skills we need to build in our future leaders and the necessary skills to help us as an industry navigate through what we expect will be challenging and uncertain times.
The programme structure is very different from what our students will have experienced in the past as it now includes online lectures, live streamed tutorials and has replaced the written exam with a combination of ongoing assignments and multiple-choice tests. I think this is a significant step forward. For a start, it means you have to get engaged with the programme from the outset and “cramming” your work into the last quarter is not an option. The assignment system forces you to space out your efforts over the full term of the programme, leading to a much better and more rewarding student experience. It also does away with the need for written exams which often don’t do you justice. If you are not at your best on the day, it can be hard to get all your thoughts and ideas onto the page within the time limits. I think the assignment approach is much fairer, and I am not at all surprised to hear that these changes have received such positive feedback so far.
Has your involvement in the Institute and other Industry bodies helped you in your career?
I can’t overemphasise how helpful my involvement with The Institute and other industry bodies has been throughout my career. It has allowed me to build a network that has been really valuable. In fact, I can’t think of any job in this industry that wouldn’t significantly benefit from having a network of contacts, friends and confidantes.
I would have been a frequent attendee at the CPD lectures in Pearse Street, and I have always enjoyed both the lectures themselves and the opportunity to meet and catch up. Of course, the lockdown has deprived us all of that opportunity to “connect” physically as the face to face lectures, like the dinners and charity events, are on hold for the present. There is, however, a strong sense of community in the virtual world with The Institute’s CPD webinar series. I am delighted to hear that they have 4 figure attendance numbers logging in each week. Indeed they are so popular that The Institute’s end of year figures show we all did more CPD in 2020 than we ever did and well over the hours required for regulatory purposes.
So, Linda have you a final message for members?
There is no doubt that this crisis is going to continue to bring about changes in the ways that we all think and work. It makes me proud to see how smoothly The Institute coped with the challenges of 2020 and the progress made in digitalisation, in order to continue to deliver its core products and services during this time. I will be doing everything I can to ensure that we build on this success and continue to deliver on our commitment to our members this year as you are all an extraordinary example of commitment, professionalism, and solidarity in the face of adversity.
To find out more about The Insurance Institute, you can look at our Annual Report.