We caught up with Calum Sharp, who did a Masters in Finance at Warwick Business School, and joined the Finance Graduate Scheme at Allianz after converting his internship with them. He tells us about his background, his time at Allianz, and gives us some unique insight into the application process along with some great hints and tips.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background
I was born in Edinburgh and raised in a small town in the rural south of Scotland surrounded by sheep, rolling hills and the sound of bagpipes (which I can play – I’m a stereotype!). I studied Economics at the University of Dundee, graduating in 2017. In the summer after graduating, I went to work for Allianz as an Intern in the Finance department in Guildford, where I was given the task of analysing and reconciling some of the Claims recording processes. I then studied MSc Finance at Warwick Business School before returning as a Finance Graduate where I’m currently responsible for preparing and producing the Petplan financial accounts. I’ll soon be starting my next placement as a Financial Analyst working with Petplan and Allianz Musical Instruments.
What inspired you to apply for this role and this company?
I did a lot of research when I was applying for internships. I was looking for an employer with global scope (i.e. potentially opportunities to travel the world!) and which cared about its people. The tagline on the Allianz Careers website at the time was something along the lines of “Large enough to provide you with opportunities, but not so large we don’t know your name” which appealed to me greatly.
I enjoyed the internship and the opportunities I had and left feeling confident that Allianz is a company I wanted to work for. I must have made a good impression because I was offered a spot on the Finance Graduate scheme which alleviated the pressure of finding a job and meant I could focus on my Masters.
What was the single most important thing you learnt in the first week of your role?
That it’s okay to ask questions. As a grad, you’re expected to be inquisitive and even to challenge existing processes; if you think something could be done better, don’t be afraid to speak up! Equally, if I were in a meeting and someone said something I didn’t understand, I felt comfortable to stop them and ask. You get a lot of support and encouragement from those around you, so I felt able to make use of that support.
What is your role and how long have you been at Allianz?
I started on the Graduate Scheme a year ago working in the Personal Lines Technical Accounts team at Allianz’ Head Office in Guildford. The Finance Grad Scheme is three years long and I’ll spend a year in three different placements which should provide a good breadth of experience whilst allowing enough time for me to become technically proficient in each role. I’ll shortly be starting my second placement as a Financial Analyst on the Speciality Finance Business Partnering team which I’m very much looking forward to!
What would a 'normal' day look like for someone in your role?
I’m responsible for the financial accounts for Petplan (which is a subsidiary of Allianz Insurance) and Corporate Pet Insurance. The role involves a cycle of monthly, quarterly and annual reporting both to internal stakeholders and to external regulators, as well as working with auditors and others across the business such as Actuarial and Business Partnering. This takes up probably about two-thirds of my time.
I’m a member of a couple of committees, one of which promotes communication across the Finance department and another which seeks to promote and improve the Graduate experience.
I’m also part of a project group which is seeking to formalise the work experience programme across the company, and which aims to encourage those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This has been very rewarding and has involved working with senior people from across the business – so there’s lots to get involved with, the experience is what you make of it!
What do you find most interesting with the sector/industry you're in?
I think there’s still a perception that insurance is a bit stuffy – people seem to expect pin stripe suits and bowler hats. It couldn’t be further from the truth; there’s a lot happening in the insurance industry at the moment. Allianz alone has recently been buying other insurance companies like it’s going out of fashion which means we’ll soon be one of the biggest players in the UK. For the individual working at Allianz, it could mean there’ll be potential to work across these other companies, providing so much choice.
Furthermore, because of all the developments in the industry, there’s a lot of change with new technology and developments being made all the time – there’s never a dull day!
What was the application process like? What was the hardest part and the most enjoyable?
Because I did the internship, I didn’t have to go through the formal Graduate scheme application process. However, the process for the internship was very similar and started with the online application where I was asked about my motivation and experiences. I was then progressed to a series of online tests which checked my maths and logic skills before having a phone interview with some lovely people who work in Finance. Despite the nerves, it obviously went well enough because I was then invited to an Assessment Centre where I was tested to see how I perform under pressure and in interviews.
The hardest part for me was probably the phone interview. Sitting in my student flat in Dundee, I’d done my best to try and think of examples of how I’d answer various different questions but it’s still daunting to be put on the spot! Fortunately the interviewers were friendly and put me at ease.
The best part was the assessment centre. The people there were charming and did their best to make the day less stressful. There were a couple of existing Finance Grads there on the day who’d been through the whole process themselves which was reassuring.
What is the company culture like?
My experience is that the people are Allianz’s biggest assets and that the company appreciates this. There is an atmosphere of collaboration and managers genuinely value their teams. I think the best example of this is when, as a Graduate, you move between teams. The process of getting trained up in each role can be time consuming for the teams involved but this never seems to be a problem – people are always welcoming and happy to help!
How important is diversity to you and what is Allianz doing in this space at the moment?
Diversity is naturally very important to employers such as Allianz because of the benefits it brings. For example, there is a bit of a push on at the moment to encourage people who haven’t taken the conventional route via university to consider applying for apprenticeships. I’ve also seen first-hand an active push for diversity here through the aforementioned project to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply for work experience with us. Allianz also has various internal policies to promote diversity which is good to see.
Have you had the opportunity to get involved in any activities outside work?
Certainly! For example I was involved in a charity project to raise money for the Association of Air Ambulances (Allianz’ corporate charity at the time) last year which involved a 24km hike across the wintry Oxfordshire countryside in November last year (it should have been 21km but I was navigating).
I also ran a few events for this year’s interns outside of work, volunteered at a local school with running a business simulation game (the team I was mentoring won!) and have been to see the Saracens playing Quins through work (Allianz sponsors Saracens). On top of that, there’s usually some sort of event on most weeks within my team or organised by grads. There is a great balance here between work and life which I love.
Has anything surprised you since you started?
Allianz promotes a culture of “Honest Failure”. What this means is that, so long as you’re trying your best and are well intentioned, there are no penalties for failure if something goes wrong or you make a mistake and own up to it. This surprised me a bit but, in hindsight, it shouldn’t have done. Owning your failures benefits both yourself (some of the most significant lessons I’ve learned since I started have been as a result of something going wrong and then dealing with) and the company since it makes it less likely it’ll happen again. Mistakes happen – owning up to them is how we improve as people!
Do you feel that university prepared you for what is expected of you in your role?
In my case, very much so. Studying Economics at undergrad set me up with a way of thinking and an analytical approach to problems; doing a Masters in Finance endowed me with a variety of technical skills and insight into the financial industry on a large scale. While not all of the knowledge I learnt at university will be directly relevant, it’s been useful to me for the mind-set if nothing else.
Finally, any tips for anyone who'd like to apply for a similar role at Allianz?
If you’re interested in the Finance Grad Scheme, I’d definitely look at the Finance internship. Allianz takes on fewer Finance Grads than other schemes, so by making a good impression on the internship, you increase the odds of being offered a place on the Grad scheme since the company will know you fairly well already. (It also made a difference going back to university knowing that I didn’t have to worry about applications and assessment centres again!)
Otherwise, don’t be afraid to let your personality show through. As a company, we’re just as interested in who you are as we are in your experiences at school, university, past jobs etc. The interviewers and managers want to get to know you!
To find out more about Allianz and view their opportunities, click here.