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8 Steps to Beat All 8 CPCU Exams

Now that we got you excited based on earlier articles such as this one, and you’re ready to start CPCU today, here’s some guidance on how to actually get it done and survive the tests. This article is lovingly dedicated to “those poor souls studying for the CPCU designation,”

Please keep in mind that doing CPCU is very much like trying to eat an elephant; there’s only one way to do it, one bite at a time.

I asked my friend and all-around Wonder Woman, Carly Burnham, to share the strategies she used in completing the designation. I met Carly in 2011 when she was at a turning point in her career. She felt stuck in her position as a call center sales agent and wasn’t sure of the next step. She wasn’t even sure whether insurance was an industry she could make a career in. She had an interest in underwriting but had no idea how to get there. We met through the Gen Y Associate Resource Group at Nationwide Insurance.

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I could clearly see she was bright and hard-working and was looking for a challenge, so I asked her if she had heard about the CPCU. Over coffee, I told her all about why CPCU is awesome and convinced her to go for it. To make things even more interesting, I challenged her to do it in a year, while working full time and finishing a part-time MBA program. To my surprise, she took me up on it. Even more impressively, she met the goal and finished all eight tests in just short of 12 months.

When I talked to Carly about this article, she shared the following thought with me, “The CPCU is usually done as a self-study program, and if you haven’t tackled online courses or some other self study program, it can be challenging to know where to start. I was lucky to have your mentorship, and, looking back, I’d say these eight strategies were really what helped me meet the audacious goal that we set.”

  1. Set Your Own Timetable

Decide up front when you are going to finish your CPCU. If you don’t choose an end date, you could stretch the entire process out for YEARS. On average, people take at least two years to finish, but many insurance professionals have been working on their CPCU for longer than that. Decide when you want to be done and commit to the deadline. If you are trying to finish to advance your career, focus on finishing before you begin to apply for new roles. If you want to finish in time to attend the annual meeting in a certain city, set your end date as the last month that you can qualify for that meeting. Having an end date and an understanding of your motivation will help you push through challenges along the way.

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  1. Find an Accountability Partner

Your accountability partner may be a current CPCU or someone who is also pursuing the designation. He or she should be someone with whom you can share the reason for your pursuit of the CPCU. If he or she understands your motivation, it will be easier to push you to stay the course and finish by your goal date.

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  1. Create a Spreadsheet on Google Drive to Share With Your Accountability Partner

On this spreadsheet, you will want to map out the dates that you will take each exam to achieve your goal date. Once you have mapped out exam dates, you can work backward using the chapter summaries at theinstitutes.org to identify when you will read each chapter of the text for the exam and when you will take your practice exams.

  1. Devote Certain Hours of Your Day to Studying

When studying, consistency is key. If you focus best at the beginning of the day, set aside an hour or two in the morning and commit to showing up the same place each day to read the chapters that you laid out in your spreadsheet for this day. Choose the time that works best for you, but aim to make it a routine, so that you don’t have to decide every day that you are going to stay at the office an extra hour or go to the coffee shop before work starts. If it’s part of your daily rituals, you won’t have to use willpower to get your studying done.

  1. Read the Entire Book

First, read The Institutes’ guide to preparing for their exams. As they mentioned, there is no single way to prepare. But I found that reading the entire book first helped me establish a base level of knowledge. Next, I would take a practice exam, as a sort of pre-test. The practice exam would let me know which chapters I was weak on. With this information, I could pinpoint the best way to spend my time. If I needed to, I could re-read chapters and test on those individual chapters until I felt comfortable moving on to the next chapter.

  1. Use the Mobile App

The Institutes have created a mobile app called Smart QuizMe for Apple and Android phones. Using this in any spare time you have will also help you feel confident with the information and the style of questions on the practice exams. You can set the app to run through certain chapters or the whole book depending on what you want to focus on. Because it’s on your phone, you can use it even if you only have five or 10 free minutes. The questions on the app tend to be clustered, so question 100, 101, 102 and 103 might be the same question with only one word changed. This really teaches you how changing a small part of a question can result in a different answer. The app is particularly helpful for the most detail-oriented tests, especially 520. One word of warning: Don’t depend entirely on the app without doing the online practice exams; you could easily fool yourself into thinking you’re ready when there are significant parts you haven’t yet mastered.

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  1. Pass the Practice Exams a Few Times

Leave at least at least four and preferably a full seven days before the real test to take the online practice exams. Passing the exams will give you the confidence you need to take the exam without feeling rushed or unsure of your answers. The practice exams are very similar and sometimes harder than the actual exams. You will also have the opportunity to research any questions you missed and make sure you understand the concept before test day. Nothing beats going into the real test feeling confident, and nothing gets you more confident that the online practice exams. The practice exams are the key to the kingdom!

  1. Get the Proper Support

Make sure your family, close friends and other support systems fully understand that the CPCU is a BIG DEAL and that you will require lots of support while you get through it. Make sure they know this isn’t just another license or minor designation but a serious commitment that only 4% of people in our industry have gotten through.

To help my family understand, I explained that I was pursuing something akin to a master’s degree in insurance, and I was doing it in a year, while working 40 hours a week — most people outside the industry will need the designation explained in a similar way to fully understand the commitment you’ve made. Also, join the CPCU Candidates Facebook Group; they’ll provide you with tons of encouragement and answer your questions. Most importantly, you won’t feel like you’re the only person in the world putting yourself through the challenge of CPCU.

One Bonus Tip:

Know ahead of time that 540 – Finance and Accounting for Insurance Professionals is a special beast of a test (see artist’s rendering below). To ensure proper preparation for this one, allow yourself 50% more time than usual; so if you have given yourself two months for 500, 520 and 530, give yourself three months for 540. Buy a financial calculator (preferably the Texas Instruments BA-II Plus) and learn how to use it. The book won’t teach you how to use it, so you have to get help from someone who knows how to use it – if you have a hard time finding someone, there are decent tutorials on YouTube or at Atomic Learning. Use the calculator for all the practice tests, and then don’t forget to bring it on exam day!

I am passionate about spreading the word about the CPCU, and I was glad to have met Carly at that turning point in her career. Her commitment has paid off, and she has recently became a commercial lines underwriter at Erie Insurance; she’s loving the new job, and she’s fully committed to the industry. She credits her designation with helping her get the interview but says it goes even further than that: “The knowledge that I gained in earning my CPCU gave me the confidence to pursue a true career in the industry, and I now use the knowledge every day in my role as an underwriter. This designation gives you a broad understanding of the industry, but it also gives you practical, technical information that is essential to being a successful insurance professional.”

If you’ve had similar experiences, share them in the comments. If you have questions about the pursuit of your CPCU, message me. There are really no excuses left. Let’s get going and get your CPCU. You will never regret it.

Good job making it to the end of our longest post yet; as a reward, here is another image for the awesome metaphor of eating an elephant one bite at a time.

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The Misconceptions About Millennials

When it comes to successfully engaging with a new generation of customers (and employees), there’s very little doubt that insurers have their work cut out for them. There can be very little doubt that members of the Millennial generation generally consider insurance to be boring and that reputation of insurance brands among this group is low. So how can insurance companies bridge this gap and find a way to meet the challenges that this new generation of customer present?

Perhaps the first thing to do is to challenge existing preconceptions of this group. Many insurers may well be oversimplifying and mythologizing the digital and financial behavior and attitudes of Millennials. Indeed, contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority of Millennials are not technology geeks. What this means for insurers is that developing and offering an app isn’t going to have the impact expected among this group. Technology for technology’s sake will not interest Millennials; they have to see clear value.

More broadly speaking, insurers still have much to do when it comes to connecting Millennials and insurance companies. It’s clear that younger customers view insurance brands as solid, safe and staid, guarantors when something goes wrong. However, they also see insurers as faceless organizations that have little understanding of their needs. The successful insurance brands of the future will be those that can provide the established, safe reputation that Millennials have come to expect from insurers, alongside an understanding of their lifestyles, which aligns with the way they interact with one another.

It’s also interesting to consider, in this context, how Millennials make strategic decisions about financial management and, specifically, around how they buy insurance. What many insurers may not realize is that many are using word-of-mouth recommendations and advice from family and friends, which can bring the reputation and brand of the insurer to the fore. For this reason, establishing brand reputation and using word-of-mouth campaigns will be key.

Because the customer journey of the Millennial is less certain, it will also be increasingly important for insurers to invest in a sound omni-channel strategy. Because they are dealing with customers – or at the very least, potential customers – who are savvy across a diverse range of channels, and who will dip in and out of them at regular intervals before they make a purchasing decision, it can be almost impossible for insurers to know exactly which channel they will use or prefer.

What is particularly striking, however, is how small a part social media plays for Millennials when it comes to how they experience customer service. Contrary to popular belief, most seem to have fenced off social media interaction into their personal world and are not convinced that this is where they’ll engage with insurers on customer service issues. Perhaps we should give greater credit to Millennials’ understanding of how social media attacks can backfire and public castigation is a waste of energy.

In any case, when it comes to complaints, insurers should consider that Millennials are probably no different than any other generation. They ask for efficient and effective response to direct complaints. While less concern should be given to Millennials causing reputational damage via social media “flaming,” they are likely to take decisive action earlier, with a third willing to switch immediately.

It’s important to remember that Millennials aren’t looking for digital-only channels, and that they place great value on personalization and self-service. Millennials want just-in-time advice and support, delivered right at the moment they need it. They do not want to get “just in case” advice and support that is delivered at some inappropriate moment (and through an inappropriate channel) and that may not be the right content (which they will have forgotten by the time they need to apply it anyway).

Perhaps the most significant consideration is the extent to which Millennials might be willing to share personal data in exchange for a discount or a reduced premium. This seems to justify experiments in telematics and may be the basis for insurers to innovate around newer technologies like wearables. All of this should strongly influence technology choices for how insurers make sure their businesses are responsive to customers. Systems that embed consistent best practice every time, as part of every interaction, to give the absolute optimum outcome for both the insurer and the customer as an individual are critical.

In summary, while not all Millennials are the same, they all share similar traits – namely, that they what they want, when they want it (just in time), and they want all of it. With this in mind, there seems very little doubt that the most successful insurers when it comes to dealing with Millennials will be those that are authentic and trustworthy and that are able to offer pricing at the “right” level. Those insurers that can incorporate all of these facets into a personalized service, which sees and leverages every previous interaction and anticipates their next requirement “like magic,” will be those that bridge the generational insurance gap and get ahead.

Bizarro World: Where Buying Can Be Fun

In the Bizarro world of insurance, the product that people buy hoping they never use it is replaced with products that people buy via an interactive and engaging learning experience.

Last Wednesday, Google opened its first retail store in London: a pop-up store within a British electronics retailer, called Currys PC World. The Google shop lets people play, experiment and learn about all Google has to offer. In a sense, the store is an interactive billboard that places profits at the backseat and lures customers in via a promise to entertain.

This concept of “play over purchase” isn’t unique, and can be found in Apple’s and Samsung’s business models. In fact, only two years ago, Samsung looked to emulate Apple’s success in the U.S. by launching its own chain of mini-stores in partnership with Best Buy.

Surely there is some room for play, not just purchase, in our industry.

To get a better idea of how this would work in Bizarro insurance world, picture a retail destination with insurance geniuses standing by, ready and eager to engage customers in the insurance experience all the way from consulting on insurance products to simulating claim-handling and the latest telematics gadgets. These insurance geniuses will welcome consumers and listen to them, to better understand the right combination of products and features to offer. Later, the geniuses will point consumers to different stations, such as “Seriously Real,” sponsored by Cyberith, where consumers can enter the virtual world of operating drones for disaster support, or “Hot Quotes,” sponsored by Bolt, where consumers can obtain auto insurance quotes faster than Jimmy John’s delivery guy can make a sub.

The result will be a house of insurance brands that come together under one roof to clearly communicate the value of insurance for the sake of a branded customer experience. Yes, I’m referring to the two most overused words in this industry – customer experience – which until now were largely defined by an automatic renewal letter sent once a year or perhaps an unused, “downloaded and forgotten” app.

We should also draw on the underused word “ecosystem”: in this setting, defined as a network of carriers, vendors and insurance startups that collaborate to educate and engage around insurance products via a one-stop shop.

To be continued when we revisit the Bizarro world of insurance….

Where Are the New Wearables Heading?

It’s hard to imagine that Humphrey Bogart became one of the fashion setters of his time by wearing a wristwatch in his films. That made pocket watches a novelty. Since then, wristwatches have been a cool men’s accessory. There were glow-in-the dark watches — until radium was discovered to be dangerous. Other styles have added lunar phases, chronographs, timers and alarms, and don’t forget the trendy but forgotten 1970 Pulsar red LED watch.

Now, is the wristwatch at risk of being replaced by new wearables? The real question in my mind from a risk management perspective relates to our personal habits vs. technological advances. Historically, relying on technology alone to change behavior has been more hope than strategy. People like style, convenience, comfort and practicality, and many old habits are hard to change. How many devices do I need to wear? Will a wearable ever truly be a personal protective device (PPD) in the workplace?

Gadgets like Fitbit or Nike Fuelband do specific health-monitoring tasks that have a cool factor, joining yoga pants and headbands. Well, maybe not headbands anymore, but I’m an Olivia Newton-John fan. Anyway, for my daily walks, I use an app on my iPhone that seems to do very well in tracking my steps.

The real holy grail of wearables would be a simple device that could monitor your blood pressure 24/7 and communicate to you and your medical provider. Now, joining the battle for your wrist, the Apple watch (around $350-plus) is poised for release in April. A companion device with your iPhone, these colorful wrist devices strive to pack all of your wearable potential into one Dick Tracy-like, walkie-talkie-style statement with three colorful base models. Similarly, Android Wear is in the works, with as many as 15 devices packing Google’s wearable tech system anticipated to hit the market by the end of 2015.

Apple admits that users are going to wind up charging the watch daily but has declined to go into specifics. A watch runs on a small battery for a year or more.

Wearables are about to explode into an array of novel, single-function devices. The big question in my mind is something the designers of wearable tech seem to have forgotten: Does the item in question solve a need or make life easier for its user? The fact is that most wrist devices do nothing more complex than that already done on a smart phone.

Look at what happened with Google Glass in 2013 -2015. This $1,500 gizmo fizzled in the social scene although commercial uses, including in medicine, firefighting and manufacturing, seem promising. Besides its nerdiness, Google Glass lost because of legal and privacy issues. The real killer in my mind was when users were dubbed “glassholes.” Google is retooling that invention for another shot at it down the road.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in the way of wearables is complexity. There may very well come a day when people are decked out from head to toe in technology, but it’s not going to happen unless it’s nearly invisible technology. Consumers don’t buy gadgets, as much as they buy experiences. They buy access to content and services they desire. They buy brands that deliver style and status, social acceptance and recognition. Remember the 2001 invention, codenamed Ginger, that was destined to change the world of transportation? It’s called the Segway.

“Disruptive innovation,” a term coined by a Harvard University professor, Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of the market and then relentlessly moves up-market, eventually displacing established competitors.

Wearables could bring dramatic improvement  to health monitoring and safety and assistance, but issues like battery life, transparency and simplicity need to be solved before we can expect real disruptive change like the smart phone brought us.

Over half of the world’s 7.2 billion people use mobile phones, with smartphone users growing to 2.5 billion in 2015. Besides communication and computing, think of the incredible photo and video capabilities smartphones bring to our planet’s inhabitants.

What would more wearables give us?

Is Uber Already in the Crosshairs?

The CEO of a large insurance company once confided to me that the toughest innovation challenge he faced was that, “Every time we try to innovate, the agents turn around and kick us in the nuts.”

The dance between Uber and Google around drone taxis reminds me of that conversation. Google invested in Uber in 2013 but has recently distanced itself from Uber amid indications that it is considering offering its own ride-hailing service using driverless cars. While such a service might make sense for Google and might be the way of the future, imagine how Uber’s drivers will react if Uber attempts the transition to driverless cars.

Both the insurance CEO and his agents knew that the most innovative thing his company could do was to eliminate the agents as middlemen between him and his customers. This insurer was paying about 15% of its premiums to agents in commissions and bonuses. Eliminating agents would have translated into lower expenses for the insurer and lower premiums for customers. GEICO, for example, pays no agent commissions. It takes advantage of its structural cost advantage to out-market and out-price its agent-based competitors.

The problem was that this insurer depended on its agents. Going from agent-mediated sales to no agents was fraught with danger.

Sometime in the future, whether five, 10 or 15 years from now, Uber will confront a similar predicament as it confronts the adoption of drone taxis.

Fully autonomous cars will enable Uber-quality service at much lower prices — and at a fraction of the cost of car ownership. The only difference is that there will be no human drivers.

Drone taxis are an opportunity that Uber has long foreseen. It was likely a part of the calculation for accepting Google’s $258 million investment in 2013Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, was clear about the opportunity when he told a technology conference in 2014 that:
“The Uber experience is expensive because it’s not just the car but the other dude in the car. When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost [of taking an Uber] gets cheaper than owning a vehicle.”

And, as I discussed I a recent column, Uber just put a lot of money behind that vision. So, by the time driverless cars become viable, Uber will have had a hand in its development for a long time.

But here’s the rub. By that time, Uber will no longer be a feisty startup with nothing to protect. It will most likely be a highly profitable and richly valued public company. It will be servicing millions of customers in thousands of cities across hundreds of countries all around the world. And its success will depend on the allegiance of hundreds of thousands of independent human drivers.

As with insurance agents’ power over the aforementioned CEO, drivers will have tremendous leverage over Uber. Will Uber drivers accept a drone option on the Uber app? No.

It is easy to imagine work stoppages and mass defections to competitors that promise not to offer drones. It is also easy to imagine intense campaigns by drivers and third parties to save drivers’ jobs and livelihoods. Uber will find itself at the very uncomfortable heart of the technology vs. jobs debate.

Will Uber management have the audacity to risk changing Uber’s business model? Could Uber weather the bad publicity and potential disruption to its revenue and profits? Would its board and investors allow management to put the company at risk?

Uber will be in much the same position that Kodak found itself with digital photography. Kodak had the foresight to invest in research that yielded many of the core inventions enabling digital photography. Yet it struggled for decades to capitalize on those inventions — even as digital photography inexorably replaced film-based photography.

Kodak failed even though it had immense resources, technical expertise and management talent. It failed because it could never negotiate the business model transition to digital photography. If you had a very profitable and dominant film, chemical and paper business, when would you choose to accelerate its demise? Kodak management stuck with film until the company’s early advantages in digital photography no longer mattered.

The iconic “Kodak moment” used to conjure up images of heart-warming pictures. It now symbolizes companies grappling with complete and utter technology disruption.

Uber will no doubt have all the prerequisite resources, technical expertise and management talent to fully comprehend the strategic implications of driverless cars. Like Kodak, it will have a very long time to prepare.

Do you think it will survive its Kodak moment?