Tag 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/)

Millennials Need to Hear Our Stories

millennials

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.

 

Underwriter? What’s that?

underwriting

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.

 

Career Possibilities Abound

INVEST_banner_logo

I had the opportunity to meet with a couple of representatives of the InVEST organization this past week.  It was an exhilarating conversation about the tremendous potential for young people to find stable, rewarding, and lucrative careers in the risk management and insurance industry. Although I have written about this organization before, I want to take a moment to highlight a couple of excellent resources offered by InVEST.

First, the InVEST online Career Center offers many resources for students and other curious folk to check out.  Second, within the Career Center is a link to a free Caliper personality profile that will provide some very insightful guidance regarding insurance careers that may be a good fit with the student’s personality.  The Career Center web page actually has two different links for the Caliper personality profile – one for entry level (ideal for students) and one for people already in the industry.  I assume that the latter profile is for insurance people looking for a change of focus in their career, or perhaps just looking for confirmation that they’re on a career path that is consistent with their personality.  I intend to try this free tool to see if my personality still fits the underwriter persona that got me started in the industry back around the time that the last dinosaur passed away.  I’ll post my results.