Developing a scholarship programme as a way to increase the number of ‘home-grown' insurance professionals was our primary goal.” So said Brian Hall, chairman and founding member of the Bermuda Foundation for Insurance Studies (BFIS). “BFIS was formed in 1996 by the leading figures in Bermuda's insurance industry and the first eight scholarships were awarded in 1997. However, we always knew that non-monetary support would be needed if the programme was to work effectively.”
That support consisted of matching each scholarship recipient with an insurance professional, and, in addition, the students were found internships within insurance companies during the summer vacation.
Lorene Phillips, a former president of the Bermuda Insurance Institute's Young Members Group, explained how the mentor programme got started. “I had been asked to organise the mentor programme, so although I hadn't done anything like it before, I just called around, got together a number of insurance people I knew, and asked if they wanted to do it. We then held a cocktail party where mentees could meet the mentors and select who they wanted. My mentee, Joyce, and I just seemed to hit it off from the start.”
Lorene said her role has changed over the years as, initially, it involved advising on which courses to take, which colleges to consider and which subjects to major in. Joyce Duarte, who is now with XL Capital, said it was Lorene who recommended she take the double major of insurance and finance. “Since graduating, Lorene has helped me adjust to the corporate environment and even though we no longer have formal mentor/mentee roles, we continue the relationship. Lorene is always there if I need her,” said Joyce.
However, the usual view of mentoring being of obvious benefit to the ‘mentee' is not always the whole story; the mentor can also gain from the relationship in a number of ways. In a country as small as Bermuda, with such a diverse workforce, this is particularly relevant.
“It's the one-on-one contact that really helps people”, said Canadian Don Baker, CEO of Zurich International and mentor to Steven Jones. “I find mentoring helps me better understand where young Bermudians are coming from, and we also learn a lot about each other and our different nationalities. Mentoring is a two-way street that allows us both to benefit.
“Steve and I have become good friends and not only have I been able to give him advice and support, but I also feel that I am giving back to the community”.
Now, five years on, 27 students have been recipients of scholarship awards to help them through their studies, but more than 80 students have benefited from the BFIS Mentor Programme. Cathy Lapsley, executive director of BFIS, said that she will not turn away a student, even if they are not studying insurance.
“As the scholarship criteria has expanded to include students studying actuarial science, risk management and finance, it has meant that BFIS is able to spread its net wider and our mentor programme now includes commerce and international business students,” she explained.
BFIS works closely with the Bermuda Insurance Institute young members in promoting careers in insurance to high school students.
“As happened recently,” said Cathy, “we were able to help a bright young teenager who wasn't certain what he wanted to do following his graduation and didn't know enough about the insurance industry to make any plans. We set up a variety of people for him to meet and an underwriter at ACE volunteered to be his mentor. So pathways and opportunities are already opening up for this student and he will be able to make better-informed career decisions.”
The profile form that students and mentors fill out when joining the programme includes information about their hobbies as well as their educational backgrounds. BFIS finds this information very useful when matching a student to a mentor, but enthusiasm for the programme is the main pre-requisite. If there is a problem emerging from the programmes, it is that mentees sometimes do not use their mentors enough.
This is, however, because the mentees know their mentors are very busy and they don't want to ‘bother' them unnecessarily. “We wouldn't have signed up if we didn't want to be contacted and asked for advice regularly,” is the mentors' response. So the students are now told to keep in contact, even if it is only once a month by e-mail.
Of course some relationships work better and are closer than others.
“I didn't have any family or friends who were working in the insurance industry, so finding a mentor was a huge help,” said Vinzie Zuill.
In September 1999, Vinzie had just entered Bermuda College as a freshman in the Associate Degree Programme when she heard about BFIS and its mentor programme.
She did not know what exactly she wanted to do in insurance or who to ask about the options which might be open for her, but following a meeting with Cathy Lapsley, she was matched to Sharon Woods of OIL Casualty. Sharon had only just signed up to be a mentor having heard about the programme from her boss, Doug Kline, senior vice-president and chief operating officer of OIL Insurance, and a BFIS trustee.
Now almost two years later, Vinzie has not only had the support and advice she was looking for, but has also been learning the business from the inside through interning at OIL during term-time and vacations. She has even been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida with her mentor's family.
Brian Hall, BFIS chairman since its inception, takes great pride in his ‘son', Gino Smith who was one of the first BFIS scholarship students at Bermuda College and then at The College of Insurance in New York where he graduated Valedictorian. Gino, who now works for Latin American Re in Buenos Aires, Argentina, said, “Brian Hall, my mentor, has always made it a purpose to have a meeting with me every time I was on the island to discuss my career and he visited me while I was away in school. We still keep in close touch and, together with his wife, he will be a guest at my wedding this summer in Costa Rica.”
Generous financial support together with hands-on involvement by some of Bermuda's insurance leaders has led to the success of BFIS. The innovative step of establishing a formalised mentor programme has proved to one of the main building blocks of this success.