As it is every year, March is Ethics Awareness Month for the insurance industry. Click here for my March 2017 article on this, though the poll I cite does not appear to have been updated for recent public opinion about the insurance industry. The CPCU Society usually leads the way on this, and you can get more information here. I wrote about the CPCU code of ethics in an article I called “The 7 Habits of Insurance Professionals.”
Those who view insurance as a career rather than a job probably think of themselves as professionals. As to what specifically constitutes a “professional,” here are some criteria from Ron Horn in an old CPCU text:
7 Characteristics of a Profession
Commitment to high ethical standards
Prevailing attitude of altruism
Mandatory educational preparation
Mandatory continuing education
Formal association or society available
Independence to make decisions
Public recognition as a profession
Source:“On Professions, Professionals, and Professional Ethics” by Ronald C. Horn
Based on these criteria, someone CAN be a “professional” in the insurance industry. The biggest stumbling block might be #7 above. Does the typical consumer view, for example, the typical insurance agent as a “professional” akin to their perception of a doctor, attorney, accountant or perhaps clergy member? The answer is almost certainly a resounding “No”… until their insurance claim is denied. At that time, the plaintiff will almost assuredly try to convince a judge or jury that the agent owed a higher standard of care as a professional in his or her field.
So, how do we begin the process of changing this unprofessional view of our industry, aside from voicing our displeasure with the incessant price-focused shilling that passes for advertising that dominates the media?
The above was largely excerpted from my coming book “When Words Collide: Resolving Insurance Coverage and Claims Disputes.”
Social media has become part of our daily lives, and most of us would be lying if we said we only checked our various feeds once a day. In fact, 98% of internet users spend time on social networks, according to a comScore study. Social networking has changed how we get our news, interact with companies and brands and keep in touch with friends and co-workers.
But many insurance professionals view social media as a distraction or a fun break, especially when it intersects with their professional lives. They’ll check Facebook during lunch or scroll through their Twitter feed while waiting for a conference call to start when they could be using that online downtime to jumpstart their careers. In fact, only 21% of millennials say they’re using social networks for professional reasons more than they did in the past. In failing to use social networking to its fullest career-boosting benefits, insurance pros are missing significant professional opportunities — and they’re simply being left out of the conversation.
Research shows that people use social media for 10 broad reasons, ranging from the somewhat professional (sharing information) to the decidedly leisurely (just killing time). While it may be more fun to share that cat video or like all your friends’ baby pictures, engaging with other insurance professionals, using social networks as news aggregators and providing value to your followers, can have a much greater impact on your life.
Let’s dig a little deeper into four specific ways insurance professionals can leverage social media to fast-track their careers.
1. Share knowledge
Research has shown that collaboration, especially when it involves individuals from a variety of disciplines, is one of the most effective ways to drive innovative ideas and solutions. Social media creates countless opportunities for one-on-one collaboration with some of the top minds in the industry. It also gives you the chance to establish yourself as a thought leader on a specific industry topic. Whether it’s a specialized coverage type or a particularly tricky step in the sales process, find the niche you spend a lot of time researching and share your results over your social networks. It’s an effective way to set yourself apart from job applicants or show your current employer that you’re ready to take on new challenges.
Finding the right Facebook and LinkedIn groups or Twitter hashtags are great ways to share knowledge, but there are even more niche insurance websites that offer their own opportunities to share knowledge with other industry professionals, such as sending out a quick, informal survey.
2. Engage in knowledge
Social networks also offer an opportunity to bounce ideas off people outside of the traditional insurance industry. Have a question about ridesharing services? Tweet an Uber driver. Have a tech question before a presentation? Tweet a self-proclaimed PowerPoint expert. The opportunities for finding — and providing — knowledge are only limited by the time you can commit to engaging through social networks.
Niche industry networks can provide a huge opportunity to learn from your peers’ experiences. Trying to get the skinny on that tough CPCU course? Some of the most common user-started threads in The Community relate to study advice for #CPCU exams. Industry professionals love helping others in the same boat they’re in, so don’t be afraid to post your question, no matter how specific or broad.
3. Gain knowledge
You don’t need to personally connect with every insurance thought leader to reap the benefits of social media. Perhaps the most straightforward way is to use it to stay current on emerging industry news and trends. Discussions about some of the most cutting-edge industry topics, such as drones and big data, are happening on social media, especially Twitter.
Facebook’s recent news that people are sharing 21% less personal information than in the past may not be great for Facebook’s stock, but it reveals an interesting trend: People are using Facebook to share news more than ever, providing users with an opportunity to use Facebook like a customized news aggregator. Staying on top of trends is a great way to learn how to prioritize designations to pursue and decide what new opportunities to seek as the industry changes. Being able to speak knowledgeably about emerging industry topics comes in handy during a job interview or networking event, too.
4. Network your knowledge
All these methods for engaging on social media can ultimately add to an increased ability to network, either directly or indirectly. Celebrities may need handlers and gatekeepers to oversee their social media accounts, but few insurance pros have others to manage their social media presence. Some of the top minds in the field are available for networking and sharing ideas — and most of them encourage it.
If you’re engaging with industry leaders and positioning yourself as an expert in various topics, it only makes sense that career opportunities will follow — just make sure your social media presence doesn’t contain anything too controversial or unprofessional. If you’re up to date on the emerging trends in the industry, you’ll be more prepared to chew the fat at the next conference or speak knowledgeably about a particular topic at a coming job interview.
The key is to make the most of the networking opportunities that come out of your social media efforts. If you meet someone online, keep an eye out for opportunities to meet in person and to develop the relationship further. If you meet someone in person, make a note to connect on social media. Every new connection could be a job opportunity or career advancement waiting to happen.
Have you used social networking to advance your career? Chime in with a comment below.
From the You Can’t Make This Stuff Up Department: Steve Legg took an important step on his path to becoming the director of risk management of Starbucks to avoid having what looked like a bad pun on his business card. He had earned his Associate in Risk Management designation, but that meant his name appeared as Legg-ARM. So, he says, he went on to earn his Chartered Property & Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation, because it is listed before ARM. His card now (safely) reads “Steve Legg, CPCU, ARM.”
But I’m jumping into the middle of the story, in this second in our series of Thought Leaders in Action. (The first, with Loren Nickel, director of risk management at Google, is here.)
To begin at the beginning, I’ll provide a summary of Legg’s background, then follow with the story of how he earned his prestigious position, some detail on Starbucks and how it manages risk and some insights from Legg for other risk managers.
Legg, who is 46 years old, has been at the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle since June 1997. His responsibilities include global corporate property and casualty insurance and risk financing for the company. Legg reports to the treasurer of Starbucks and heads a risk management team of 13 professionals, with two-thirds involved in claims management and the balance working in risk financing and risk transfer, its risk management information system (RMIS) , internal reporting and captive management. Starbucks has 22,519 stores in 66 countries, with a targeted growth rate of 1,650 net new stores during this fiscal year. Starbucks, the name inspired by Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, has one of the most recognized logos in the world. Its mission statement, developed by its founder Howard Schultz, is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Before joining Starbucks, Legg worked as an independent insurance broker, as well as in a claims capacity for Crawford & Co. Legg served on the board of the Washington state chapter of the Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS) for seven years, serving as president of the chapter during the 2005-2006 year. He has been an active participant within National RIMS and has served as a speaker to other insurance industry groups, such as the CPCU Society, the Professional Liability Underwriting Society (PLUS) and the Marine Insurance Association of Seattle. He has a degree in political economy of industrial societies from the University of California at Berkeley.
Legg grew up in Kirkland, WA, on the east side of Lake Washington. Nicknamed “the little city that could,” Kirkland is the former headquarters for the Seattle Seahawks and Costco. Kirkland Signature is still Costco’s store brand.
“I grew up interested in a lot of different things, but I wouldn’t say with any degree of certainty that I knew what I wanted to do for a living,” Legg said. “I was intrigued with going somewhere else to study, so I attended UC Berkeley. I was interested in crisis management, and I just happened to be at Cal when the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake  and devastating Oakland Hills firestorm  hit. From those experiences, I thought I might pursue law school.
“As things turned out, my first job was back in Washington state working as a claims adjuster for the branch manager of Crawford & Co., hired by our mutual friend and industry colleague Katrina Zitnik, who was later director of workers’ comp for Costco, 2001-2013. We handled the huge Boeing workers’ comp self-insured account. There were around 100 employees in that office alone. My specialty was working with chemical-related claims, which was really fascinating, before I moved over to liability claims. By my second year there, I started to really understand what risk management was all about.”
From that experience, Legg went on to achieve his ARM designation. “It may sound corny, but I didn’t like the way it looked on my business card as Legg-ARM, so I went on to pursue my CPCU,” Legg said.
“With that formal insurance education, I went to work for a regional insurance brokerage in Kirkland where I learned a lot about insurance and other facets of risk management.” Legg said: “I came to this realization that I didn’t want to handle claims or broker insurance. I wanted to be on the buyer’s side of all this – tending to insurance and a whole lot of other things.”
In 1997, Legg was hired by his predecessor at Starbucks, which had gone public in 1992. At the time he joined Starbucks, the company had about 1,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada and just a few new locations in Japan. Legg describes his experience at that time in risk management as more of a buyer of insurance, but his job responsibilities quickly deepened and expanded with the global spread of Starbucks. He assumed the director of risk management position in 2006 when his boss and mentor retired and became active in the management of Starbucks’ Vermont captive.
The evolving company
Legg explained that the organizational structure is set up based on three key global regions: (1) the Americas; (2) EMEA, which is Europe, Middle East and Africa; and (3) CAP, which is China, Asia Pacific. “Our biggest push is in the CAP region, especially China, which presents a lot of opportunity,” he said. Although that region has a tea-drinking tradition, Legg pointed out that Starbucks owns the tea company Tazo and more recently bought Teavana and its 300-plus stores, providing a high-end, specialty tea product that has become popular at Starbucks locations. He said Starbucks’ specialty coffee and expresso beverages have also become very popular in tea-drinking cultures.
Starbucks has also expanded its offerings in premium pastries (it bought La Boulange), food and merchandise offerings, and it recently began providing beer and wine in selected areas of the country. “Evenings at Starbucks had been under-utilized,” Legg said, “so with the rollout of beer and wine we’re able to serve additional patrons.”
How Starbucks manages risk
Serving 66 countries with various laws and customs, Starbucks has a global quality assurance organization work with business units that are immersed in foreign locations. “Risk management and legal principles are practiced with our people that understand and are sensitive to local government, culture, customs and laws,” Legg said. “Starbucks wants to provide appropriate food and beverages, and we have a global safety security organization, as well, that makes sure that we are tending to the different types of risks these different and diverse cultures hold. Safety and security are fundamental components in the initial and on-going training of our partners.”
When asked about the challenge of identifying, evaluating and treating risk in far-flung global operations, Legg noted that there is a common thread regardless of demographics that relates to keeping stores well-managed, clean, secure and hazard-free. He added that a global design team works with individual markets to address issues that mitigate any unusual risk factors, which could include something as simple as adjusting counter and stool height. Store components are designed to provide for each locale’s needs while Starbucks maintains the quality and consistency that its customers expect.
As for dealing with its insurance and reinsurance markets, Legg noted that Starbucks collects a significant amount of data on all of its locations to enable its internal team and underwriters to have the geographic information they need for modeling. North American operations are mostly self-insured via large retentions and deductibles; Legg points out that first-dollar and low-deductible insurance policies are far more common, accessible and prevalent in other parts of the world. Compulsory insurance requirements differ across jurisdictions — in many parts of the world, for instance, workers’ compensation as we know it is not available, and injuries or illnesses among employees (which Starbucks calls “partners”) are addressed in different ways.
“Regardless of the transfer or retention of risk, Starbucks feels that no one could ever care as much about our partners and our brand as we do,” Legg said. He added, “We inspire and nurture our partners and customers… through providing good products, friendly service and by contributing to our communities. It’s an important part of our culture and what makes this brand so strong.”
All eligible full- and part-time Starbucks employees receive comprehensive health coverage and equity in their company, referred to as “bean stock.” In turn, employees typically volunteer more than one million hours each year in helping their local communities. Starbucks has also set up agronomy offices in different countries around the world to help origin farmers to better manage their crops and businesses. “It’s really important all up and down the chain from the front-line stores to the source of the company’s most precious commodity to have a seamless connection,” Legg said.
I asked Legg what coaching suggestions he has for people entering the field of risk management.
He said, “I think to be successful in risk management that it helps to have a good understanding of a number of different disciplines like accounting, finance, law, etc. Most importantly, you need to have the ability to think critically through things to make good decisions and to then have the ability to communicate well and to influence others. Knowledge without good communication skills won’t equip you for this career.
“I find myself guiding and teaching other people in the organization every day, helping them develop their own risk assessment philosophy in what they do day in and day out. We in risk management can’t be there all the time, so our job is to train others throughout the organization to make good, sound risk management decisions.
“Be open-minded and flexible. Risk management staff needs to identify and admit their mistakes, correct things and be able to change course as needed.”
Legg added with a laugh, “You think you know in detail how things are, then you find out you really don’t know how things are.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Create a Spreadsheet on Google Driveto 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
You will gain the knowledge you need to truly understand the overall property/casualty insurance industry at a high level.
You will get access to membership in the CPCU Society both locally and nationally, which will open up amazing networking opportunities with the leaders of our industry.
Only 4% of our industry has achieved the CPCU, so it immediately puts you in the top echelon of the industry when it comes to education.
CPCU opens the door to promotions and new positions. Getting the interview for better positions becomes much easier with the highly respected CPCU letters next to your name.
The average CPCU is 54 years old. With so many retirements happening in our industry, young CPCUs are in very high demand.
Many of the local CPCU Society chapters are looking for young talent for their boards, giving you lots of opportunity to gain experience in a leadership role.
At around $4,000 for the whole program, it’s much less costly than an MBA.
Chances are your company will pay 100% of the cost of the program and pay for the trip to the annual meeting, and some even give bonuses for each test passed and for completing the program.
It shows a real commitment to the industry, which makes companies much more likely to take a risk on you and offer you a stretch assignment.
The average CPCU makes 29% more than non-CPCUs with the same job title.
If you start today, you have just enough time to finish in time for Hawaii 2016!!!!
Share this article with those at your company who would benefit from getting their CPCU! If this article inspires you to get going on CPCU, let me know in the comments, and I will personally call you to answer any questions you might have about the CPCU program! 😀
Already have your CPCU? Tell us: How has earning your CPCU improved your career? How did you decide to start pursuing it? Comment below.