An Insight into Compliance
Russell joined Admiral in 2007 after studying Sociology at Plymouth University and working at Coleg Gwent as an Administrator for three years. He initially joined the New Business team, moved onto the graduate programme and ended up building a career for himself in Central Compliance.
So what made you choose Plymouth University?
I grew up and went to school in South Wales so I wanted a change. Plymouth University is right in the town, rather than away on a campus so that really appealed. It has a small town feel and the people are really friendly. There is also lots of history in Plymouth as the harbour area has hardly changed for 100s of years. It’s also nice to be by the beach and have so many national parks close by. It was a great place to spend three years.
And why did you decide to study Sociology?
I actually did sociology at A-level and really enjoyed it. It’s all about opposing theories and sociologists bring them all together to determine the most convincing argument. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer so it’s a very interesting field and helps you appreciate different points of view.
What did you do after university?
I came back to South Wales after uni and temped for a bit, which led to a three year career at Coleg Gwent as an Admin. I initially worked in data entry and then moved on to assisting one of the department heads. Towards the end of my time there I was also managing the admin team, which was quite challenging. I had to manage conflict, as well as drive improvements and efficiency. I developed a lot of really important skills there.
Where did you go from there?
There was no long-term career for me at Coleg Gwent, so I handed in my notice and decided to travel to Australia and Thailand for a few months.
What did you do when you came back to the UK?
I moved to Cardiff with a friend and we were living in a flat in Admiral House on Newport Road. While I was there I saw a job advert from Admiral Car Insurance in the newspaper. I liked cars and I was living in Admiral House so I thought I just have to apply! I didn’t really understand the job, but I knew Admiral had a good reputation, so I called up and ended up doing a telephone interview for a sales job. I passed that and came in for a face-to-face interview. I got a really good vibe from the interviewer, who was interested to know how I wanted to develop my career and what I could do for Admiral.
Tell us about your first few months at Admiral
I really enjoyed the sales induction training and learning about the world of insurance. Admiral’s trainers are great at making you feel part of the Admiral family from day one.
I spent just over a year in New Business on the phones. It’s a really good atmosphere in sales and I made a lot of good friends. It’s a harder job than you might think but the experience was really valuable.
How did you end up on the graduate programme?
I saw the graduate scheme advertised while I was in New Business and my team manager encouraged me to apply. The aim of the programme back then was to find the next generation of call centre team managers so it was a great opportunity to progress.
What was your time on the graduate programme like?
It was great – the idea was to go to every contact centre department and learn as much as you could to understand where your skills fit best and also to give the departments a chance to get to know you.
The rotations were about 3-4 months each and the programme was 18 months in total. We spent a bit longer in Claims as there was so much to see and learn there. All of the grads would meet up regularly for training sessions and team building days. We didn’t always agree with each other’s opinions but we had a lot of laughs. I also met my wife on the programme!
What sorts of things were you doing whilst on the programme?
The first few weeks of every rotation were taken up with induction training, followed by four weeks on the phone, and then time shadowing team managers and seniors and helping them run their teams.
We also did various projects around things like increasing sales or improving processes and had to present to the operations team as well. The programme was designed to help us become good team managers in the future.
What did you do at the end of the programme?
I moved on to People Services (HR) for a six month placement where I worked in Recruitment as well as Central Training (which is now called the Admiral Academy).
My project revolved around the core competencies, which I revamped and rolled out across the business. It was the first time I’d really owned a project and I had to do everything from research and development through to delivering the training.
It was a bit intimidating at first as I was delivering training to all the team managers across the business, but once I got into it, it was great and it gave me a lot of confidence in delivering training sessions and public speaking.
How did you end up in Compliance?
While I was in PS I saw roles in Compliance advertised twice. I applied both times but lost out to more experienced candidates. However, the team offered me a nine month secondment as I was enthusiastic about the area and they could see the potential in me. I ended up getting a permanent position only three months into the secondment, which was amazing.
What appealed to you about Compliance in particular?
After visiting lots of different departments on the graduate programme, I thought I’d be better suited to a support area. I didn’t really want to manage people and I’d done a little bit of compliance work on the graduate scheme and really enjoyed it.
The area really interested me because it’s mainly about protecting customers, which really appeals to me and my nature.
Do you think you made the right decision in moving to Compliance?
Definitely – there is so much to learn that it really is a vocation. It’s a lifetime career and not just a job. It’s interesting and always challenging. It was actually a bit mind-blowing at first, because I realized how much there is to it!
Did you receive any support or training to help you settle into your new role?
The support and training was great – I started small and my work was checked and discussed with me to help me grow and develop an understanding of the history of regulation and any historic decisions made by the company.
Professional training is also encouraged and paid for so I completed an Advanced Certificate in Compliance. You can do the basic compliance training all the way up to degree level all through work, which is a great benefit.
I’ve also done ILM and used the Buy a Book scheme and am hoping to do a management course later this year, which centres on efficiency and how to best structure a team.
How did your career in Compliance develop?
I started with call monitoring as that was the area I was most familiar with. It was also a good place to start, because it allowed me to become familiar with the TCF (Treating Customers Fairly) principle and general disclosure requirements. I then moved on to creating summaries of FCA papers to update people around the business, when changes were made to regulation.
I then started doing some audits, where you focus on a particular section of the rules and test part of the business against those rules.
My main focus now is on compliance advice. There are five of us, plus a team manager, and we’re there to offer help and guidance to people all around the business. We are experts in regulatory compliance so that the rest of the business doesn’t need to be!
The great thing is that every day is different and can involve anything from signing off a sales script, giving advice on how to handle a claim or complaint, being involved in the development of new products, or giving advice on the next TV advert.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve worked on?
Up until a few years ago I would have said the Household Insurance launch. This was really exciting, because it was the first time Admiral branched out from car insurance and everyone in the project team was really excited about what could be achieved. We got the best people from around the business to design and build a really great product and I was involved from the start all the way through to launch, giving compliance advice as and when it was needed.
I was given a lot of responsibility and there was so much to think about. It was a really successful project and a lot of that is down to the original design team. I feel really privileged to have played a very small part and it taught me so much about how to launch a new product so this will always be a highlight.
More recently Admiral has developed and launched a lot of new products and I’ve been involved in lots of these, which has been really interesting and challenging as well.
What would you say is the best thing about Compliance at Admiral specifically?
I haven’t worked for compliance elsewhere, but the image is that compliance is stuffy and unhelpful, which is not the Admiral way. We are a true support department, which helps the business achieve its goals, while looking out for the customer.
The key is to work with the business and to be accessible to everyone and anyone. We try and encourage people to come and speak to us and try and find solutions that work for everyone.
We also don’t pass work around for weeks – we need to make quick decisions by problem solving and thinking creatively.
What do you like best about your job?
The people – the compliance team, but also the opportunity to work with so many people across the business. Admiral people are all working towards the same goal, are enthusiastic and customer focussed and it really is a great place to work. If you think it’s all about rule books, you’re wrong, it’s all about people.
The other thing is the creativity and problem solving. We have people working all over the world and we need to make sure we’re all adhering to the appropriate regulations. We need to balance the expectations of the regulator, our customers and the business. This can be very challenging, but it’s great to be able to help bridge these gaps. It’s a real intellectual challenge and so rewarding when you get it right.
Many people don’t expect Compliance to come up with solutions, but we work very hard to be able to say “yes” to people’s ideas by making slight changes to the original proposal.
And what’s been the best thing about Admiral?
I met my wife here so that has to be up there!
Apart from that, I’d say the spirit of Admiral and the daily working environment. It’s a great place to work because we are always looking to change and improve. Everyone is friendly and helpful as we’re all working towards to same goal.
And on the benefits side, the shares have been great and helped pay for my wedding, my car, and my house!
Any tips or advice you’d give to someone considering a career in Compliance?
You generally don’t need any experience to work in compliance – some have come with it, and some haven’t. What you do need is good problem solving skills and you need to be organized and self-sufficient, because you won’t be micro-managed. You also need to have great people skills and the ability to balance the regulatory requirements with business objectives. Sometimes this seems impossible, but you will always find a solution.
It’s a very important and challenging role and you will need to be able to get your point of view across in a constructive way and will need to be able to stand up and say “no” sometimes – preferably whilst suggesting an alternative solution.
But you won’t need to do all of this on day 1!
Is there anything else we should know about Compliance?
It’s interesting to note that we also help look after compliance for our European operations and Mark (Head of Compliance) goes out regularly to meet with the senior corporate governance officers across our European sites to give advice and help them make important decisions.
Most of our team have been to our European subsidiaries to help with audit and advice, which is another great benefit of the job.
Our team is made up of 13-14 people, who have been here anywhere from a few months all the way up to 15 years, so there is a wide range of experience and skills on the team.