Scholarships are Worth the Effort

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Industry leaders often ask me what they can do to help our risk management and insurance program and its students.  Occasionally, before I can even answer, they jump to the assumption that scholarship funding must be at the top of the list.  While I never want to discourage any offers of financial assistance for RMI students, my typical response to this assumption is, “Well, uh, actually there are plenty of scholarships available to RMI students.  We need to convince the students to apply.”  At this point, I am usually met with a blank looking face and rapidly blinking eyes.  The non-verbal communication conveyed by this look is, “What? I’m confused.  Are you kidding me?”

Earlier this year, Money magazine profiled Christopher Gray who applied for hundreds of scholarships as a homeless high school student and won more than $1 million in scholarships.  Mr. Gray went on to co-found Scholly, a scholarship search engine app.  Clearly, his diligence and persistence paid off.  In the article linked to above, Mr. Gray offered four scholarship tips that I will summarize:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Don’t stop applying
  3. Optimize your time
  4. Every award counts

The truth is that scholarships require some effort, as they should.  If someone is going to give a student “free money” to pay for tuition or other school-related costs, the recipient should be willing to complete an application and write a coherent if not compelling essay to justify themselves as a deserving recipient.  For reasons that continue to mystify, too many students seem to view the scholarship application process as “too much of a hassle.”

Ferris State’s RMI program website includes a page listing scholarship opportunities worth thousands of dollars.  I am certainly not opposed to adding more entries to this list, but what I really need is to add more students who are actively applying for those scholarships already on the list.

If you know a young person searching for a degree/career direction, tell them about your wonderful experiences in the risk management and insurance industry.  They need to hear our stories.  And then, they need to be encouraged to put in the effort to pursue the vast scholarship opportunities for financial assistance to launch their RMI career.  It’s there… waiting for them.  Help me push them across the threshold.

Back to School – 2019 edition

Football training camps are open, back-to-school items and dorm room supplies are on sale, and daylight is shrinking.  It must be time for autumn semester classes to begin.  Well, almost.

This is “welcome back” and faculty kickoff week at Ferris State, filled with meetings and final course preparations.  A week from today, classrooms will again be full of eager college students and enthusiastic faculty.  But that does not imply that students and faculty have been doing nothing but windsurfing and playing golf all summer.  Many students took summer classes, and worked at internships or other jobs.  Many faculty were teaching those summer classes, doing research/consulting work, and engaged in planning and administrative work throughout the summer.

Personally, I am as enthusiastic as I’ve ever been for the autumn semester to get underway.  The enrollment momentum for the Ferris State RMIN program remains positive, even in the face of demographic headwinds that are causing enrollment challenges for all of Michigan’s institutions of higher learning.  Career prospects for RMIN graduates remain strong and well above average.  Several great things are on my autumn radar screen.  Yes, it’s time for a tease…

The Ferris State Gamma chapter is looking to organize/sponsor 1-2 events that will be of interest to students and perhaps also industry professionals in the coming year.  Stay tuned.  Ferris RMIN students will again be attending multiple industry conferences and field trips.  Photos will be posted.  Emerging risks will take center stage in our studies.  Blog posts forthcoming.

Speaking of emerging risks, this humble blogger and RMIN faculty member has been paying particular attention to a couple of areas:  The development of blockchain technologies as a beneficial tool for risk management and insurance, and also the emergence of cannabis-related businesses (and risks) particularly here in Michigan.  Both of these rapidly changing topics will certainly merit attention in blog posts in coming weeks and months.  Stay tuned as I share my observations, opinions, and perhaps even the occasional useful insight.

Time to get back to my course preparation duties.  I can’t wait for the fun to begin.

-Dr. Brown

RIMS 2019 Reflections by Hannah

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Ferris State Risk Management and Insurance major Hannah McGlocklin takes her turn sharing impressions of the 2019 RIMS conference in Boston:

I had the opportunity to go to the RIMS conference this year in Boston, Massachusetts and I had an amazing time. Since being back, it has been kind of crazy trying to absorb everything that I have learned and experienced this past week. I met so many different people from many different places and got a wonderful perspective on just how large the insurance industry truly is. The marketplace, which was full of vendors and companies, was a fantastic place to network and learn about what people do and how they impact the risk management and insurance industry. Along with the marketplace, I really enjoyed the educational sessions we were able to attend. I learned about a variation of topics from real estate to marijuana and sex trafficking and how all these subjects affect the insurance industry. Getting to know the other students that also attended as well as Dr. Brown was a positive as well. Networking is one of the best things about these types of conferences, and most of the time, the people in our closest professional circle can be just as important. There were many socials at the RIMS conference that allowed us to talk with many people that are a part of the industry. Not only were they held in the convention center but they were also different places in Boston. Even if the socializing and the educational sessions aren’t your thing, I would still highly recommend the experience of RIMS. Attending this trip was amazing, and even though you have to put money toward the cost, the return on your investment is worthwhile. In addition to the conference, having a chance to explore another city and area was awesome too. I tried new food, met new people, and took advantage of a lot of new opportunities, and for the price that I paid, it was an easy exchange. If the money to go on the trip is something that is holding you back, I would highly suggest you figure out how to make it happen, save over the summer, put a little bit away each month, or get a part time job while attending classes. The trip overall was an awesome experience and I look forward to RIMS Conferences in the future!

Hannah McGlocklin, Risk Management and Insurance Freshman

RIMS 2019 Reflections by Ashley

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Ferris State Actuarial Science student Ashley Sowinski attended the RIMS conference in Boston last week, and she has shared the following reflection on her experience:

The lure of the RIMS 2019 conference began for me with the city of Boston. Actuarial Science is my major, so I figured this event would be mildly applicable at most. I didn’t have an idea of what type of career I wanted to develop. I did feel pigeonholed through my degree; I tried diversifying myself with a certificate and a minor, but I wanted to see what options I could have.

The trip to Boston started out strong, adventuring for a day downtown, but the true adventure began Sunday at the RIMS social. We went to a Dave and Busters-esque entertainment center that had a bowling alley on the top floor. I went to this alone because there were two socials: one for 21+ and the other was for those under 21. It was incredibly intimidating to attend this alone because this was my first experience in the professional world. I met so many faces. Faces I made social connections with, so the following day in the Marketplace, I could go find someone like Ian from Vermont and follow up with my business card (that I hadn’t had at the social.) Plus, there is so much free stuff, it’s practically a college student’s heaven. I came home with aluminum water bottles, pens, phone chargers, stress balls, multiple t-shirts, even an umbrella! There were raffles, and some companies were giving out gift cards too.

As far as intangibles are related, I can confidently say I gained so much more than physical trinkets. I highly recommend this event because of everything I learned; there were many applications of the field that I would never have imagined. I had no idea what opportunities could be opened to me, but after just meeting a few companies and socializing, I was invited to another conference and asked to apply for a job. This was so exhilarating because I never thought I would be someone to be sought out like that. The networking there is real, and there is no way to gauge the opportunities you could reveal in attending this conference. RIMS had such a diversity of both people and companies, it is difficult to explain. The environment speaks for itself, and I hope I have the option to attend this conference through my career in the future.

Ashley Sowinski, Actuarial Science Senior

The Future of Risk

I just returned from the inaugural “Future of Risk” conference sponsored by The Institutes and held in Chicago.  Although there is considerable hype over “Insurtech” and “Risktech” in recent months, much of it is pie-in-the-sky aspirations that will not survive in the real-world of commerce.  This conference didn’t ignore the hype but it refreshingly balanced it with innovations that are already bringing benefit to the risk management and insurance industry, as well as the customers we serve.

Blockchain received significant attention at this conference, no doubt owing to the fact that The Institutes has taken a leadership role with the formation of the RiskBlock Alliance consortium that is preparing to launch a few of its earliest use cases and a software development kit for third party developers in just a few months.  I had the good fortune to participate in some workshop sessions discussing the next blockchain (or more accurately in this case, distributed ledger technology) use cases for the industry.  Certificate of insurance use cases are definitely gaining traction – and that’s good news for this element of the insurance industry that is best described as a necessary evil for many of us.

Other emerging technologies that will have great impact on RMI include artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, internet of things, quantum computing, and the common threads of security and privacy.  Of particular interest to me is the concept of quantum computing that promises computing power that is an order of magnitude more powerful than anything available heretofore.  The 128-bit password keys that we all rely on to keep our data safe today because it would take even a super computer several years to hack them, will be cracked in milliseconds by a quantum computer.  This means that new methods of security and authentication will need to be developed.  The good news is that they are!

In terms of technologies already making a difference, I attended a session on claim fraud investigation in the age geospatial social media.  We all know (or should know) that we must be careful with our privacy settings on social media platforms, and even then, we must be careful about what we post.  Fortunately, insurance claim fraudsters who cause higher insurance costs for everyone else, are not usually so careful.  It was amazing (and sobering) to learn how much meaningful information to combat fraudulent claims can be gleaned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Venmo, and others.

I could go on but I will conclude by saying that it was an enlightening conference that I plan to add as an experiential learning option for our Ferris State RMI students in the future.  They will be the lucky ones to use and further develop these technologies in their risk careers.

MAIA 2019

Five Ferris State students joined Dr. David A. Brown for the 2019 MAIA Convention at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Students attended sessions to learn about resolving insurance coverage and claim disputes, the future of “InsurTech,” and privacy issues.  In addition, they participated in a networking happy hour, and heard from industry leaders on tax issues and innovation in the insurance industry.  The convention concluded with a trade show exhibition featuring dozens of insurance carriers and service providers.

My Insurance Career Story

A few days ago, I shared a YouTube video of “JB” from The Insurance Nerdery, along with a brief message to “tell your story,” which also happened to be JB’s main message in his video.  February being #InsuranceCareersMonth, those of us who have built successful careers in this industry need to share our stories more often and more vividly with young people who are trying to find their career path.  So here’s my story.

Like most young people, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I began my college journey as a communications major, having great fun with my own show on the college radio station.  I envisioned a lifetime of playing rock-and-roll tunes on radio stations around the country.  By my senior year at Michigan State University, I had recognized the inherent career insecurity of being a “disc jockey” and had changed my major to “socioeconomics” – a blend of business, economics, and political science.  I began haphazardly interviewing for various business jobs at the MSU career placement office with no idea where I would end up.

One of those interviews was for a commercial underwriting trainee position with CIGNA, who was at that time a property and casualty insurance company.  Before the interview, I had to investigate what an “underwriter” actually did, and when I arrived for the interview I still wasn’t completely sure what the position was all about.  In spite of my insurance ignorance, my potential must have resonated with the interviewer as I won a second interview at the firm’s Grand Rapids office, and later an employment offer.  I accepted the offer, and another unintentional insurance career was launched.

The analytical aspect of the underwriting job was very attractive to me, and I dove into my training enthusiastically.  I developed a few of my own analytical tools as I learned to underwrite commercial property, liability, and workers compensation insurance.  The 1980’s also happened to be the dawn of the personal computer era, and I had developed some basic programming skills which I put to use in my early underwriting career.  That caught the attention of CIGNA managers who had me apply those personal computer skills to a few projects for the regional Director of Marketing and Underwriting Programs.  Before I knew it, I had earned a promotion less than two years into my career and earned a very nice bonus payout from the home office in Philadelphia.  I realized that this insurance career was not only interesting, challenging, and fun – but also lucrative.

In early 1990, I noticed that Meijer had posted a professional risk management job opening in their corporate office.  Curious about the risk management function in a major corporation, I applied and accepted the position.  I was fascinated by the broad scope of risk management which encompassed a multitude of risk control activities throughout the company and also the intricate risk financing and self-administration of liability and work comp claims at Meijer.  I worked on several exciting projects, including several that further honed my technology skills, as I met some wonderful professionals in my time at Meijer.

By the mid 1990’s I was ready for a new adventure, and my inner entrepreneur was beginning to emerge.  I decided it was time to try self-employment by selling my technology skills and risk management and insurance (RMI) expertise as a free agent.  Management Technology Services, Inc. was launched and I found no shortage of work opportunities managing risk management information and claim system implementation projects at several Fortune 500 clients.  I was able to travel all over the U.S. and engage in a variety of projects and interesting work at insurance companies and Fortune 500 risk management shops.

I also picked up a few custom software development contracts along the way.  I developed an audit management system for a large manufacturer, and a vendor compliance management system for a retailer.  The latter project evolved into a business process outsourcing platform that I used as the backbone of my next firm, Periculum Services Group. With Periculum, I was able to establish client relationships with many prominent risk management professionals in some of the largest companies and government entities around the USA, as well as a strategic partnership with a risk management firm based in Sydney, Australia, who proceeded to use Periculum technology in the Aussie marketplace.

I eventually sold Periculum and accepted an executive position with the acquirer, while I simultaneously turned my attention to a bucket list goal: earning my Doctorate in Business Administration.  Shortly after completing my doctoral studies, Ferris State University revived its Risk Management and Insurance academic program and needed faculty to coordinate and teach the program.  Great timing.  Here I am, nearly six years later, thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to encourage young, talented students to create their own RMI career path.

As I look back over my 32 year career, I can see just how fortunate I was to stumble across fantastic opportunities and meet some amazing people and valuable mentors along the way.  Like many, I truly did “fall into insurance accidentally” simply because CIGNA saw raw potential in an awkward but highly analytical 22-year old kid.

I’ve been able to do interesting, challenging, and meaningful work, that has directly and indirectly improved people’s lives.  At the very heart of risk management is the notion of protecting people and property from adverse outcomes.  That’s very noble work in which I take great pride.  I’ve been able to travel to 46 states, and enjoyed overseas travel to some exotic locales such as Udaipur, India and Sydney, Australia.  Although I spent several years of my career self-employed, I never had a shortage of billable client work.  I can testify truthfully that I have never had a day in 32 years when I was “unemployed.”  And at the risk of sounding immodest, this career path has blessed me with ample compensation over the years.  I continue to work today because I want to, not because I have to.

Such is the nature of the RMI career opportunity:  Neverending and varied opportunities, wonderful people, rewarding compensation, and noble work.  Imagine if I had pursued this career path with greater intention and preparation.  What more might I have achieved?  I am excited for the young students that actively seek this career path today.  The possibilities ahead of them are vast.

That’s my story.

-Dr. David Allen Brown