Forget the "5 Year Plan"
I am like a lot of people in the insurance industry in that I don’t have a risk management background. I have a degree in biochemistry and a minor in finance, and was destined to be a doctor.
When I decided that was not the path for me and a PhD didn’t work out, I wasn’t sure what to do. So, I went home and started a part-time job to make money. After a few months my mom said “You need a full time job”. I was still upset over not using my degree in my professional career, but understood I needed to start said career.
My mother worked for an insurance carrier (being a short drive from home was a bonus), and wanted me to apply. It was a great company with many opportunities to advance. As advice from Moms go, 12 years later she was, of course, spot on.
Don't Be Afraid of Customer Service
It didn’t start off well.
I applied for two underwriting positions and didn’t get an interview. Not exactly the ego boost that I was hoping for if this great company didn’t want me for their fundamental role.
I then turned my focus on a customer service job scheduling home appraisals, and I landed an interview. My interviewer seemed concerned about my lack of business experience, and for an instant, I felt like maybe insurance wasn’t where I was supposed to go.
But I realized this was just a test! Recruiters look for transferable skills, and want to know if you can think on your feet to use these skills across different industries.
I must have passed with flying colors, as I got the job! It was a great start to my insurance career. I learned about the "Insurance to Value" process, what the company was really about and where I could go in the company.
I then evolved my role from customer service to business consulting. Funny enough, I didn’t even change desks as the unit was right next to me!
For those of you looking to break into insurance, don't be afraid to start small and grow. Many, many young people find that the quickest way to get their shoe in the door is to start out in a customer service job, prove your worth for 365 days, and get promoted. In fact, not only do insurance employers say that customer service reps are their greatest need right now, but it is also their most trusted pool of talent for promotions into other roles!
Take Every Opportunity
Each job thereafter has been a result of networking, showing my strengths or looking to do more. After 12 years, I am about to start my 6th position in the same company, in the same building and in the same discipline (Personal Insurance).
My last project in the consultant role was to create a flow chart for a policy, which gave me an intro to the underwriting department. In tandem with that project, my manager told me about the CPCU designation and how important it could be for my career.
So, off I went to take my CPCU exams, and with 2 completed, I applied for an underwriting role and got it! Over the last 9 years I have been a portfolio UW, a premier UW handling accounts over $50,000, a Regional Underwriting Manager, and, most recently, a Product Manager. I completed my CPCU in 2016, just finished my Associate in Risk Management – Enterprise (ARM-E) and plan on working on my Associate in Reinsurance (ARe) in 2018. The industry is vast with multiple areas of discipline, the possibilities are endless!
About That "5 Year Plan"
Mom’s advice surely came true more than I could have imagined. However, one of the most important pieces of advice I received about my career was how I looked at “the next job”.
A lot of us aspire to be CEO, President, head of the area, etc. But what if that role is never available? Is that considered a failure in your mind?
I was told to think about what I wanted in my career – senior leader, technical specialist or something else? From there, what key attributes and skills would someone successful in that role need to possess?
For me, it helped when I stopped trying to create a 3 or 5 year plan with specific goals, but instead focused on a long term career map with a general idea of where I hoped life would take me. While life always changes, having a good idea of where you want to be will help decide which role is right for you. It also means that there is not one role you are aspiring towards, but potentially multiple roles within that level of the company. You can then take roles (upwards or lateral) which help to build out your professional career. If there is something you feel you cannot get at work, look towards the Institutes for education and designations like the CPCU.
I never thought that I would find a career in insurance, nevermind progress this far in my career. The insurance industry has so much to offer in terms of growth and opportunity- it is a great career for anyone!
Steve Fischl started his insurance career in 2006 at Chubb Insurance where he is still currently working and about to start a new role as a Product Manager in Personal Risk Services.