Category Archives: careers

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

 

Insurance Innovation is NOT an oxymoron

As #InsuranceCareersMonth gets rolling, it is important to recognize that the risk management and insurance (RMI) industry is very active in developing innovations that keep people and property safer and improve the customer experience.  In spite of the stereotypical perception that insurance is reluctant to change and “clings to its paper,” there are some amazing things happening in the industry.  Although the industry continues to require new talent for claims, underwriting, and sales/marketing, some of the hottest RMI career opportunities exist among the science/technology/engineering/math (STEM) disciplines.

Quick example:  Innovation is alive and well at Lansing-based AF Group. (http://www.afgroup.com/news/af-group-investing-in-innovation-with-focus-on-customer-experience/)

Insurance Careers Month

Today marks the beginning of the 4th annual Insurance Careers Month, and it’s going to be an eventful month.  Next week I will be attending two separate events in Lansing, Michigan that are designed to highlight the many career opportunities in the risk management and insurance industry.  Later this month, I’m taking some of my students to the annual MAIA convention in Grand Rapids.  This is going to be fun.  Stay tuned.  #InsuranceCareersMonth

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.