Tag Archives: insurance

RIMS 2017 – Here we come

Bright and early Sunday morning, I depart with four Ferris State RMI students to attend the 2017 RIMS Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I confess that at this stage of my career – having endured 30 years of planes, trains, and automobiles – business travel has little appeal to me.  Yet, I am enthused to accompany four students to this very large and impressive industry event.

It’s difficult to convey the vast scope of the RMI industry within a classroom.   Some things just have to be experienced and witnessed firsthand.  The immensity of the RIMS conference, with its thousands of attendees and vast array of exhibitors that includes many household names of the insurance industry, certainly drives home the point with students.  The educational sessions show the students that there is much more for them to learn and a cornucopia of career opportunities awaiting them.

My first RIMS conference was 26 years ago, and I still learn something new every year.  I am truly excited for the opportunities awaiting my four students.  I know that they will meet new and interesting professionals at the conference events, learn of concepts that will spark their interest, generate new ideas for their careers and personal ambitions, and yes, have some fun.

It’s going to be a great week and I will relish the opportunity to watch my students take it all in.  It may even make the planes, trains, and automobiles tedium of business travel worthwhile.  Maybe.

Heads in the Sand

Are U.S. homeowners burying their heads in the sand when it comes to their homeowner’s insurance coverage?  A 2016 survey commissioned by Trusted Choice and the IIABA seems to suggest that they are.  The three big conclusions from the survey results are that many homeowners have inadequate insurance coverage for their loss exposures, do not understand the coverage they do have, and lack enough personal savings to cover the uninsured costs of a disaster that may force them from their homes for a month or more.

It seems that a large portion of homeowners have very high expectations for the homeowner’s insurance policies they are purchasing, and very limited understanding of what it will actually cover and to what extent.  This creates a false sense of security, which relieves the homeowner of any sense of urgency toward establishing their own savings plan to get through the uninsured or under-insured aspects of a disaster.

For example, many homeowners fail to understand the difference between replacement cost and actual cash value coverage, and blindly accept what is typically the default (and less expensive) option: actual cash value coverage. Similarly, many policies provide a limit for off-premises living expenses following a covered event, but that limit is usually only 10% of the dwelling limit.  That could be woefully inadequate if a homeowner had to live elsewhere for 2-3 months after a major fire or storm damage.  Lastly, flood insurance is not even considered by many homeowners who think it cannot happen to them or believe that they have no flood exposure.  Last year, I wrote about the Louisiana floods which included this amazing statistic for a state that has a long history of floods: “…more than half (55%) of the state’s residents living in high-hazard flood zones did not purchase flood insurance.  Even worse, 88% of those living in low-to-moderate hazard zones (which were affected by this particular flood) did not buy flood insurance.”

So what’s the problem here?  Are homeowners just burying their heads in the sand, and adopting the “ignorance is bliss” approach to their most valuable asset?  Or is the insurance industry not being diligent enough in our role as personal risk managers to these homeowners?  I know many insurance professionals who are very dedicated to their clients and genuinely want to make sure these clients are adequately protected.  But I also know that there are three harsh realities:  (1) There are only 24 hours in each day, (2) there are clients who simply don’t want to know (or pay), and (3) there are a minority of insurance agents who have stopped caring, probably as a function of the first two realities.

Therein lies the rub.  The limits of time and the limits of client interest/attention-span/willingness-to-pay can cause even the most dedicated insurance professional to become cynical.  We’ve all had clients who don’t want to understand.  It’s either too complex or too scary for them, and they mentally shutdown and hope for the best.  Many Americans are taking a similar approach to their retirement savings, but that’s another story.  Alternatively, some clients understand the coverage concepts and ramifications but then choose the cheaper coverage option. Better. At least they made an informed choice… or did they? Can we be sure that the client fully grasped the magnitude of the self-insured exposure they just accepted and have a plan in mind to prepare for it?  The TC/IIABA survey suggests otherwise because few take that next step of establishing personal savings to get them through the disaster costs that they just decided to self-insure.

As insurance professionals, we cannot just dismiss the results of the TC/IIABA survey as the symptoms of our clients putting their heads in the sand.  If they are putting their heads in the sand, it could be because we’re not doing our jobs as risk management advisors as well as we should be.  Perhaps we’re being too scary or ominous in our coverage explanations.  Perhaps our coverage terms are overly complicated.  Perhaps we’re being too cynical or too rushed in our client interactions.  My suggestion is that we take the survey results to heart, look in the mirror, and ask ourselves: How do we fix this?

Scholarship Season

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Spring break is upon us!  Over the next few days, Ferris State students will scatter to various warm climates for spring break next week.  When the RMI students return in mid-March, they will be facing several imminent scholarship deadlines.  The amount of scholarship assistance that is available to today’s RMI student is impressive, uplifting, and dare I say, overwhelming.  The ever-growing list of RMI scholarships certainly reflects the industry’s urgent need for young talent, and that should speak volumes to those students and parents still contemplating an academic and career direction.

Many of these scholarships have springtime application deadlines so that awards may be made during May for the upcoming 2017-18 academic year.  This time of year, I receive multiple scholarship opportunities each week that I pass along to my RMI students.  As I have blogged in the past, there are also several online resources (including our own partial list) that will help students to find RMI scholarships.  There is absolutely no reason that a diligent student cannot find at least some scholarship assistance for their RMI education.

All of this is good.  Or is it?  Let me return to my prior use of the word “overwhelming” as it relates to these scholarships.  There are so many scholarship opportunities from every type of RMI organization imaginable, that students seem to be “freezing up” when it comes to applying for these scholarships.  With so many opportunities, it becomes difficult for the individual student to discern which opportunities afford them the best chance of receiving an award, and with limited time to crank out scholarship applications, they can apply for only so many.  In fact, this is beginning to be noticed by the awarding organizations as I have begun to receive queries from some scholarship sponsors as to why their application numbers are lower than expected.  To be clear, I don’t think that’s a universal condition as many of the established and well-known scholarships continue to receive plenty of applicants and award their scholarships only to the most deserving students.  It seems to be the newer, lesser-known scholarships that are struggling to find applicants.

This is a real shame because these sponsoring organizations have funds to help students, and they really do want to bolster the young talent coming into the industry.  I hesitate to say that there may be an over-supply of RMI scholarships because that almost feels blasphemous.  How could there ever be an over-supply of such a fantastic thing as scholarship money when tuition and book costs continue to rise?

I have an idea.  What if some of these scholarship sponsoring organizations who are struggling to generate applicants diverted those scholarships funds for a few years?  Instead of begging for student applicants, put the funds into the hands of the collegiate RMI programs to use for program marketing and enrollment growth initiatives.  More RMI students enrolled at schools equals more future scholarship applicants.  Now, you might argue that the scholarships themselves should be a powerful recruiting tool for boosting RMI enrollment.  Absolutely true, but there is much more to the student decision to major in RMI and I believe that the individual RMI schools are in the best position to convey the overall value proposition (including abundant scholarship opportunities) to prospective students – but not many schools have budgeted funds specifically for marketing their RMI academic programs.

This could be an interesting short-term tactical shift for some scholarship sponsors that pays off with a long-term strategic success of awarding more scholarships to the most deserving students (however each awarding organization may define that) a few years down the road.

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.

 

Practical Education

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February is “Insurance Careers Month” during which risk and insurance professionals make a concerted effort to highlight the industry’s career opportunities for young people facing a myriad of academic and professional choices.  A few years ago, when Ferris State University revived its storied risk management and insurance academic program, we re-engineered the curriculum and co-curricular opportunities for the 21st century.  As the new program took shape, I sat down with an advisory board sub-committee to craft a tagline for the program that would capture its essence and the potential that it offered students:

Ferris State University Risk Management and Insurance:  Practical Education.  Flexible Career.  Rewarding Life.

 In the context of insurance careers month, I decided to break this tagline down and discuss each of its component parts over the next few weeks.

“Practical Education” is not just lip service – it’s part of the Ferris State DNA.  The school was founded in 1884 by Woodbridge and Helen Ferris as Big Rapids Industrial School.  A review of the school’s history clearly demonstrates a focus on teaching practical skills that prepare students for gainful employment and successful careers in fields where workers are needed.  To this day, Ferris offers programs in such fields as Heavy Equipment Technology, Welding Engineering Technology, Plastics Engineering Technology, Pharmacy, Optometry, and yes, Risk Management and Insurance.  All of these are fields clamoring for young, educated talent.  The Ferris State mission and core values clearly emphasize the practical nature of a Ferris State education.

The new Ferris State RMI academic program has been designed from the ground-up to provide this practical education.  Our students learn the foundational concepts of the risk management process, insurance coverages, insurance law, and terminology.  But that’s not all.  The reality is that in many fields, a significant portion of the technical knowledge a person gains in school will be obsolete within ten years of graduation.  The truth is that the technical learning continues well beyond college graduation, and in fact, never really ends.  Insurance coverages will evolve with emerging risks such as cyber-risk, and who knows what comes next in the 2030s, 2040s, and beyond.

At the heart of our practical education is an emphasis on experiential learning, adaptable degree programs, and development of timeless skills.  Practical education means that our students will complete internships where they go to work in the “real world” of risk and insurance.  It means they attend industry conferences where they are exposed to emerging industry issues and begin building a professional network.  It means that they participate in co-curricular activities such as Gamma Iota Sigma.

Practical education means that students complete the foundational RMI courses and then have the opportunity to draw a variety of other courses from across the University to complete their degree and to suit their interests and career direction.  Interested in becoming a cyber-security/cyber-risk expert? Take a few of our information security courses.  Interested in predictive analytics for risk and insurance? Take data analytics and data mining courses.  Interested in the agency side of the business? Take our agency operations course along with a few small business management courses.  Examples of practical tailored education abound.

Practical education means that students learn and practice the skills that every employer seeks.  The RMIN 489 capstone course includes units, exercises, and activities in such areas as critical thinking skills, logic, problem-solving, and collaboration, to name a few.  Just next week, the RMIN 489 students will be addressed by an industry veteran who will be coaching them through several case studies drawn from genuine situations from the realms of underwriting, claims, sales, and risk management.  The cases we use in this course are not canned textbook cases – they are real-world (with names changed to protect the guilty/innocent) situations for which there is rarely “one correct solution.”  The intent is to exercise the students’ problem-solving and analytical skills as they evaluate each case against the foundational risk and insurance knowledge they have gained.

This is real-world stuff.  This is a practical education.

Back to School

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Next week marks the beginning of a new academic year at Ferris State University, and it is going to be a busy one.  The FSU Risk Management and Insurance program officially launches a re-engineered curriculum this fall.  One of the most important features of the updated curriculum is a 15-credit block wherein students will tailor their education (with academic and professional advice) to suit their interests and aptitudes.  Some students may decide to enhance their RMI degree with an area of emphasis in data analytics by completing coursework in data mining, statistics, and predictive analytics.  Other students may focus on risk management by adding coursework in advanced risk management, enterprise risk management, and risk management technologies.  These are but two examples of potential specializations which might also include other areas such as cyber-risk, entrepreneurship, agency operations, and more.  Fun stuff!

Earlier this year, the Ferris State RMI program launched a strategic planning process.  The bulk of the committee’s planning work is now complete.  Execution of the strategic plan is already underway, and will be an ongoing process over the next few years.  This will result in considerable activity both inside and outside of the academic classroom, adding to our students’ success and strengthening the program for future students.

On a personal note, I am beginning my fourth year in academia this fall.  After spending the first 25 years of my career working in and around the risk and insurance industry in a variety of roles, I can honestly say that the past three years have been the most intrinsically rewarding years of my career.  But what really excites me is what I see ahead.  Ferris State has established a fantastic foundation for the RMI program, the risk and insurance industry is eager to hire ambitious graduates, and now we just need to fill more of the seats.  It is going to be a busy and exhilarating year.  Let’s get started.

Davy Jones’ Locker

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Meet Mr. Dave Jones, California’s elected insurance commissioner.  “Elected” is important in that opening sentence because that inherently makes the regulation of insurance in California a political activity.  As is typical in current California electoral politics, Mr. Jones is from the left side of the political spectrum, and seems particularly sympathetic to the green lobby.  Witness his concern over insurance company investment portfolios that dare to include any companies that derive 30% or more of their revenues from fossil fuels.

Mr. Jones has made waves in recent months by asking that insurers doing business in California provide an annual accounting of their fossil fuel investments. Although he has graciously stated that divestiture in such assets is voluntary, he warned that insurers who do not divest themselves of fossil fuel firms will be publicly identified and subject to examinations due to the concern that such assets might damage the insurer’s financial health.  Giving Mr. Jones the benefit of the doubt, it’s possible that he is simply reading the not-so-subtle tea leaves of political statements such as Hillary Clinton’s admonition that “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”  If that political ambition has a genuine chance of being realized, then yes, there is a concern that such investments on an insurer’s balance sheet could impede their long-term claim-paying ability.  But this smacks of a chicken-and-egg conundrum… is Mr. Jones acting as a prudent regulator of insurance companies, or is he currying political favor with his fellow leftists to propel his own political ambitions and to eventually lead to the realization of a crumbling fossil fuel industry?

The cynic in me leans toward the latter.  There is another effect of this action that concerns me.  California does tend to be out in front of (and often alone) the rest of the country on many left-leaning political initiatives.  Many of the insurers doing business in California also do business in other states.  If the California Insurance Commissioner takes it upon himself to manage the individual investments in an insurer’s portfolio to advance a political agenda that is not directly related to the business of insurance, is that not usurping authority from the other 49 insurance commissioners?  What’s a national or regional insurer to do if all 50 state insurance commissioners begin picking favored and dis-favored industries for their regulated insurers to hold in their investment portfolios?  Couldn’t the Michigan insurance commissioner take a similar approach toward Silicon Valley tech companies since there has been talk of another tech bubble inflating?

We all like to assume that our elected public officials truly have the best interests of their constituents at heart when they exercise the authority of their office.  Unfortunately, I think we’ve witnessed increasing evidence that many such actions taken in the last 10-20 years have been politically motivated and self-serving.  My instinct tells me that this is the case here with California’s chief insurance regulator using his authority to sink fossil fuel investments deep into Davy Jones’ Locker – not for the good of insurance companies or customers, but for the advancement of his own political agenda and ambitions.