Monthly Archives: September 2015

Millennials Need to Hear Our Stories


The drumbeat continues… Anyone remotely paying attention to the risk and insurance industry these days cannot avoid the parade of articles and speeches lamenting the looming talent crisis in the industry.  Industry leaders are expressing both the critical need to attract Millennials to careers in the industry, and warning of the hurdles that the industry must clear to do so.  Articles in Business Insurance and Carrier Management both address these issues quite well.

One of the challenges in attracting Millennials to careers in the risk and insurance industry is the perception that insurance is stodgy and boring.  Those who have worked in the industry  can refute this perception, but you have to gain the attention of Millennials to do that, and then avoid blowing the opportunity.  There’s a reason the industry is perceived as boring and stodgy… it’s because we in the industry get excited about using the industry jargon and discussing technical coverage nuances of “exclusions” and “retentions” and “retrospective rating programs” and blah blah blah.  Boring.

We need to become storytellers.  Millennials want to do meaningful work that has purpose.  Pushing paper and plunking on computer keyboards and reading underwriting files doesn’t feel all that meaningful.  Rebuilding lives that are broken by catastrophe is meaningful work, and we need to do a better job of telling stories focused on that.  From a risk management perspective, we need to focus on the work that we do to make people safer and employers more secure.  Insurance struggles with public relations problems that arise from claim situations gone awry, but the most meaningful and powerful message is the positive story of the insurance agent who shows up at her client’s house as the flames are being extinguished and consoling the client, reassuring them, and getting the claim process underway immediately.  Those are the stories that Millennials need to hear from us.

When I was young commercial underwriter, I had a boss who told me that my job wasn’t to say “no” to certain risks, but rather to find a way to say “yes.”  Declining or non-renewing a risk was a defeat for my carrier employer, for the insurance agent, and for the client who then had to find a new carrier for their insurance program.  We need to tell Millennials about the underwriters who find creative ways to say “yes” and create win-win-win scenarios.  That is meaningful, and exciting – because creativity and problem-solving are exciting.


Never forget


Fourteen years ago this morning.  Like the JFK assassination and the space shuttle Challenger explosion, we all remember where we were when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by radical Islamic terrorists.  I had just arrived at my office which was still in the process of being setup as my company had just moved into the new office space.  There was a large open area where there were still no desks or cubicles setup, and we plugged in a small television and placed it on a chair in this open space as we huddled around the little 12-inch screen watching the news unfold in horror and shock.

Today, I could write about the risk management lessons and the insurance coverage issues that came from this horrific event.  I could, but I won’t.  The wound is still too raw, and the emotions still too high, even 14 years later, to turn this day into an object lesson.  Instead, I want to consider the unfathomable and uninsurable losses that we continue to suffer to this day.  There is no insurance coverage for the heartbreak experienced by thousands of families.  Life insurance can replace a prematurely extinguished family income source, but it cannot replace the heart and soul of a human being.

There is no insurance for a lost generation and thousands of descendants that we will never know.  One of the more moving scenes of the powerful film, Schindler’s List, comes at the end of the film when the surviving Jews are marching across a field and the image morphs into a present day image of the actual survivors.  It is reported that today, there are over 7,000 descendants of the Schindler Jews.  Were it not for the courageous acts of Oskar Schindler, the world would not know many of these descendants.  The 9/11 reality is the opposite.  There is no way to know how many descendants of the 9/11 victims we will never know because of the events that occurred 14 years ago today.  But I do know that the loss is incalculable.  The loss of ideas, of leaders, of poets and music, of inventions, of tenderness, of everything that is human.  There is no insurance for such losses.  All we can do is remember and imagine what could have been…

Never forget.


Hometown Heartbreak


On June 22, 2015 my hometown of Portland, Michigan was struck by an EF-1 tornado.  The damage was significant but by the grace of God there was no loss of life or major injuries.  The town is still recovering, and the recovery story is told by WZZM here.  Please take a moment to read that link so that the rest of my post will have proper context.

Portland, Michigan is where my wife and I both grew up.  After living elsewhere early in our marriage, we returned to Portland to raise our daughters in 1994 and lived there until moving to Comstock Park, Michigan in 2014.  I personally know many of the people quoted in the WZZM article.  I attended church at and married my wife in the United Methodist Church that was damaged by the tornado and mentioned in the WZZM article.  The Kleins are among the dearest and most humble people I know.  My heart aches for the community and its struggles, but I know the citizens to be a strong, determined, and resilient lot.

The WZZM article describes a mixture of both frustrations and appreciation for the insurance companies and claims processes involved in Portland’s recovery.  I’ve talked with a few of my Portland brethren, and the experiences span the spectrum from delight and gratitude to disgust and despair.  Naturally, there are many different insurance agents and carriers involved given the large number of people and properties affected.  Consequently, there are agents and insurers who are fulfilling their mission of rebuilding lives and there are some who are falling short.

Just last week I wrote about the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  I concluded that post with a charge to my professional colleagues in the insurance business to make sure that we are providing the professional expertise, advice, and assistance that is expected from us both before and after disasters strike.  I didn’t intend to double-down on that charge with consecutive blog posts, but the WZZM story about my hometown raised the specter of insurance service shortfalls once again.  It’s evident in Sue Burns’ quote, “I wish somebody would just honestly write a list: ‘This what you need to  do’ but nobody told us.”  And Terry Frewen: “We’re not contractors, adjusters, or attorneys.  They expect us to interpret the language in their policies as if we were.”

To be fair, there are Portland residents who have had better experiences with their insurance service providers.  Like most emotionally charged situations, there are two sides to every story, and a variety of experiences and perceptions.  Perhaps I am particularly troubled by the negative experiences in this case because this is my hometown, and these people are my friends and former neighbors.  Nevertheless, it is my professional mission as a risk management and insurance educator to prepare the next generation of risk and insurance professionals.  If I succeed at teaching them nothing else, they will understand that we are a professional services industry with the primary purpose of safeguarding and rebuilding lives.  We must do better to prepare and properly insure people, and stand by them when tragedy strikes.  No more ‘order-taking’ insurance sales.  No more ‘technical legalese’ claim adjusting.  We exist as an industry for no other reason.  No customer of my students should ever say “nobody told us.”