Category Archives: careers

Flexible Career

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Practical Education, Flexible Career, Rewarding Life.

Last week, I posted about the practical education element of the Ferris State RMI program’s tagline.  In the continuing spirit of Insurance Careers Month, I will discuss the flexible career aspect this week.  I’d like to begin by highlighting one example of insurance career flexibility: me.

I was one of the many “accidental” insurance professionals who stumbled into a commercial underwriting position fresh out of college.  A few years later, I moved into a risk management role with a large retailer.  Applying my interests and aptitudes for technology, I eventually started my own consulting practice where I worked on several Fortune 500 risk management information system projects.  An opportunity came along to develop a system and process for tracking certificates of insurance, and an entirely new business was born.  Over the course of ten years, I was able to grow and then sell that business, and then pursue the bucket list objective of earning a doctoral degree.  Shortly thereafter, Ferris State revived its RMI academic program and began searching for a lead faculty and program coordinator, and here I am today.

Over the years, I’ve talked to countless risk and insurance professionals, some who intentionally entered the industry and many who discovered it accidentally.  I am always intrigued by the unique stories of these career arcs.  They are always a fascinating story of career evolution that starts in one area of the industry and then twists and turns through a variety of different roles, opportunities, firms, and locations.  Many in the industry have had the chance to live in some wonderful places, including overseas.  Here in Michigan, insurance professionals can work in the metropolitan areas of Detroit and Grand Rapids, or near the exquisite shorelines of Grand Haven and Traverse City, or in the pristine wilderness (and sportsman’s paradise) of the Upper Peninsula.  The key takeaway from my and many other stories is that a risk and insurance career is not stagnant, but rather it allows for evolution through a number of interesting, challenging, and meaningful positions in a variety of locations.

A flexible career has another meaning besides career path mobility and opportunity.  Numerous articles describing the desire for workplace flexibility have appeared in recent years, particularly when discussing the Millennial generation.  However, I believe that this desire for flexibility is not unique to the Millennials.  In this age of instant, always-on communication, I think we all value the ability to work from anywhere we wish, and at the times that we wish.  Technology certainly supports our ability to be productive from our home office or even from the bleacher seats as we watch our children and grandchildren play sports.  The risk and insurance industry offers this type of flexibility.  Many professionals are now based out of home offices.  Field personnel who do loss control or claims work often schedule their own appointments.  I’ve spoken with many insurance agents over the years who treasure the ability to work in the office during the morning, have a client meeting over lunch, spend time on a family activity during the afternoon, and finish up their day with a little work in their home office.  The next day’s schedule may look entirely different – it’s up to them.

Let me be clear.  There is work to be done.  I don’t intend to paint a picture of insurance professionals spending all of their afternoons on the golf course,  During my consulting days, I traveled 50-75% of the time and I was away from my young family more than I cared to be at times.  Nevertheless, the work was always interesting, never boring, and I always had a degree of control over when I scheduled projects.  On the whole, I have enjoyed a tremendous amount of flexibility and variety in my risk and insurance career, and you can too.

 

Gamma Iota Sigma in Chicago

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Last weekend (October 8-11), five students and two faculty (including yours truly) traveled to Chicago to represent Ferris State’s Gamma Iota Sigma Upsilon chapter at the annual International Conference.  Chapter leaders attended Thursday afternoon sessions related to chapter management, and then everyone participated in a delightful welcome reception that evening.  It was heartening to see (and meet) many risk management, insurance, actuarial science, and finance students and faculty from other schools gathered in one large room.  Our colleagues from the Olivet College Alpha Alpha chapter made it just in time for the reception after experiencing multiple issues with their bus transportation.  We were happy for their safe arrival, and ready to quiz them on their transit-related risk management techniques. 🙂

The following morning we listened to breakfast keynote speaker J. Patrick Gallagher, Chairman, CEO, and President of Arthur J. Gallagher and Company.  He marveled at the amazing business that is insurance, and encouraged the students to spread the word about the fantastic career opportunities in this field.  Mr. Gallagher noted that the industry could absorb the entire Gamma Iota Sigma membership of over 2,000 students and still have abounding opportunities.  Friday afternoon was filled with educational sessions and a robust career fair that gave students a multitude of interview opportunities, for both internships and permanent jobs.  Friday evening culminated with an awards banquet at Navy Pier.

Saturday began with the whimsical and always entertaining chapter roll call skits.  The students then embarked on a variety of community service activities, one of which took some of our Ferris State representatives (Jared, Alex, Kate, and Morgan) to clean up Montrose Beach as pictured below.

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Saturday evening, the conference concluded with a closing dinner and dance party.  We all made the journey home on Sunday, filled with enthusiasm, ideas, and hope for the future.  Personally, this was my first Gamma Iota Sigma conference and I was incredibly proud of our Ferris State students and the growth of the Upsilon chapter.  I hope that many more of our risk management, insurance, finance, and actuarial science students will get involved with the chapter and have the opportunity to attend future conferences.

Millennials Need to Hear Our Stories

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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.

 

Experiencing the Risk and Insurance Industry

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Just one month ago I was in New Orleans attending the 2015 Risk and Insurance Management Society Annual Conference with Ferris State student Corey Bledsoe.  The conference featured engaging keynotes speakers such as Erik Wahl (pictured here) and Arianna Huffington, and numerous educational sessions and networking opportunities.  I asked Corey to share his thoughts about the RIMS experience from his perspective as a student:

Being able to attend and participate in the RIMS conference was an excellent opportunity for me as a student to experience the insurance industry on a much grander scale than what I get to experience in Big Rapids, MI.  Having companies from all over the country and even the world in one location is an experience I won’t soon forget.

I was able to tour the Superdome on my first day in New Orleans and it was cool getting to see how risk management played a part in helping the Superdome recover after hurricane Katrina.  I was able to hang out with other insurance students from around the country and see how their programs compared with ours here.  I knew many of the students there through the professional fraternity I am in, Gamma Iota Sigma. 

While at the conference I got to see inspirational keynote speakers like Erik Wahl, world-renowned speed painter and Simon Bailey.  After the speakers the exhibit hall would open up and thousands would flock to hundreds of exhibitors showcasing their products there.  As a student it was extremely overwhelming because I had no idea where to start.  Many exhibitors were aimed away from my demographic but it was still nice to see so many people involved in our industry.  The major thing that I took away from this conference is that the industry will be seeing a large part of its professionals retiring in the next few years.  This means that young people like myself will have ample room for growth and experience.

The most fulfilling thing for me was definitely the sessions that the conference offered.  I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer by introducing the CEO panel who were discussing claims and also discussing underwriting.  It was a great opportunity to hear more about what it’s like running a large multinational corporation and all of the things that go into making a company successful.  As an Anita Benedetti Scholar I was welcome to many of the events hosted by companies and even to FM Global’s yearly party that featured a performance by the band Foreigner.  I highly suggest that anyone interested in attending the RIMS conference apply next year for the scholarship as it will be in San Diego.  This conference is a great experience to learn more about the industry and connect with industry professionals from all over.  Having connections is a huge part of this industry and RIMS is an excellent place to do just that.

Corey’s experience attending the RIMS conference exemplifies the experiential learning opportunities that Ferris State strives to offer its students across many of its academic programs.  It is certainly one of my top goals for the risk management and insurance program.  Let’s face it, the risk and insurance industry doesn’t have much of a reputation as an exciting and dynamic career although those of us in the industry know otherwise.  We need to do more than tell our young students about the opportunities – we need to show them through experiential learning.  See you in San Diego in 2016!

Friday Fun

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As I have written on several occasions in the past, the risk and insurance industry is facing a talent shortage.  It also happens to be facing an image problem as well, and the two situations are likely correlated.  So what can the industry do to overcome its image problem with college students and young professionals?  Well, for starters here is Liberty Mutual’s viral video to help young students prepare for job interviews, and perhaps simultaneously casting the insurance career option in a better light.

The Institutes offers another very helpful and comprehensive website, InsureMyPath.org that includes fantastic resources (including videos) highlighting what a risk and insurance  career has to offer.  It includes a tool that maps your education and interests to the risk and insurance careers that may be the best fit.  There is internship information and a collection of enlightening and entertaining videos also available on the site.

As we begin the Memorial Day holiday weekend, have some fun.  Check out some of the videos that may change your perception of the risk and insurance industry.  Most of all, be safe as you celebrate this holiday weekend, and please remember and honor those have served and sacrificed to make our lives better.

Underwriter? What’s that?

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I have a soft spot for the underwriting profession, primarily because that’s where my own career got started.  It has to be one of the least understood professions out there.  My own story is typical.  My senior year at Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) was filled with on-campus interviews with a variety of companies and job types.  With an undergraduate degree in Socioeconomics (a blend of political science and economics), I wasn’t sure what sort of job awaited me.  What I had going for me was a strong set of analytical and communication skills.  As it turns out, that skill-set is well suited to insurance underwriting.  But I didn’t know that then.  When I interviewed with CIGNA (back when they were still in the property and casualty insurance business) I had to do some fast research to have the slightest clue about the job for which I was interviewing.

So what does an insurance underwriter do?  At the very heart of the job, it comes down to deciding which risks the insurance company will accept and at what price/terms.  Staff underwriters typically work in an insurance company home office and set guidelines for the types of risks that are acceptable to the company.  Line underwriters apply those guidelines to the individual risk applications that they underwrite.  That is an oversimplification of the job because underwriting requires thorough analysis of risks, interaction with insurance agents, loss control, claims, management, and more.  Creativity and problem-solving skills are paramount because some risks may not be acceptable upon first review but creative application of loss control measures and insurance contract modifications can make it possible to accept a challenging risk.  A win-win-win for the insurer, the agent, and the insured.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, take a look at this description of effective underwriting.  I remember my early days as a brand new property and casualty insurance underwriter, and the relationships that I built with many commercial insurance agents.  They knew that I was a “newbie” and I appreciated their patience with me, and many of them took the time to contribute to my early career education.  An experienced underwriter is like gold to an agent because they have the stories and insights that help agents to write more business that fit within the underwriting appetite of the insurer.  I moved on to an underwriting/marketing staff position, and then jumped over to a corporate risk management position before launching my own business.  I didn’t spend enough time in my underwriting job to develop the kind of deep expertise that makes an underwriter extremely valuable.  I respect the underwriting professionals who have developed that kind of expertise and make the industry work so well for the insurers, agents, and insureds.  It’s a little-understood job, but a very rewarding and valued job.  Go kiss an underwriter today.