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How Active Assailant Insurance Can Help Your Business Survive after a Mass Casualty Event

Co-authored by Chantal Roberts, CPCU, AIC, RPA

Are those firecrackers? Is a car backfiring? Perhaps there’s a disturbance of some kind. Today’s managers and owners rarely consider if an active shooter incident can occur on their property. Unfortunately, active shooter or active assailant incidents are more prevalent in the United States than ever before. Due to the increasing occurrence of this type of loss, a business that faces this situation may find itself without coverage for many claims that arise post-event. These uncovered losses can include posttraumatic stress (PTSD) treatment, structural improvements of buildings, post-event security, or the inability to handle the onslaught of media post-event.

This article outlines typical policies most businesses buy and describes additional coverage business owners should consider to protect their business, employees and customers/guests if the unthinkable event occurs. It discusses active assailant policies along with other risk prevention techniques. This article helps business owners understand the liability products available and provides some pricing examples. Active assailant coverage is surprisingly affordable, and while not right for every business, certain owners will want to obtain a quote for this important coverage.

Definitions Matter

According to Vox, the week of January 5, 2014, is the only full calendar week without a mass shooting since January 1, 2013. As of April 27, 2019, 104 mass shootings killed 124 people and wounded 375. The Gun Violence Archive defines “mass shootings” as “events in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot.”[i] So ubiquitous are mass shootings that the shooting on the last day of Passover, 2019, in a Poway synagogue did not make the front page in most major newspapers.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) outlined active assailant incidents in 2016 and 2017. The FBI found 20 occurrences in 2016; the number increased to 30 in 2017. Unlike the Gun Violence Archive, the FBI excludes gang- and drug- related activities as well as gun-related activities that do not harm others. All 50 shooters were males who acted alone, and the majority of them were in their 20s.[ii] Active assailants focus on soft targets – locations with a high number of people and low security. The events usually occur in businesses (45%), schools (25%) and government facilities (10%).[iii]

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, typically through the use of firearms.”[iv]

This definition may be important because not all active assailant insurance policies define an active assailant event in the same way. An active assailant incident can range from a shooting, a stabbing, or an explosion such as the Boston Marathon bombing, to individuals driving automobiles into a crowd.

Insuring agreements (the insurer’s promise to pay), definitions and exclusions differ among policies. Historically, active assailant policies stemmed from terrorism and kidnap and ransom policies. However, as these horrific events escalated and the types of damages began to increase, underwriters and claims professionals recognized that these policy forms failed to meet their clients’ needs.

The public and employees began placing more expectations on business owners to protect them from harm. Often business owners failed to recognize their standard commercial policies could leave them with large, uncovered losses, losses that would exceed their policy limits and litigation costs that could devastate a small-to-medium sized company.

Overview of Standard Commercial Insurance Policies

Most business owners buy several insurance policies, such as commercial property and liability, worker’s compensation and business interruption coverages. Attempts by the insurance industry to modify current business policies to cover these events still left coverage gaps for active-assailant incidents. Clearly, society needed more protection.

During an active assailant incident, bullets, explosions, or the police knocking down doors to gain access to the interior will damage the building. Provided the business has the “special” cause of loss form, the insurer would probably cover the damages if the insured meets all other insurance provisions.

The general liability (GL) policy responds when the business owner is “legally liable” for an accident and has breached a duty or standard of care. The business owes an invitee, its customer, a high duty of care to provide an environment free of hidden risks or perils. However, when an active assailant strikes with little or no apparent connection to the property, how can the business’ customers and employees find liability against that owner? While the general liability policy should provide a defense, it may provide few if any benefits to injured customers or employees.

This is where active assailant policies can be invaluable. Paul Marshall, the Managing Director of the Active Shooter/Workplace Violence Division Team at McGowan Programs, one of the premier writers of this coverage, likened the coverage to a “go-fund me account.” The policy will provide immediate benefits, without the wait to determine liability, according to Marshall.

Additionally, while the GL policy provides medical, funeral and death benefits for the customer, regardless of fault, payable amounts are usually $1,000 or $5,000, which may not cover all personal expenses resulting from an active assailant incident. Additionally, costs for an active assailant event, such as cleanup, media control and other costs not faced by a typical injury on a business’ premises can be expensive.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Act of 1970 mandates a business ensure the “safety, (health) and security of employees.” As a general standard of care, OSHA can find employers responsible if employees receive “reasonably foreseeable” injuries.[v] While worker’s compensation policies are necessary to provide for the health and well-being of employees injured at work, policies usually extend coverage for the employee while in the course and scope of the job. What about workers who have left their post and are injured as they walk away from the job site? Would they find coverage under workers compensation? Court decisions are still rare regarding these types of events.

Similarly, if an incident arises out of a personal quarrel such as domestic violence, coverage may not apply since the incident does not result from employment. Because workers compensation courts are state-specific, no federal standard applies. One state may find a connection to employment that another state does not.

Business interruption policies are important for the continuation of a commercial endeavor after a loss, but the policy responds only when “direct physical loss of or damage to property at premises…” occurs.[vi]

An employer’s current business policies may leave the owner with significant coverage gaps after an active shooter event. As society changes, insurers respond. Beginning in London and now firmly entrenched in the U.S., specialty insurers in the surplus lines market developed policies to meet the needs of business owners should an active assailant event occur.

Why Every Business Owner Should Consider Active Assailant Coverage

While business owners have many reasons to want active assailant coverage, the most important reason is that the policy helps them avoid large uncovered losses from an active assailant event, losses that would cause the business financial hardship.

A standard commercial property coverage policy will pay to restore the property to its state prior to the loss. However, if the business wants to tighten security by reconfiguring entrances and exits, the property policy would not cover such renovation costs. School administrators rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary School after the shootings not only to focus on increased security but also to rearrange the school in response to those suffering from PTSD.[vii] The rebuilding of the Sandy Hook elementary school cost Connecticut taxpayers $50 million. A standard commercial property policy would not provide that coverage, even given actual damage to the premises itself. Some active assailant forms will provide that coverage.

Liability policies respond if the active assailant event meets the definition of an “occurrence” as defined by the policy. If an active shooter or other event causes multiple injuries or fatalities and a court rules the event is one occurrence, an owner’s liability policy limits will quickly erode. While it may seem beneficial for the court to determine that such an event constitutes more than one occurrence, this, too, can harm a business that has a large self-insured retention or a high deductible.[viii] Finally, liability policies generally have assault and battery exclusions and terrorism exclusions. It is possible the insurer could invoke these exclusions and deny the damages.

As mentioned previously, a workers compensation policy may not respond to employees’ medical needs if the employees are not in the scope and course of their employment when the event occurs and if the attack on employees is unrelated to the workplace.[ix] For example, an administrative law judge may not find a purely personal quarrel between spouses or intimate partners work-related. Many workplace fatalities arise from domestic quarrels. In workplace shootings between 2003 and 2008, a current or former partner killed nearly 33% of the female decedents.[x]

Other Insurance Considerations

If the business did not sustain direct physical damage from an active assailant event, the business interruption policy would not respond. However, if police quarantine the area during investigation and the business cannot reopen during that time, coverage for civil authority may apply. Business owners should discuss this important item with their current brokers to determine if they have coverage and if their limits are appropriate.

The “Other Insurance” clause appears in nearly every policy (except life insurance) and is most prevalent in property and liability policies. This clause establishes how multiple insurers will pay a loss where the event triggers more than one policy. Depending on policy language, the policy will provide no coverage if there is another insurer that covers the same risk; or it will provide a proportionate share of the damages with the other insurer; or it will be in excess of the other insurer. Policies include this language to prohibit a business from profiting by submitting a loss as the same claim to more than one insurer. Check this clause in the active assailant policy to ensure these policies are primary, not excess, of other liability coverage.

Finally, an insurer could consider an active assailant occurrence as an act of terrorism, which a business’ policy purchased under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2015 (TRIPRA) could exclude.[xi] The incident must meet certain criteria, such as property and casualty losses of more than $5 million. Additionally, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General and the US Secretary of Homeland Security must declare the loss a “Certified Terrorist Attack.” The government did not certify the Boston bombing event because damages did not exceed the $5 million threshold.[xii] In addition, for insurers to consider the active assailant event as an act of terror, the act must be a part of “an effort to coerce the civilian population of the United States or to influence a [U.S. government’s] policy…”[xiii]

What Is Active Assailant Insurance?

After an agent or broker reviews the current coverages of a business, the agent may offer active assailant insurance as a separate policy. Active assailant coverage can help fill coverage gaps so the business does not face uncovered losses that are potentially bankrupting. Coverages encompass crisis management aid, off-site/international attacks, loss of attraction losses and prevention techniques.

Indirect loss costs arise unexpectedly after active shooter events, and active assailant policies help to stem those costs. For example, after a 2017 airport attack in Florida, Broward County spent over $500,000 to return luggage abandoned by passengers.

Unlike standard business policies, most active assailant policies offer crisis management both pre-event to help plan for an active shooter and post event. Hiscox’s terrorism policy evolved to encompass active assailant coverage, according to Jennifer Rubin, head of Hiscox’s terrorism, war and political violence division. Hiscox partners with a public relations company to provide crisis management services, both firms working with the media to ensure that communication flows smoothly post event.[xiv]

Post event, experts reassure families and demonstrate to the public that the business is handling the assault with competence and consideration. The insurer also may facilitate victim counseling and plan steps needed to assist crisis victims. Crisis management will help the business return to customary operations more quickly than business owners who deal with the aftermath of these events on their own.

Business interruption coverage does not begin unless direct physical damage or a shut down due to civil authority occurs. Likewise, a business interruption policy would not respond to a business downturn because customers no longer feel safe at the location. This contingent loss – not a direct loss like damage to the building itself, but an indirect “loss of attraction” because of the event – can be fiscally devastating. An active shooter policy can help with this contingent loss.

Litigation is costly regardless of the type of loss, and it is beneficial for a business to obtain broad coverage for the litigation that will follow an assault. Some carriers writing this coverage offer loss prevention services pre-event so that businesses can identify troubled individuals in an effort to avoid the event all together.[xv] These services may include training and social media monitoring as well as other pre-loss activities.

Business owners must take special care when reading their policies to understand the policy definitions and determine when coverage is in-force. For example, while workers compensation may cover employees’ injuries, the active assailant policy may specifically exclude such injuries, according to McGowan’s marketing material. A business owner should require an endorsement naming the employees, volunteers, or students as insureds to prevent the form from excluding these persons from coverage.

Determining thresholds or maximum amount of coverage is an important decision. Is $1 million in coverage enough considering your exposure or would $3 million be better? Most small businesses usually choose between $1 million and $3 million in limits, according to several active assailant underwriters.

In some policies, coverage begins after a certain number of victims are physically wounded or deceased. The policy may also limit a maximum number of victims – for example, the limit could be set at 50 victims. It is important to consider not only the deceased victims of the active assailant but also those who have emotional or mental trauma due to the assault. On March 23, 2019, in Coral Springs, Florida, police responded to a second student who died from suicide – a student who initially survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. Therapists diagnosed the student with PTSD while at university, and the school district provided therapy animals and counselors. This help may be insufficient for many survivors.[xvi]

Policy definitions play a major role in an active assailant policy. Consider whether the policy covers only an active shooter or if assaults by knives and explosives also are covered losses. Additionally a policy may exclude assaults by vehicles. In London in June 2017, assailants used an automobile to drive into a crowd of pedestrians.

Each policy will respond to the crisis differently based on how it defines the event or occurrence.

A policy could describe a firearm as loaded to be “deadly,” and a firearm must meet that definition before coverage would apply. For example, absent threats of deadly force or no bodily injuries, deaths, or attacks with loaded firearms, PTSD claims may not be covered. Business owners should consult their agents and brokers to ensure they have the broadest coverage available given the premium.

How Costly is Active Assailant Coverage?

Most small-to-medium sized business owners today buy coverage limits of $1 million or $3 million, as previously mentioned. Larger businesses can buy limits up to $100 million, according to one underwriter.

Underwriters base quotes on number of employees added to annual number of guests for retail stores, schools and other establishments. They use crime maps to assess all locations and a variety of other factors to determine premium. Many carriers use a three-page or less application, so applying for coverage is easy. Business owners can obtain quotes through insurance agents who offer more nuanced coverages. If your current agent cannot help you, visit Trusted Choice at the Independent Insurance Agents & of America website to find a drop-down menu that will help you locate an independent insurance agent in your area.

Premiums are still affordable. For example, an art museum in a major city purchased $1 million limits for $3,000. A New Jersey hotel purchased $1 million limits for $6,500. A stock brokerage in Pittsburgh with 1,515 employees and yearly visitors would pay about $1,340 for $1 million coverage or $2,320 for $3 million coverage.

While active assailant policies have covered some recent events, these are “long-tail” claims, meaning it may be years before carriers total the final loss numbers. Because carriers writing the coverage have little history on which to base rates, the rate future remains cloudy.

Other Risk Management Tools

Business owners can protect themselves by employing methods other than insurance, such as monitoring social feeds and conducting emergency drills.

One idea in this era of protection against active assailants is to arm front-line personnel. Fourteen states allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom.[xvii] The belief is that armed personnel can defuse the active assailant situation before the police arrive. Arming personnel may open the business to a higher standard of care and higher premiums.

Underwriting applications ask if a business has armed guards. Always completely disclose your business’ current situation on the policy application. Any mistakes or misrepresentations could void coverage.

Unfortunately, juries could find that armed personnel were acting as an agent of the business, which increases the business’s liability. While active assailant insurance applications ask if the business has an onsite security team, armed civilians could eliminate any potential carriers willing to underwrite the risk.[xviii]

Just as schools conduct tornado and fire drills, a business can reduce the risk of casualties by using active assailant scenarios to develop a plan, implement it, and train employees, students and other covered personnel. In these simulations, participants develop a clearer vision of how to remove themselves and their customers from the situation until help arrives, if possible. Insurance applications ask who designed the business’ emergency plan and if a risk-consulting firm reviewed it

Applications also ask about past threats and attacks. Again, always disclose any events or activities that might be important to the underwriter considering the risk.

It is also useful for employers to monitor social media feeds. Monitoring social media can help identify an employee or person who might become an active shooter. In the case of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the school had expelled suspect Nikolas Cruz for “disciplinary reasons.”[xix] In the police and FBI investigation of the shooting, social media posts from Cruz showed weapons lying on a bed and a YouTube message stating, “Im [sic] going to be a professional school shooter.”[xx] Being aware of these red flags and taking action when found can help reduce the risk of an active assailant event.

How Will a Carrier Handle Your Claims?

The insurance industry divides insurance in the U.S. market into two categories: the admitted market and the non-admitted market. The admitted market insurers, also known as “standard market carriers,” are insurers who are “admitted” to carry out insurance functions in a state. Admitted carriers follow each state’s department of insurance rules and regulations. Non-admitted carriers are often excess and surplus line insurers and operate in the state without conforming to each department of insurance approval process. This difference is important when it comes to claim handling since most admitted carriers have their own claims department while non-admitted insurers often use third-party claim administrators (TPA), which are independent firms hired by carriers to handle its claims.

When considering active assailant coverage, ask about the claims process should an incident occur. You will require swift assistance following an assault. Carriers are currently developing a new type of claim team to handle these losses, trained and ready to deploy overnight. These specialty teams should encompass worker’s compensation adjusters who understand traumatic injuries management as well as aspects of PTSD; liability adjusters to address non-employee claims; property adjusters to appraise physical damages to buildings; and a lead or general adjuster as a point person with whom the business can correspond and coordinate plans. One of the closest models to these types of teams is airline disaster adjusters.

Admitted insurers such as AIG have their own staffs. Non-admitted carriers like syndicates at Lloyd’s of London generally contract with large TPAs, which have a dedicated crisis management team familiar with active assailant events.

It’s a New Time in America

Experts say no one can predict an active shooter occurrence. However, due to their increasing frequency, the insurance marketplace has stepped forward to address the concern. Preventive steps offered by some carriers range from helping employers identify troubled individuals before they kill to providing training designed to teach those in a crisis how to respond to reduce casualties.

No policy can be “one size fits all,” but careful coordination with an experienced insurance agent will help you avoid financially catastrophic and uncovered losses that could force your business into bankruptcy.

Work with an Agent Who Understands Active Assailant Coverage

A recent article in Insurance Journal warned agents about straying into coverages outside their expertise. Active assailant coverage is new and emerging. Few agents have deep expertise in this coverage. It pays to know your agent and ask what experience she or he has in placing this coverage.

According to Lori Hunter, a broker with Worldwide Facilities in Los Angeles, “This coverage is highly specialized and few brokers have expertise in part because it is a newer coverage. Only a few companies quote this line [of coverage], so my recommendation is to ask for two or three quotes and go over the policy forms with your agent. Pay special attention to the insuring agreement, the definitions and the exclusions.

“If you remain unsure about coverage ask your agent to arrange a call with the underwriter or representative from the wholesaler or MGA that quoted the risk to answer any questions you may have.”

Will These Events Continue to Escalate?

Active shooter and other mass violence events in America are not going away. We are probably years away from gun regulation, although students of the Parkland shooting sparked a national trend of activism that may result in legislative changes. Increased political rancor, greater alienation in our population and untreated psychiatric disorders are just some of the reasons we may see these events, whether with guns or other weapons, continue to increase.

In a 2015 essay by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, discussing the work of sociologist Ralph Larkin, Gladwell wrote that the Columbine shooting “laid down the ‘cultural script’ for the next generation of shooters.” Gladwell suggested that “low threshold” shooters would be motivated to act. “The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to commit horrific acts.”[xxi]

Should You Consider Active Shooter Coverage?

Virtually all business owners today should determine if their business could be the target of, or adjacent to, an active shooter event. Today’s active assailants not only focus on schools, but they also focus on soft targets – locations with a high number of people and low security. Malls, theaters, taverns near areas where the public congregates, houses of faith, charter schools – no organization with public access should consider itself exempt from this type of tragic event. An event that occurs nearby can spill over into your establishment.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, active shooter situations typically evolve quickly, are highly unpredictable and usually end within 10-to-15 minutes. The damages, both physical and psychological to people as well as property damage costs, however, will persist for years. As active shooters continue to threaten and insurers respond, coverage will change, both narrowing and expanding to manage the tragic consequences of these violent mass events. An annual discussion with your agent prior to renewal or when circumstances change in your business can help ensure you have the most appropriate coverage for your current loss exposures


[i] Lopez, G., & Sukuman, K. (2018, July 09). Mass shootings since Sandy Hook, in one map. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from https://www.vox.com/a/mass-shootings-america-sandy-hook-gun-violence

[ii] United States, US Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigations, FBI. (2018, April). Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-incidents-us-2016-2017.pdf

[iii] Active Shooter Facts. (2018, November 30). Retrieved 3 April 2019 from https://alertfind.com/active-shooter-facts/

[iv] United States, US Department of Homeland Security. (n.d.). Active Shooter Pocket Card. Retrieved April 1, 2019, from https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/active_shooter_pocket_card_508.pdf

[v] Moorcraft, B. (n.d.). What is active shooter insurance coverage? Retrieved April 1, 2019, from https://www.insurancebusinessmag.com/us/guides/what-is-active-shooter-insurance-coverage-118961.aspx

[vi] Insurance Services Office, Inc. Business Income (and Extra Expense) Coverage Form; CP 0030 (10/12).

[vii] Delgadillo, N. (n.d.). With Shootings on the Rise, Schools Turn to ‘Active Shooter’ Insurance. Retrieved 1 April 2019 from https://www.governing.com/topics/education/gov-cost-of-active-shooters-insurance.html

[viii] Marshall, Paul. Buyer’s Guide: Active Shooter Insurance; Retrieved 27 March 2019 from  www.mcgowanprograms.com

[ix] Marsh Risk Consulting. (n.d.). Protecting People and Operations from Active Shooter Threats (Tech.). Retrieved April 1, 2019, from http://www.micolleges.org/sites/default/files/Active Shooter White Paper-11-30-17.pdf

Michigan Independent Colleges & Universities

[x] The Facts on Gender-Based Workplace Violence. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2019, from https://www.workplacesrespond.org/resource-library/facts-gender-based-workplace-violence/

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Boston Bombing Lesson: Risk Managers Urge Better ‘Terror Act’ Certification. (2015, March 18). Retrieved April 28, 2019, from https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2015/03/18/360930.htm

[xiii] Marsh Risk Consulting; Marsh’s Casualty Practice; Marsh’s Property Practice. Protecting People and Operations from Active Shooter Threats

[xiv] Hiscox’s Rubin: The Range of Active Shooter-Type Scenarios Is Expanding. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2019, from http://www.ambest.com/video/MediaArchive.aspx?lid=5382700427001&vid=5412304855001

[xv] Marshall, P. (2018, September 3). Insurance Coverage for Active Shooter Risks. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from http://www.rmmagazine.com/2018/09/04/insurance-coverage-for-active-shooter-risks/

[xvi] Mazzei, P. (2019, March 24). After 2 Apparent Student Suicides, Parkland Grieves Again. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/24/us/parkland-suicide-marjory-stoneman-douglas.html

[xvii] Maqbool, A. (2018, December 07). Inside a US training course to arm teachers. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46473321

[xviii] Heisler, A. (2018, May 03). Allowing Guns in the Workplace Introduces Liability Risk. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from https://riskandinsurance.com/workplace-violence-arming-managers/

[xix] Kennedy, K. (2018, February 15). School shooting suspect made ‘disturbing’ social media posts. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from https://www.policeone.com/active-shooter/articles/471096006-School-shooting-suspect-made-disturbing-social-media-posts/

[xx] Penney, T. (2018, February 15). Prior social media posts and active shooters. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from https://www.slideshare.net/TerryPenney/prior-social-media-posts-and-active-shooters

[xxi] Gladwell, M. (2019, April 19). How School Shootings Spread. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/19/thresholds-of-violence

Has the Insurance Industry Missed the Recruiting Boat?


All of us in the industry responsible for training and recruiting are working as hard as we can to attract new Millennials to our business. Focusing on colleges, we’re teaching, recruiting, interning and trying our hardest to attract new candidates. Sadly, our insurance classes are lucky if they have ten students.

Maybe our industry has missed the boat.

In 2008 – 09 when the economy tanked, the insurance industry missed a great opportunity. When the economy dissolved, the first thing to crash was the construction industry. What if our recruiters had focused on cherry picking construction managers, loss prevention personnel, estimators and other construction personnel who suddenly found themselves jobless? We wouldn’t be having the claims talent crunch we now face, at least in the property arena.

What about today, when the economy and hiring is at a new high? The industry should be looking at people with good customer service and communication skills stuck in jobs that are jobs, not career paths, recruiting these workers into our industry. As Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines says, “We’d rather hire someone without a strong educational background who has a great attitude over someone well-educated with a bad attitude.”

Our industry should be selling our benefits: Good health insurance, stability (we’re virtually recession proof), great career pathing, solid entry level pay, stable schedules, college tuition reimbursement and other benefits, to those stuck in jobs without these strong benefits.

Perhaps instead of colleges we should focus our recruiting on customer service positions such as hospitality and human services positions, “poaching” those with strong customer service skills into a career where, each day, they will make a difference in people’s lives. That’s what today’s workers say they want: To make a difference.

Don’t let’s miss the boat. The industry estimates that by 2020, we will have 400,000 open jobs. As I said a few weeks ago on an Insurance Journal Academy webinar when I spoke with other insurance training professionals, without new talent, our industry will be hamstrung.

Let’s think outside the college box and recruit from other professions. With solid customer service experience, some on-the-job problem-solving experience and a great attitude, we can teach them insurance. Who’s in?

The power of the press release

A press release does several things for your business.

  • A news release announces a recent accomplishment you have achieved. For example, it could be a class you completed; a professional designation you earned; a civic award; your appointment to a board or charity; an educational goal you may have attained; a new program you are rolling out; an office expansion; or any noteworthy event that keeps your name in the public arena. One caveat: Don’t fall into the trap of the “I feel good” press release. Find the hook in the accomplishment, which means that the accomplishment also helps your clients, not just you.
  • A press release announces a new program roll out or personnel change. Maybe you have partnered with a new carrier or formed a new strategic alliance. Perhaps you’ve lured a new hire with impressive credentials. Maybe you’ve grown so much that you’re opening a new location.

A press release reminds editors that you are an expert. Every press release should include a brief biography or a short history of your company. The pitch reminds editors to call you, not your competitor, the next time they are looking for a quote or information on insurance for an article they are writing or a television soundbite.

You can write a release yourself after you get the hang of it, but for your first few releases, we’d suggest hiring a professional. “Pushing” the press release is an additional cost and we can help you determine how to best publish your news release. A press release provides free advertising and puts your name in front of important local or national newsmakers who can turn to you when they need information, which means more free advertising. Keeping your name in the public arena is vital to increasing business.

Ask yourself this question: If I planned to buy a house, which realtor’s name would immediately pop into my head in my location? Try to make your name synonymous with insurance in your community.

Press releases are a very inexpensive form of advertising that reminds your community that you are the best one to call when purchasing insurance.

A live stamp can get your marketing letter opened

One holiday season I was in a long line at a California post office. An elderly woman was in line in front of me. When she finally got to the counter, she ordered a book of stamps. After asking for the book, she qualified her statement by saying with a great deal of irritation, “And none of those darn Elvis stamps, either!” Everyone within earshot tried not to laugh out loud.

Should you use a live stamp or bulk mail for your next promotional piece? While bulk mail may save a few pennies, I always use a real stamp. In fact, I often get creative and use stamps with themes or beautiful pictures just to draw the letter opener’s eye to them. Last month it was a Wonder Woman series and that sure got some remarks.

A live stamp makes the recipient pause to ask themselves if this letter is something important. They rarely ditch a stamped letter. Would you?

We write marketing content, including pitch letters, for agents, brokers, insurers and insurance vendors throughout the nation. If you want content marketing that will produce sales, call us at 602.870.3230 for a chat.

Weasel words can weaken your writing

Do you use “weasel words”? I don’t mean a furry critter that goes through your garbage in the late hours of the night. Weasel words are terms and phrases that are deliberately fuzzy. Rather than providing clarity, weasel words obscure your message.

Weasel words get their name from the crafty weasel, which sucks eggs without breaking the shell. Similarly, weasel words suck the meaning out of your message. If you communicate with phrases like “highest quality,” “prompt service,” or “highly qualified,” you may be weaseling, even if inadvertently.

Before you write, ask yourself, “What exactly do I offer?” If you believe your product is of the highest quality, explain why. For example, tell your clients that you represent only A-rated insurance carriers and briefly explain the importance of that rating. This offers much clearer information to your potential customer.

If you offer prompt service, you might say “We return all phone calls within 24 hours and you will have my cell number.” This clear message informs people that “We are so committed to excellent service that we offer you this promise.” No matter what product they buy, everyone wants to be a priority customer.

No matter what product they are buying, everyone wants to be a priority customer.

“Highly qualified” doesn’t explain the depth of your expertise. “Meeting the insurance needs of the Phoenix contractor’s community for over a decade” gives potential clients a better understanding of the depth of your knowledge.

Another way to weasel is with vague introductory phrases, like writing, “With all due respect”? If you disagree with someone’s opinion, don’t bother telling them that you respect them. State your case and then offer to discuss their concerns with them personally. This leaves the door open for more communication.

Weasel words can destroy communication. No matter well you write it is easy to slip into fuzziness. Weasel words weaken your writing and don’t educate the reader to the benefits of doing business with you.Ferret

White Papers keep your business in your prospects’ minds

More and more insurance industry organizations turn to White Papers to spread their message.

What is a white paper? A white paper is usually a “thought leadership” paper of about five-to-12 pages that highlights one or more of the benefits of your business. Insurance organizations use white papers to educate the public by delineating a problem or a challenge then posing a solution, usually highlighting your services.

Here are some of the key elements of a white paper:

  • Cover page
  • Executive summary
  • Description of the problem or issue the paper addresses
  • A solution to the problem
  • An action step (how readers can take action utilizing your product to solve their dilemma)
  • Charts and graphs, if needed
  • Footnotes, if needed
  • A conclusion
  • Information about your company

Once written, organizations distribute their papers either electronically to sites your potential clients visit, to sites that warehouse business data, or to their customer list. They are also great to hand out at a trade show booth or a local networking event.

One of the best uses of a White Paper is to announce its publication with a press release distributed through Business Wire or some other news service agency. A White Paper may simply serve as a reminder to clients who haven’t used your services in a long while or to those who’ve considered you in the past. It’s one way of saying, “We’re still eager to work with you.”

White papers generate short-term “buzz” and create a long-lasting testimonial that builds your brand.

Insurance white papers abound. Some insurance-related white papers we’ve written include “Computer Modeling Tames Super-Cat Hurricane Risk,” “Growing Wildland Urban Interface Increases Wildfire Risk,” and “Supply Chain Risk: Hidden Exposures for Your Company.

To non-insurance readers, these topics sound pretty dull. Okay, to insurance geeks, they still sound kind of dull. That’s why, if you’re considering a white paper to promote your business or technology, finding a writer with knowledge of the insurance industry and enthusiasm for the project is imperative. I can help.

Feel free to contact me at via my website at www.insurancewriter.com for more information or call me (602) 870-3230.

Lose those adverbs and strengthen your writing

Part of our ability to promote and persuade in the insurance industry hinges on our ability to write clearly, concisely and unemotionally. By eliminating adverbs from our writing, we can reduce the clutter in our communications.

What is an adverb and why should anyone care? An adverb is a part of speech that modifies several parts of the language, including verbs and adjectives. Often, adverbs end in “ly.”

Adverbs often answer questions like “when,” “how often,” “how,” or “in what manner.” Here are some adverbs:

· admittedly
· sadly
· totally
· highly
· completely

Adverbs weaken your writing. Most adverbs can be eliminated from text without losing one iota of meaning.

We see adverbs often in insurance writing. Have you ever written any of these sentences?

“The home was totally destroyed.” If it was destroyed, why do you need to add “totally”?

“Admittedly, you made a valid point.” If you say the point was valid, why add “admittedly”?

“I note that you were understandably confused.” Not only is the tone condescending, but it’s clearer to say, “I understand your confusion.”

We can avoid the use of adverbs in writing by using verbs. Instead of saying, “I was badly mistaken,” how about saying, “I was wrong”? Or instead of writing, “That is highly unlikely,” try “That is improbable.”

Search “ly” with your ‘find’ function and you can search and delete those adverbs. Your writing will be clearer and more concise.

Even the best writer needs occasional help to deliver the best message in the fewest words. A copywriter streamline your communications and set you apart from your competitors.

How to get published in a professional journal

Most magazines have editorial calendars with monthly publication themes. A great way to get your message across to your public is to advertise in a trade journal. Before you pay to advertise, however, how would you like to receive several pages of free advertising? If you write a professional article for one of your favorite journals, you can.

If you’ve never written an article for publication, this may seem difficult. Here’s a secret: It’s easier than you think. Most professionals have one or two areas where they consider themselves “experts.” Why not share your expertise with an audience that can benefit and perhaps refer business to you based on your expertise?

Because of my background in public sector risk management, I often write for Public Risk, the magazine of the Public Risk Managers Association. It dovetails perfectly with my experience and allows me to keep my name in the public sector spotlight since public sector risk managers subscribe to this magazine. Best of all, it’s free advertising. Articles build my credibility just as a published article can build yours.

You don’t have to be a great writer to write an article. If you have a good idea, a ghostwriter can work with you and develop an article geared to your favorite publication, as well as write the query letter for you. All you have to do is devote an hour or two of time and a good ghostwriter can make you a expert in your field.

Becoming successful means building your brand by keeping your name and your knowledge in the spotlight. A ghostwriter can help. I’d be happy to talk to you regarding your article idea.

P.S. No one needs to know that you didn’t write every word. What happens in Arizona stays in Arizona

Four tips to giving a great insurance speech

dumbpoodleAs insurance professionals, we must often deliver speeches in meetings or to large gatherings. It is never easy to find the time to prepare adequately for the talk. Even once prepared, many of us dread public speaking. These four tips will help you painlessly prepare your presentation.

  1. What is the theme of my talk? Always begin and end with a clear theme. If you are discussing premium increases at a Rotary Club, for example, your theme may be this: Premiums are increasing worldwide. The only way to control your premiums is through a more structured, loss-sensitive insurance program or through tighter risk management controls. Punch that theme repeatedly in your talk.
  2. Know your audience. If you are addressing your colleagues, your tone will be much different than when addressing CEOs of competing businesses, for example. Just because you feel comfortable with your audience, do not let your guard down too far. Remember that every word you utter could later appear on social media or in some blogger’s post, either in or out of context.
  3. What steps can the audience perform when they leave your talk that can help them implement action to your theme? Maybe they can meet with their current broker or hire a risk management consultant. Perhaps business owners should explore higher deductibles or other premium cost-saving measures. Anyone can regurgitate statistics and dry, “Rates are expected to increase six percent in the commercial property sector in 2015.” Provide action steps for your audience as a takeaway from your talk and watch their interest grow.
  4. How do you want your audience to feel after your talk? Open your talk with some humor and close with a laugh, as well. If you’re just not funny, find a funny meme like Dumbpoodle or make one yourself. Never let your audience walk away feeling gloomy. Audiences rarely remember content — they remember how you made them feel.

By taking these four steps each time you prepare a speech or even informal talks to your staff members, you will find preparation easier and your talk much more effective.

Tops tips to bulletproof your workers’ compensation program

workers compensation
Is your workers’ compensation program for the birds?

Last week I presented on ways employers can improve their workers’ compensation program at the Arizona Small Business Association’s annual meeting. Here are the key takeaways for Arizona businesses who have workers’ compensation insurance.

Don’t treat employees as subcontractors. Many businesses, especially in the trades like plumbing or roofing, make this costly error. This is a priority fix both for your employment tax obligations and for covering your employees under workers’ compensation. In Arizona, all you need is one full- or part-time employee (as defined by the IRS or an administrative law judge) to need workers’ compensation insurance.

Tighten injury reporting protocols. Rapid report to your carrier makes a huge difference in workers’ compensation costs. Back injuries are 35% more expensive if not reported within the first week, for example.

Do you have the best agent for your business needs? Does the brokerage or agency offer tools like Modmaster to help you reevaluate your experience modification factor and pinpoint what each injury costs? If not, maybe it’s time to find a new agent.

How’s your safety culture? Safety begins at the top. Employees can’t push safety uphill. Beginning each meeting with a safety report and forming a safety committee of line employees will make a big difference in your organization’s culture.

Where do you need safety training? Can your agent or insurer provide training resources? Spending a little money for training will save you lots of money (and administrative costs)  in the long run.

Do you need stronger hiring practices? Spend money pre-hire by using thorough pre-employment physicals, background checks and testing to eliminate undesirable candidates before you hire them.

Do you know who your adjusters are? Ask your carrier for an introduction if you haven’t met them. Skype or phone conferences quarterly can help, or better yet, on-site visits to discuss each loss, will help reduce costs.

Hone in on those claims where employees don’t get better. Work with your carrier to manage these long-term claims. Ask your adjuster to specifically outline their plan of action on the claim.

Do you have a return-to-work program? If not, you run the risk of an employment claim and increase the cost of each of your claims. Never tell an employee, “We can’t take you back until you’re 100%.”

Make your workplace a healthier one! Comorbidities like obesity, diabetes and hypertension drive medical and workers’ compensation costs. There are many vendors that can bring resources to your workplace to help manage health, including your health insurance carrier.

If I can help you improve your workers’ compensation program, call me for a no-obligation consultation today at 602.870.3230.

Improve your insurance technical writing by removing passive voice

meetingWhat is passive voice and why should you avoid it in your insurance writing? No matter what you’re writing for the insurance industry, a blog, a technical report or a white paper designed for marketing your business, passive voice weakens your writing. Once you understand a little about passive voice, it becomes much easier to find and eliminate it in your own writing.

What is passive voice?

Passive voice sentence construction occurs when the subject of a sentence becomes the object of an action. I know, it’s a grammar thing, something we disliked in school. Here’s an example of passive voice.

Our underwriting team was defeated by the western region.

Passive sentence construction weakens your writer because, in a nutshell, no one takes responsibility for the action. Written actively, this sentence would read like this:

The western underwriting region defeated our sales team.

Ouch! That wording smarts a bit more, doesn’t it?

In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon.

The applicant was rejected by Tom due to his negative loss history.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence (Tom the underwriter) performs the action.

Tom rejected the applicant due to his recent negative loss history.

One easy way to fix this and many passive sentences is to put the actor, Tom, ahead of the verb, “rejected” in the sentence.

Tips to find passive voice

To find passive voice, look for verb forms like “to be,” like “is,” “are,” “were,” followed by what is known as a past particle, a verb typically ending in “ed.” To make things harder, not all forms of “to be” are passive, but it’s a good red flag.

Here are a few more examples.

The claims department’s closing ratio was reduced last month by a high number of flu-ridden adjusters.

Rewritten actively you might say something like this:

Absenteeism in the claims department from the flu reduced last month’s closing ratios.

Here’s another passive construction.

The marketing team’s attendance at RIMS was delayed by one day due to bad weather in Atlanta.

Rewritten actively, the sentence might read like this:

Due to bad weather in Atlanta, the marketing team arrived at RIMS one day late.

I know what you’re thinking: “This is too hard! It’s grammar! I have a solution for you, or rather Microsoft Office does. While grammar check in MS Word won’t catch every instance of passive voice, it does a darn good job.

Here’s the plan

First, ensure you turn on grammar check in Word. If you aren’t sure how, read this link. Just be sure when you click your Review tab on Word and you click the Spelling & Grammar tab, the box at the bottom marked “Check grammar” has a check mark in it. (Now, if I’d said “is clicked,” I would be using a passive construction and Word would not catch it.)

Next, run the Spelling & Grammar check on your entire document. If you are new at writing active voice (the opposite of passive voice and what we strive for), you will probably have a high percentage of passive voice in your document. You will find the percentage of passive voice instances on the final grammar check tab under Readability, Passive Sentences.

Finally, to narrow down the location of your passive writing, go paragraph by paragraph with Spelling and Grammar. Do this by highlighting one paragraph at a time. If necessary, highlight sentence by sentence. Find the offending sentence and reword it. As you move to active voice in all your documents, you’ll find your writing comes alive and your audience, whether or not they understand grammar mechanics, will appreciate your writing style much more.

I’m a technical person – Give me a number

What percentage of writing should be passive? Professional writers argue percentages, but I strive for no passive writing in my work. If you’re new to this concept, shoot for five percent passive, and then aim even lower as you learn.

But we write about insurance,” you may argue. “It’s technical and somewhat boring!” Experts argue that even highly technical writing should avoid the use of passive voice. Even though we’re writing about insurance, we should never bore our readers. Our writing should be clear, crisp, concise and active. This writing style engages the reader and helps to ensure he or she will tag along to the end of your writing, whether it’s a claim report, an underwriting manual or a insurance white paper designed to educate clients or consumers.

In conclusion

One of the problems of passive voice is that we may attempt to distance ourselves from our decisions with the use of passive voice. I recommend you step up and say it like it is – take responsibility by using active voice. After all, that’s what we do in the insurance industry – we make decisions.

Active voice bolsters your writing, helping to engage your reader every step of the sometimes technical way. With the help of Microsoft and a few simple tips, you can actively improve your writing.

Top Presentation Tips for New Trainers

Read my recent article offering training tips for new trainers at original source.

First day on the job? Here’s some advice for success, from trainers who have been there.

Tips from success trainers.New trainers face daunting challenges. Whether your boss promotes you into a training position or you are hired from another organization, you want to get off to a strong start. In part, that means avoiding mistakes commonly made by new trainers.

Although we often learn our best lessons when we stumble, some mistakes can seriously hurt your training program, damage your reputation, or even derail your career. Here are 10 tips to help you get your training career off on the right foot.

Complete a thorough needs assessment

Whether you use a formal interview process, a job-analysis approach, or you simply host informal talks with supervisors, needs assessment is critical to training success. “The biggest mistake I made as a new trainer and instructional designer was not taking enough time to understand my participants’ needs,” says Susan Michels-Ricker, a systems developer and project analyst at Federated Insurance Company.

Managers often will suggest a solution to the wrong problem. “We need training on X,” supervisors may say, when in fact the problem is Y. During your needs assessment, talk with a few of the people you’ll be training to see what they think of the proposed solution.

If you find that managers disagree with end users, you must diplomatically discuss how to reposition the training to fill the actual learning gap. With today’s tight budgets, you simply cannot afford to spend resources on the wrong problem.

Don’t answer every question

You may have gone from a role as a subject matter expert to a trainer. However, many of the employees you will train also have a reservoir of applicable experience and knowledge. When possible, draw from the participants’ combined knowledge instead of always answering questions.

Also, allow “dead space” or silence, which provides participants a chance to contribute. Keep in mind that many people feel uncomfortable speaking up in front of an entire classroom, so design small-group activities that allow learners to collaborate as they solve problems. Let your learners work and interact; otherwise, you will surely lose their interest.

Vary your training delivery methods

Games, simulations, social learning—there is an overwhelming number of ways to approach classroom training. It can be tempting to resort to the traditional PowerPoint-aided lecture. But be careful not to turn the lecture into an information dump. This presentation style rarely results in participants putting their learning into practice.

One way to increase interest in your presentation is to incorporate a case study. Ideally, this is a compelling story of how the training material is applied in a real-life scenario. You also can solicit examples from trainees that reinforce the concepts they’re learning.

Develop a tool to ensure managers reinforce learning

Studies show that the majority of learning takes place after the training event, when managers actively reinforce a course’s learning objectives. Since most managers won’t take the course themselves, offer them a management tool that outlines the learning objectives and lists action items under each of the course’s objectives.

For example, if you’re teaching a new technology to call-center employees, the management tool should be a checklist of the key principles and the action items associated with them that you taught the class to apply in their day-to-day work.

Slow down

Often we plug too much material into a presentation, forcing us to rush through it. “One of the most common mistakes I see with new trainers who are experts in the material is covering the material too quickly and expecting the class to keep up,” says Micah Bean, a training manager at Answer Financial. “I remember ‘bulldozing’ right through my material because it was so easy for me. I have since learned to slow down and read the room to ensure everyone is with me.”

Don’t pack too much information into a single training event. It overwhelms participants and they often walk away with no clear vision of how to implement what they learned.

Check the room and double-check your equipment

You’d be surprised how often trainers arrive too late. Show up early enough to ensure that you are comfortable with the room setup and that your equipment is working. Then, work the room—greeting trainees and building rapport with them.

Use humor appropriately

“Focus humor toward yourself, not toward your trainees,” recommends Steve Price, a performance consultant in Phoenix, Arizona. “It takes only one person feeling offended to get you an appointment with your human resources representative.”

Although we are flooded with off-color humor in our lives, we cannot afford to use humor in the workplace that might invite complaints. When using images and anecdotes in your presentation, steer away from photos and stories that can cause controversy.

Use images instead of text whenever you can

In the book Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallo recaps the evidence that shows we remember images much more readily than words. Three days later, people remember only about 10 percent of what they hear, according to Gallo. Pictures increase recall to an amazing 65 percent, proving that we can greatly increase learning if we use fewer bullet points and more relevant images.

Take time to rehearse

We spend weeks, sometimes months, designing the perfect curriculum. Then we fail to practice it. Training professionals need to master the presentation. This enables us to stay on track after participants ask questions or sidetrack us.

“The most common mistake I see for beginning trainers … is that they don’t work hard enough preparing,” says Kevin Ring, founder of the Institute of Benefits and Wellness Professionals. “I’ve seen people spend weeks prepping a slide deck, but never once rehearse the actual presentation.”

If things go wrong, do immediate damage control when class ends

Sometimes training sessions stray off course, perhaps due to disruptive participants or some other issue. When this happens, face problems head-on before they come find you.

Go to your supervisor first so that he isn’t blindsided. If necessary, talk to both a trusted senior leader in your organization and your training peers. They can help you troubleshoot what went wrong and determine how to avoid that problem in the future.

Never underestimate the challenges of a new training position. These tips can help you make a smooth transition and continue to thrive in your new role.

 

Tips to avoid a dryer fire

dryer
Dryer hoses. Use a metal one as shown.

How safe is your dryer? According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), about 2,900 dryer fires occur each year in the United States. These fires caused five deaths, about 100 injuries and over $35 million in property losses annually. While the leading cause of dryer fires is accumulated dust, fiber and lint, the type of exhaust hose you install can greatly reduce your risk of fire.

Using a plastic or vinyl dryer hose can cause fires, according to the USFA. The photo shows in the top half the type of dryer exhaust hose you should use. If you are currently using the bottom type, a plastic hose, replace it immediately. These types of hoses can melt or ignite.

It’s always a good idea to take a few other preventative measures. 1) Clean your lint filter after each cycle. 2) Install a smoke alarm in your laundry room or adjacent to your dryer. 3) Never leave the dryer running when you’re away from home. 4) Never vent your dryer anywhere except directly outdoors. Venting into an attic or soffit is a recipe for fire and violates most local fire codes.

The average cost of a dryer fire if it’s contained to the room of origin ran just under $1,800 in the past few years, according to USFA. However, dryer fires that spread beyond the room of origin had an average cost of just over $49,000. Money is only part of the equation if a dryer fire breaks out in your home, however. Who can put a dollar value on the injury or death of a loved one, or the death of a beloved family pet, should a fire break out?

For further information on dryer safety, visit this link National Fire Protection Association link.

 

How Do I Write a Professional Bio?

Every insurance professional should develop several professional biographies. Why a bio? Because despite our increasing reliance on electronic communications, people still want to know a little about you before they contact you. Your bio is a marketing tool that helps to build your brand. Your brand is your name and the name of your company. When people consider insurance, you want your name to be the one that comes into their minds. This can only come through repeated branding of your name, or the name of your agency, with insurance.

Here are the top reasons to write your professional bio.

There are thousands of insurance agents and other insurance professionals for people to choose from, plus growing competition from direct writers. Therefore, it is imperative that you set yourself apart from the crowd. A professional bio quickly showcases your experience and sets you apart from the crowd.

A bio is the quickest way to say, “Insurance is not just a job; insurance is my career and I am proud to be an agent.”

A bio will introduce you to new clients and potential strategic partners. Your bio can open doors to many new opportunities.

You can use your bio to obtain speaking engagements and media appearances. Perhaps you might author an article for a local newspaper on some aspect of insurance. Maybe you could be a guest on a local radio talk show. Perhaps you may give a talk at a local service organization. The bio opens the door to all this and more to help you build your brand.

Your bio can provide a dash of personal information that helps people relate to you in some way. This builds bridges and encourages people to contact you.

Have at least two bios on hand. One should be short, so pick the key points in your personal life and your career that provide the best flavor of who you are. A longer one can take a deeper dive into your background and you can use it for speaking engagements and in responses to requests for proposals. Once you write your bio, you can use it again and again, or revise it as your career deepens and your expertise grows.

If you or your team need help creating a bio that works for you, feel free to contact us at Insurance Writer.

Are We Too Focused on the Goal?

Oakland policeA few years ago, the Oakland Police Department spent hours trying to oust a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his house. After firing tear gas canisters into the house, the officers finally noticed the home owner standing beside them in the police lineup, chanting, “Please come out and give yourself up!”

It’s a great thing to set goals and feel proud of our successes. However, to truly succeed in life as well in business, we should remember there are others beside us, also helping us to succeed. Survey after survey shows employees feel increasingly disenfranchised from their work, which hurts productivity and creates customer service issues galore. Employers complain woefully about a lack of talent, yet fail to do everything in their power to keep the very employees they currently employ.

Take a moment today to listen to and sincerely respond to those who help you to succeed, including your employees.

Squirrel! ADHD Officially Hits Training

squirrel - nutkinOhio has become the first state to officially allow continuing education for accountants in ten-minute increments. I don’t know whether to yell “Squirrel” or applaud them for understanding the way most people seem to learn today.

What do you think? Would you want your accountant doing his or her continuing education in ten-minute increments?

Risk Avoidance and What the Heck is Wrong With People?

anger management

I rarely go into Circle Ks or convenience stores or places of that ilk because I’d prefer not to get shot (risk avoidance). However, on the way to a volunteer gig the other day and against my better judgment, I stopped in a Circle K near Interstate 17 in Phoenix to buy a pop (or soda, as some call it). As I walked in, I noticed there was a mop bucket full of black water near the register and that my shoes stuck to the floor as I went to get my pop. As I filled my cup, I noticed a sign that said, “Out of straws.”

At the register I said hello to the cashier and asked the young man if he was holding out and if perhaps he did have a straw. He nearly started crying. He said they ran out of straws earlier in the day and he couldn’t get any from neighboring Circle Ks (franchise issues?). He said that people were so irate that they were dumping their entire sodas on the floor, which he had to clean up.

I asked, “Really, it’s like ‘I hereby dump my soda on the floor in protest because you are out of straws?'” Yes, he responded sadly. He said he had given his two-week notice because he just “just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Wow. Not having a straw for a Big Gulp? Not a rage-o-meter offense, in my humble opinion. Which leads me to today’s topic: “What the heck is wrong with people?” That young man, so traumatized by the day’s events that he quit his job, is a human being. He’s someone’s son, he’s a grandchild, and he’s a human being with feelings. Have we swung so low that we’re willing to dump our sugary sodas on the floor and our rage onto a poor cashier in a convenience store?

Don’t get me wrong. I know that everyone, me included, acts badly from time to time. We lose our temper in traffic, we snap at someone who may only be trying to help us, or we hang up in frustration on a customer-support person. However, for people to stoop this low, to “make a statement” that makes no statement other than they desperately need anger management, to me is simply beyond comprehension.

I have nothing deep and philosophical to say about this except it makes me much more aware that my behavior has consequences. It also reminds me that this type of bad behavior means we as risk management professionals will always have jobs.

I am so grateful that I don’t carry useless, non-specific rage over an imaginary victim status. When a store is out of straws, it isn’t a personal affront to me or an assault by the universe to make my life harder. Apparently, though, that rage is present in and acted on by many.  And that, my friends, is exactly why I stay out of convenience stores. That and Milk Duds. But that’s another story.

Talent Management a Top Concern for the Nation’s Insurers

By 2020, an astounding 40 percent of the workforce will be our Millennials, born between 1976 and 2001. Is your organization ready?

business team standing

 

Did you know that by 2014, Forbes predicts that 36 percent of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials? And by 2020, an astounding 40 percent of the workforce will be our Millennials, born between 1976 and 2001. Is your organization ready?

Yesterday I attended a Society of Insurance Trainers & Educators gathering in Scottsdale hosted by Markel. We discussed the current generation of Millennials entering the workforce and taking their places in many of the nation’s insurance internships. Where are we going to get this talent? I think the question that is perhaps more important is this: Once we recruit them, how do we manage them for their long-term growth and their long-term retention in the organization?

Here are a few facts we know about our Millennials.

  • More than high salaries, Millennials want to find careers that “make a difference.” Our industry has failed to capitalize on the fact that as an industry, we pump billions into the economy to restore people’s lives, allow businesses to grow and expand, and to promote worthwhile charities. Maybe we should strongly consider improving our image through our marketing efforts.
  • Millennials are the most chauffeured, tutored, scheduled and micromanaged generation in history. They are not, by and large, risk takers. You know that hovering manager who drives the self-directed Baby Boomer employees crazy (and often out the door)? Why not place that manager in charge of your new hires and interns? Mills want and need more reinforcement as opposed to Boomers, who generally want to be shown a desk and left alone.
  • As Millennials graduate from college, they are often swimming in debt. Let’s show Mills a career path with income factors they can tie to specific achievements, for example earning an Associate in Claims or the CPCU designation.
  • According to Pew Research Center, our Millennials are the most college-educated generation in US history. Holding a college degree, or even an advanced degree, does not necessarily mean that all those young people possess the skills to succeed in the insurance industry. Don’t be surprised when you must invest in teaching skills you assume a Millennial would have learned in college, like critical thinking or how to use a spreadsheet.
  • Millennials will be your biggest brand ambassadors. We need to encourage their responsible dialogue on social media, not discourage it or suppress it in the workplace. Almost one-quarter of Millennials factor their job choice on the hiring organization’s social media policies, according to the Forbes article.
  • Millennials will assume supervisory and management positions much more quickly than did we Boomers. Therefore, it is critical that we hire for leadership attributes: integrity, communication skills, self-confidence, a sense of humor, creativity and critical-thinking skills, to list just a few.

If you are concerned about where the insurance industry will find its next generation of talent, take heart. The industry has begun to seriously address this problem. (We’re never first to the scene of a fire, are we?) Let’s keep talking, but more importantly, let’s begin to change the perceptions of our industry to attract and retain that next generation.

Cavalcade of Risk #205

There’s a lot of great news and advice from the risk management front in this edition of the Cavalcade of Risk.

new-risk-manager400
Risk management tips

There’s a lot of great news and advice from the risk management front in this edition of the Cavalcade of Risk. Let’s begin by evaluating the risk that your employer-provided health insurance may soon be a thing of the past. InsureBlog’s Nate Ogden evaluates Ezekial Emmanuel’s dire predictions.

When it comes to worker health and safety, Julie Ferguson of Workers’ Comp Insider says that it may be time to shake up the film industry again. According to Ms. Ferguson, it is no more acceptable for film employers to try to play fast and loose with worker lives than it is for coal mining, manufacturing, or any other industry.  In her post Death on a Georgia Railroad Trestle, she talks about how a recent fatality is sparking calls for safety reforms in the Hollywood film community.

Speaking of worker health and safety, did you know you can probably avoid hiring your next workers’ compensation claim? Much of workers compensation cost containment is related to good information, good systems, and proper planning. When it comes to hiring, it can be staggering to think about the amount of liability a company is taking on with each new employee. When you bring on a new employee, you are also bringing on the liability that they can safely perform their job. Michael Stack at Reduce Your Workers’ Comp blog offers us a few tips.

We always look forward to a glimpse at Bob’s Cluttered Desk, and this month Robert Wilson looks at school shooting drills. States are embracing active shooter drills in public schools, conducting sometimes unannounced drills that simulate an active shooter on campus. In some districts teachers are expected to be shot by pellet guns as part of the training. Is this a good idea, or simply a way to traumatize teachers and their students?

How much does your genetic composition affect the risk you will have a chronic condition?  The answer is not as much as you might have thought. Jason Shafrin of The Healthcare Economist investigates.

With today’s college students frequently graduating with loads of debt, Jon Haver of Pay My Student Loans blog, describes why today’s graduates need to consider life insurance now, not in the future.

Finally, at my Insurance Writer blog, I offer the top ten habits new risk managers should avoid to succeed in their new and often challenging positions. I learned many of these mistakes from first-hand experience.

Dennis Wall is our next host. He has chosen his theme and he is asking for posts related to residential mortgages, force-placed insurance, the participants in the mortgage process, the participants in the securitization of mortgages, and related themes.

Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid as a New Risk Manager

If you’re a new risk manager, these tips can help you transition into your new, challenging role.

new-risk-manager400
Avoid these mistakes

The transition into your first risk management job can be difficult. Whether your boss promotes you into your first risk management job or hires you from another organization, you want to excel at your new position over the long haul. In part, that means avoiding mistakes, even though we often learn our best lessons when we fail. However, some mistakes can seriously hurt your risk management program, harm your reputation, or even derail your career. Here are ten mistakes you can avoid.

1. Don’t rush in with all the answers. You may arrive wanting to form your own alliances and acquire your own team, but avoid making hasty decisions. Give current employees a chance to prove themselves before you transfer them or hire your own team. The same applies to vendor relationships. You can lose a great deal of historical exposure along with loss history and coverage negotiation knowledge if you immediately decide to switch insurance brokers. “Changing brokers can be a great way to create significant coverage gaps or an errors and omissions claim for your friend the new broker,” according to one Atlanta broker. Some vendor alliances, such as relationships with contractors and body shops, may be long-standing, especially in a small town. Rushing in and making changes can cause big ripples in a little pond.

2. Don’t try to do everything at once. In my teens, I read a book called Ringolevio, about a kid named Emmett Groan growing up in the streets of New York City. One of his compatriots frequently warned Emmett when he was about to rush headlong into a decision, “Take it easy, greasy, you’ve got a long way to slide.” I found that advice very applicable in risk management. If you inherit a big job, you will be faced with hundreds of decisions, some big, some small. Take your time. While you may feel overwhelmed at first, chip away at the organization’s most pressing problems. Put out fires as they arise. Then schedule time for you and your advisers — your brokers, your attorneys, your actuaries, and your managers – to develop sound strategies and solid strategic plans.

3. Don’t use a shotgun, use a rifle. If the organization is experiencing too many injuries, for example, don’t jump to an obvious solution like deciding more personal protective equipment will answer the company’s biggest safety issues. Talk with front-line supervisors, study historical loss data, and consider several options before you throw money at a problem. Once in the door, interview employees, talk with other managers, meet with your vendors, and set a few important priorities for your first six months in the job. Using a rifle approach means you’ll have to say “No” to some people. This can cause problems. When possible, explain why you’re declining to act on the problems or the specific issues others may present to you. The more transparently you operate, the less criticism you will face. Openness reduces speculation and helps avoid resentment.

4. Don’t job hop. Most people can be very ambitious early in their careers. Yet too much ambition can hurt your career. Think long and hard before changing jobs. Bad bosses rarely outlast their employees. Deciding to change jobs because of a conflict with a supervisor is often short-sighted. The grass might seem greener on the other side, but sometimes that’s because of a septic tank (to paraphrase a famous comedian). These questions may help you avoid rash decisions.

  • Am I making the change solely to earn more money or for a more prestigious title? If so, will this change “pay for” what I will lose?
  • Am I making the change because I’m feeling unchallenged or bored? If so, what steps can I take to make my current job more challenging? For example, would becoming more active in a trade association, offering your expertise to a local non-profit, or mentoring an up-and-coming risk management professional add challenge and interest?
  • How will this impact my retirement financially? Will I be changing retirement systems or will I lose significant bonuses or vacation due to the change? Always factor those figures into the salary decision. This question becomes more important as you edge closer to retirement age.
  • How will this change impact my family and my coworkers? Our coworkers can turn even a challenging job into an appealing one. Do you really want to leave your coworkers? As for family, what ages are your children? Disrupting school-aged children can be very problematic and have negative, long-term consequences.
  • What are the odds I will regret this decision? Go ahead, we’re numbers people. Put a percentage to your decision then ask yourself if you’re really ready to take that gamble.

It takes months to settle into a new job. It’s often a year or more before we feel comfortable. Some studies show that many people who change jobs would have done much better if they had stayed put longer. Change for the sake of change frequently is not positive.

5. Don’t entertain gossip about your predecessors. Some at your new organization may try to build an alliance with you at the expense of your predecessor. Short-circuit these conversations whenever possible. Tactfully turn the conversation to another subject or excuse yourself from the conversation. Try not to make an enemy of the person who is trying to get into your good graces.

6. Don’t revisit your predecessor’s decisions. Especially when working with unions, you may find people lined up at your door asking you to revisit your predecessor’s judgments. Unless your predecessor’s conclusions negatively impact your overall program, don’t rush into undoing the decisions and the work he or she completed. You may not be operating under the same set of facts or with the same long-term vision that former risk manager had at his or her disposal.

7. Don’t believe your own PR. Never pretend you know more than you know and don’t start believing your own “press.” While others may soon invite you to participate on panels and present at conferences, remain humble and teachable. It’s terribly painful to learn humility through humiliation.

8. Don’t fail to communicate. A lack of communication is one of the most damaging mistakes a risk manager can make. A risk manager must have the ear of employees across the organization, from line supervisors to senior management. According to Don Donaldson, President of LA Group, a Texas-based risk management consulting group, “A risk manager needs to be an excellent communicator and facilitate his or her message across the entire organization. In my mind, that requires getting out of the office and pressing the flesh; seeing and being seen and listening, really listening, to determine what is going on in the organization.” Management by walking around is one strong tool in a new risk manager’s tool bag. Once people see that you’re willing to leave your office to discover what is happening, whether it’s on the shop floor or on the sewer line, they’ll more readily accept your expertise and counsel.

9. Don’t get discouraged. “New risk managers may make the mistake of thinking that risk management is as important to others in the organization as it is to them,” according to Harriette J. Leibovitz, a senior insurance business analyst with Yodil, Inc. “It takes time, and more time for some than others, to figure out that you’re more than an irritation to the folks who believe they drive all the revenue.” Over time, you will prove your value to the organization many times over. Until that day, quietly do your job and find encouragement from your risk management peers.

10. Don’t forget to laugh. You will be privy to the peculiarities of human nature both at its finest and at its worst, so don’t forget to find the lighter side of situations when you can. A robust sense of humor will help you through the rough spots and build bonds with your coworkers.

While these are just a few tips to help you in your new role as a risk manager, your peers probably can offer many more ways to ensure success. Over my career in risk management, I have found my fellow risk management professionals to be some of the most generous people in my life, always willing to share their expertise and provide me with a helping hand. Develop and lean on your network.

If this is your first job as a risk manager, you’re in for a wonderful experience. Take time along the way to enjoy the experiences, appreciate the great people you will meet and appreciate the lighter side of risk management.

How to Manage Today’s Insurance Professionals

Balancing-woman

I recently spoke with risk management consultant and former insurance agent Dan Weedin, author of Insuring Success. Weedin and I share something in common: A passion for the insurance industry and a concern that today’s top insurance talent is disappearing. We talked about some of the challenges facing agencies and insurers as they try to align staffing needs with retiring talent.

As millions of Baby Boomers retire within this decade, the industry’s talent crisis is real. An added area of concern for insurance organizations is that many of those “Boomers” are deciding whether they should take that last chance and change careers. “Burnout, disgust, and unhappiness in one’s job will lead to change, especially at an age when timing is of the essence,” Weedin says. As these long-tenured and valuable employees leave, so do all their “smarts” that organizations accumulated over the span of their working career. That is how an organization can lose its memory and suffer from what Weedin refers to as “institutional amnesia.”

Can the insurance industry solve this problem? Yes, according to Weedin, but organizations must begin immediately to develop a solid strategy and execute a talent management plan. Here are several changes he suggests organizations can make.

  • People are tired of “working for the man” and are seeking new opportunities. “Companies have done this to themselves,” Weedin believes. “Command and control leadership tactics won’t work any longer. Collaborative cultures are much better. Business guru Peter Drucker once said, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ It’s about the culture and how people contribute that makes a difference. The rewards go far beyond the financial. Employees must be challenged and continue learning to stay with an organization for the long-term.”
  • Pay special attention to Boomers between the ages of 50 and 60. Later Bloomers are making employment changes, according to Weedin. “They’ll either start their own companies or look for employers that offer value-added employment for them. You don’t engage employees through command and control. To attract these employees with the technical knowledge so desperately needed in the insurance industry today, a more collaborative and flexible workplace is imperative.”
  • Insurers are slow to react to market changes and slow to react to make changes in their culture. The result in the industry is the merging and acquisition of companies, which can be problematic. This paradigm shift needs to occur quickly, or insurers will find themselves in constant “catch up” mode, losing valuable ground.
  • Create an environment of collaboration. Develop areas where employees from different departments can converge and communicate. There is plenty of research that shows that happy, more connected employees are better workers that stay longer and improve the company and its bottom line.
  • It is difficult yet imperative to find and keep good talent. The most profitable companies tie compensation to underwriting success, which can only be achieved with help from the claims department. Accurate data input by claims personnel allows cleaner underwriting profit analysis by insurers.

Innovative insurance companies are making major changes to cope with the tidal wave of retirement. Consider moving away from cubicle seating and into more open workspaces. Question the traditional departmental seating in favor of more open and collaborative workspaces. It’s working in high tech, and it would work wonders in the insurance industry. Consider placing rows of adjusters between underwriters and sandwich in other departments to encourage cross-pollination. Underwriters see the results of their work in action and claims people can discuss coverage intent and coverage language. Open seating increases a company’s intellectual capital. By nature, most humans want connection in the workplace, especially the new pack of millennials entering the workforce who grew up with coaches, mentors and social media. Allow them to fulfill these needs by creating a culture of collaboration and affiliation.

In today’s competitive environment, a one-shot leadership event will not deliver the changes your organization needs to remain competitive. Moving forward in this century’s business climate, insurance organizations must develop an intentional strategy to develop intellectual organizational capital, invest and empower employees and create a culture that rewards all employees. The results, according to Weedin, are fewer headaches, happier employees who stick around, and ultimately, increased profitability. Companies that fail to find that balance between empowered employees and profits will ultimately fail.

Avoid a Copyright Infringement Allegation by Using Only Purchased or Creative Commons Graphics

Every artist is entitled to make a fair profit on his or her work. You may consider that image you grabbed off the web “just a picture.” In fact, the artist may have worked hours on that image or graphic. Not only is it cheaper in the long run in you avoid litigation, it’s the ethical thing to do.

©

I visited a local social media networking group in Phoenix the other night. The [mis]information provided by the “expert” regarding the use of images in social media posts was scary. The group coordinator assured these fledgling bloggers and posters that as long as they don’t have a call to action in their post, they can use any image they find on the internet. After all, they were “educating” the public. Wrong!

According to Ruth Carter, owner of Carter Law Firm in Phoenix and the author of The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or Killed, “A lot of people think you can use any image you find online as long as you provide an attribution and a link back to the original, but that’s not true,” Carter said. “What you might be doing is committing copyright infringement and making it easy for the artist to discover that you stole his or her work.

“When a person takes a photo or creates a graphic, they own the copyright in it. This means they have the exclusive right to control where others can copy and distribute that image. If you use their work without their permission, you could be committing copyright infringement. If you get caught, if you’re lucky you might get a cease-and-desist letter or a DMCA takedown notice. However,” Carter continued, “they could send you a bill for using their work or they could sue you. In the worst-case scenario, you could be sued for up to $150,000 per image plus the artist’s attorneys’ fees. And it doesn’t matter than you didn’t know that you were committing copyright infringement when you did it.

“If you need images for your blog or website, use images that come with a Creative Commons license, preferably one that allows you to modify and commercialize the image,” Carter recommends.

To prevent needing a $300-plus an hour lawyer to defend yourself against a copyright infringement allegation, use images with creative commons attribution or purchase images from legitimate vendors.

Every artist is entitled to make a fair profit on his or her work. You may consider an image “just a picture.” In fact, the artist may have worked hours on that image or graphic. Not only is it cheaper in the long run if you avoid litigation, it’s the ethical thing to do.

Should We Use Stamps or Metered Mail in Marketing Mail?

ElvisOne Christmas I was in a long line in the post office in Garden Grove, California. An elderly woman was in line in front of me and when she finally got to the counter, she ordered a book of stamps. After her request, she qualified her statement by saying with a great deal of irritation, “And none of those darn Elvis stamps, either!” Everyone within earshot tried not to laugh out loud.

While bulk mail may save a few pennies, I always use a real stamp. In fact, I often get creative and use stamps with themes or beautiful pictures just to draw the letter opener’s eye to piece.

If we can help you write copy that will produce sales, contact us at 602.870.3230.

We help agents, carriers and insurance thought leaders throughout the US with their blogging, marketing and ghostwriting efforts. Why not call for a free consultation? With over a quarter century in the insurance industry, we understand your business.

More WordPress training to help you optimize your insurance marketing results!

Did you know that about 20 percent of today’s websites and blogs are developed on WordPress?

I’m taking more WordPress training today so I can continue to help you deliver stellar social media results. Small changes to the way you handle your social media tasks can really help improve search engine results for your business.

We will cover some tips for WordPress users in the near future.

How Long Should Sentences and Paragraphs Be in Business Writing?

As agents, consultants and claims people, we should write in top form before we send that letter or publish the final draft of our blog. Here are a few tips on sentence and paragraph length.

There is a lot of poor writing out there on the web. Even in professionally written White Papers and blog entries, there is lots of room for improvement. As agents, consultants and claims people, we should write in top form before we send that letter or publish the final draft of our blog. Here are a few tips on sentence and paragraph length.

The “eye likes white space.” If you mail a letter or publish a blog without adequate paragraph breaks, readers will quickly lose interest. Creative use of white space encourages the reader to dig in and begin reading, then refuses to intimidate the reader along the way.

How long is a sentence?

Most writing experts agree – use concise sentences in business writing. Strive for an average of 15-to-20 words in even the most technical documents. However, good writing uses varied sentence length. If you write all 10-word sentences, your work would be choppy. If you use all 20- or 25-word sentences, the reader will soon lose interest. Vary sentence length and strive for an average of not more than 20 words per sentence. Briefer is better. A four-word sentence that is informative is perfectly acceptable. “Risk management maximizes profits” speaks volumes in four words.

How long is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a relatively short block of text that opens with a statement—a topic sentence—which describes what the paragraph contains. Many writers, even experienced ones, tend to stray toward lengthy paragraphs. This is a mistake. Strive to average less than 100 words per paragraph. Also keep formatting in mind, because if you format using more than one column per page, your paragraphs should be even shorter.

Remember these three rules for better business writing:

1.       The eye likes white space

2.       Sentence length average: 15-to-20 words maximum

3.       Paragraph length average: Less than 100 words

Is Enterprise Risk Management Still Important to Today’s Organizations?

Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC) framework can provide strong benefits to organizations, helping to integrate and manage regulated operations. In this survey sponsored by Corporate Governance Consultancy Services, 33% of respondents shown in this infographic state that enterprise risk management is the most important. 27% of the respondents say that enterprise risk management continues to be important. For more details please visit  http://www.care-web.co.uk/blog/grc-software-guide-to-organizations/

 

 

GRC Software | ERM Software
Courtesy of: CAREWeb

Expressing Professional Gratitude

Today, though, I urge you to take a moment to contact a person in your career for whom you are grateful, either past or present, and say, “Thank you.”

This year my women’s group, which has been meeting once a month for our third year, is reading and discussing a book by Amanda Gore, The Gospel of Joy. I heard Ms. Gore speak at a teleconference last year and her highly personal presentation really hit my core beliefs.

Her book is perfect for a study group since there are twelve chapters in the book, one for each month. Each chapter explores a different spiritual principle, for example, listening, laughter, hope and gratitude. Gratitude has always been my struggle. I sometimes say, “My glass isn’t only half empty; it has a hole in it.” In other words, I have to work to stay grateful.

One of the questions in her gratitude chapter hit home with me. It asked, “Did your parents’ behavior model gratitude?” I can easily say that, “Yes,” their behavior did. Both my parents were independent insurance agents and both people of strong faith. My father, a Lutheran, served in his church as a council member and all-around fix-it guy. My mother, a more reserved Catholic, quietly put her faith into action by volunteering for years at the Westside Food Bank. Their motto in business was “Service before self” and while they were very successful insurance agents, they never let profit interfere with doing the right thing.

I grew up with three older brothers and one of us, usually me or my brother, Ted, was always wrecking a car. (I was quite sure my father owned an interest in the local body shop he insured.) After our accidents, my father would assess the damage then quietly say, “Everything happens for the best.” Frankly, at the time I thought he was slightly mental.

“Dad,” I finally asked when my brother ran his Mustang into a ditch at the end of our street, “How can a car accident ‘be for the best’?”

“Perhaps this minor accident where no one was hurt saved him from a major collision. After all, cars we can fix. You and the boys are irreplaceable.” Dad could always put things into perspective for me. I am so grateful for the wonderful lessons my parents taught me.

This story leads me to my topic – professional gratitude. There are so many insurance gurus who have mentored me over the years, from one of my first bosses at Commercial Union – who predicted, “Ms. Germond, in five years you will be a claim manager,” and I was – to the many risk managers who helped me when I was a fledgling risk manager, never an easy job.

Over the years I have trained and mentored my share of risk and claims professionals. Rarely do they thank me. I’m not dismayed by this; I rarely think of it because at some level, I am sure they are grateful but unaccustomed to expressing gratitude verbally. Today, though, I urge you to take a moment to contact a person in your career for whom you are grateful, either past or present, and say, “Thank you.” I guarantee you: This will mean a great deal to him or her. 

As many of you know, for years I have alternated between running Insurance Writer full time and working more directly in the insurance industry. I just couldn’t stay away from a challenge. But I also know there is more to life than a paycheck. This year, I’m putting it all on the line to branch out, utilizing my God-given gifts to provide specialized services to the insurance industry.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ms. Gore, here is a link to her YouTube channel. If I can help you, these are some of my areas of specialty:

  • Copywriting, including White Papers, advertising copy, articles, ghostwriting and blog entries
  • Consulting with small-to-medium sized businesses to reduce losses and improve workers’ compensation programs
  • Curriculum development and on-site training, including:
    • Customer service training
    • Workers’ compensation claims management training
    • CGL coverage training
    • Business auto training
    • On-site Associate in Claims training
    • Miscellaneous management training

Please feel free to contact me at (602) 870.3230.

 

Why Does My Insurance Company Hate My Dog?

It’s time for the insurance industry to wake up and smell the dog food. A more nuanced approach to pet underwriting is a win/win for the industry and for pet lovers everywhere.

dog liabilityProperty Casualty 360 and other industry magazines report escalating dog bite settlements. The industry is moving to endorsements and policy language to exclude canine liability. Why doesn’t the insurance industry take a more analytical approach to underwriting household dogs? As dog trainers will tell you, aggression is not breed-specific. Almost any dog improperly socialized, or with dog aggression in its line, will bite. I’ve seen American Kennel Club-elite Labradors, one of the friendliest breeds, that will take a chunk out of you, and German shepherds that wouldn’t bite you if it would save their own or their master’s life.

Rather than deny coverage by breed, why not partner with the American Kennel Club (AKC) and use the Canine Good Citizen program as an underwriting guideline? The Canine Good Citizen must pass 10 temperament tests – for example, allowing a stranger to approach, demonstrating a lack of dog aggression (very important since so many people get bitten when their people-loving dogs tangle with other, not-so-dog-friendly pooches), and the dog’s reaction in a crowd. Evaluators are available in hundreds of locations throughout the United States.

People who love their dogs would happily dole out the small cost associated with their dog’s evaluation rather than face no insurance. This is not a blanket endorsement of the American Kennel Club. However, their Canine Good Citizen certification is a strong indicator of Fido’s friendliness and steady temperament.

The insurance industry has always adapted coverage to meet the needs of a changing society. Dog ownership is not changing; in fact as crime rates escalate, more Americans turn to dogs for their safety. Underwriters do not understand canine temperament. Instead, there has been a knee-jerk reaction to exclude one of our home’s best protectors against burglars, and many Americans’ best friends. Simply, insurers refuse to take a more nuanced approach to underwriting dogs. Using the Canine Good Citizen is a solid approach instead of a blanket exclusion by breed. It might take some time to develop the partnership with the AKC, but in a previous discussion I had with a staff member at the AKC, they are eager to help. 

Americans love their dogs. And dogs will not go away. Instead, more owners will deny they own an excluded breed and insurers will be stuck in coverage battles that will do nothing to further the industry’s image. Additionally, messing with America’s best friends will do nothing to improve the industry’s always struggling image.

It’s time for the insurance industry to wake up and smell the dog food. A more nuanced approach to pet underwriting is a win/win for the industry and for pet lovers everywhere.

 

Associate in Claims 40, Personal and Commercial Auto Coverages Class Available Online

I’ll be teaching the AIC 40, Personal and Commercial Auto Coverages, online beginning February 20, for Prepademy. Visit this link for more details. Remember, your professional education is something no one can take from you.

Join us for a great classroom (online) experience!

What Does 2014 Hold for Insurance Rates?

With 2014 rapidly approaching, contact your broker or consultant now to discuss steps you can take to reduce your 2014 commercial premiums.

What can you expect for property and casualty insurance pricing in 2014? Expect some increases, but watch for significant decreases in at least one line of insurance. According to Willis’s recently published Marketplace Realities 2014, new capacity is flooding the market from “as widespread as China and Omaha.” New capital supply offers a more “inviting marketplace,” Willis executives believe. Others insurance experts across the U.S. agree. Here is what to expect in 2014.

Primary and Excess Casualty

Do not expect huge decreases in casualty prices even with “abundant” capacity and “new market entrances,” according to Willis and other experts. With the loss of the federal terrorism backstop looming in December 2014, carriers hesitate to write exposures with large risk concentrations. Underwriters are also avoiding manuscript endorsements, relying more heavily on Insurance Services Office (ISO) language. Standard ISO language has more court decisions behind it, which equates to more predictable loss experience for underwriters to base their rates, many believe. Willis predicts casualty pricing to increase two to 10 percent in 2014.

Auto and Fleet

Auto liability continues to challenge fleet owners nationwide. Experts predict auto liability pricing increases between two to 10 percent. Underwriters are imposing higher retentions on risks with large fleets, heavy trucks or poor loss experience. Carriers like ACE offer auto liability buffer limits, coverage outside the working layer when primary limits do not meet umbrella attachment points.

Workers’ Compensation

There are several emerging issues in workers’ compensation. With the Affordable Care Act expected to bring new insureds into the healthcare system, expect strains on the work comp system. This will put pricing pressure on workers’ compensation premiums. While experts predict that earlier treatment for comorbidities will benefit workers’ compensation experience, we predict this will be a long-term benefit. In the near term, Willis predicts work comp rates will increase from 2.5 to 10 percent. The exception is California, where employer can expect rate increases of up to 20 percent.

Employment Practices Liability (EPL)

Adverse claims experience is placing upward pressure on EPL coverage. Entities domiciled in certain California counties may find themselves unable to obtain coverage, Willis predicts. While overall capacity remains “abundant,” there are no new EPL carriers entering the market. Pricing overall will be flat to a 10 percent increase, with private, nonprofit and smaller employees predicted to face up to 15 percent increases. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continues its aggressive enforcement plan despite some staggering trial losses for the EEOC in 2013. There is no time like the present to explore ways to decrease your EPL risks and avoid EEOC scrutiny.

Cyberrisk

When Cyberrisk gets its own page in a white paper discussing rates, you know it is a hot topic among insurers and risk managers. There were more than eight hacking incident per day in the US in 2012 according to the report. With increased security concerns, coverage is now a “must have” for many organizations. Calling the market for stand-alone Cyberrisk “active,” Willis predicts rates will remain competitive. If your firm has had losses, however, Willis predicts slight changes — between -two to five percent overall. There are many new Cyberrisk buyers in the marketplace and pricing for first-time buyers remains competitive. If you outsource your data to cloud vendors, underwriters will review your existing contracts. Your indemnification language will be a critical factor in underwriting your risk.

Directors & Officers (D&O)

Price increases are moderating with pricing expected to be flat to a high of 20 percent for financial services firms. Homeowner and condominium associations as well as educational institutions should expect premium increases. One carrier has indicated a willingness to provide “mega limits” for Side A coverage, which protects executives against claims not indemnified by the corporation. The non-traditional money that is now flooding the insurance industry may lead to downward pressure on D&O pricing in 2014, Willis contends.

Property

We saved the best news for last. With loss ratios hovering between 75 and 85 percent for many property insurers, Willis and other insurance experts predict a big decrease in property insurance pricing. In non-catastrophe exposed risks, expect a 10 to 12.5 percent decrease in pricing. For cat-exposed property, Willis predicts smaller decreases of between five to 10 percent. Any port in a storm, right?

With 2014 rapidly approaching, contact your broker or consultant now to discuss steps you can take to reduce your 2014 commercial premiums.

Writing an Executive Summary in an Insurance Publication

A well-written executive summary also allows your reader to decide: “Is this worth reading further?”

Whether you’re writing a proposal or preparing a white paper, an executive summary is an integral part of any lengthy or complex report. An executive summary allows the reader to quickly understand the scope of the report, your major finding and your conclusions. It is a succinct wrap-up of the report or proposal’s contents. Because time is such a precious commodity, people who should read an entire report may only skim it. The executive summary allows the readers to know, in one or two paragraphs, what to expect in the report. A well-written executive summary also allows your reader to decide: “Is this worth reading further?”

The executive summary should be very near the beginning of your document and set out by a heading and unique formatting. If you know your presentation will be read by many employees, for example if you’re responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for broker services, write the executive summary to the highest ranking person who will read your report.

In the executive summary, avoid the nuts and bolts of how to implement a project, but provide an overview of the problems being addressed, what action to take, and what the benefits of taking that action are.

Your executive summary should be a call to action. Use action phrases such as “We recommend” or “The problems you have faced in prior data conversations can be avoided by utilizing our project management experts.”

Broadly speaking, an executive summary should do the following:

1. Tell your readers what your report contains or what it evaluates.
2. Explain any method of analysis you used.
3. Summarize your findings.
4. Succinctly state your recommendations.
5. Briefly state any limitations you encountered that might have impacted the results of your report.

It may be a good idea to write your executive summary after you have written your report. When you have completed your report or proposal, use a voice recorder and summarize each section of your report. For example, in a white paper, you may have headings such as “problems of integrating technology,” “what to look for in a claims management system,” and “what to expect during data conversion.” Briefly describe the findings of each major section in your white paper, with a strong emphasis in your executive summary of the conclusions that your company, of course, is best positioned to solve. Keep your summary brief — an executive summary should probably be fewer than 1,000 words.

If you’re pitching your product or service to a large organization in your document, the executive summary may be the only part of the presentation that the decision makers read. From there, your report may be passed to lower-level managers to determine whether your proposal has merit. You may only get one shot at convincing a senior executive that your company or product is worth further exploration. A strong executive summary can mean the difference between winning that new account or losing it to your competitor. The extra efforts you apply to develop this summary can reap huge rewards.

We provide editorial services to some of the nation’s finest carriers, agents and risk management consultants. If we can help you, please contact us at 602.870.3230 to discuss your writing and editing needs.

Cavalcade of Risk #192 Gallops Into View

Cavalcade of Risk #192 gallops into view with some interesting risk-related posts and great advice from various risk experts in their specific fields, from life insurance to enterprise risk management.

expert

 

Excuse the slightly tongue-in-cheek lead-in, because this week’s Cavalcade of Risk is full of great risk management information. We visit a variety of risk management experts for their take on current events impacting their practices. Take a few minutes, grab a cup of coffee and visit and interact with our contributors.

In this post, Dr. Sidorov looks at a recent scientific study that examined national insurance data to determine what happened to the commercial health insurers in the wake of the Obamacare rule that they spend at least 80 to 85 percent of their income on medical care. It turns out that the most vulnerable part of the health insurance market-individual insurance-saw a decrease in profitability.

Jeff Rose helps us through the maze of medical conditions that can limit your ability to buy health insurance in his post. If you have an aortic valve disorder like aortic stenosis or aortic insufficiency, these conditions will impact you when you apply for life insurance. Insurance companies are very cautious about aortic valve disorders because of their potential to cause serious heart problems. There is hope, however. Jeff informs us you can still get insurance despite your condition. It really depends on a few factors, including the seriousness of your condition. To get a better idea of what to expect, read his guide to insurance underwriting for aortic valve disorders.

Here’s a news flash: If you are uninsured, there is a risk of being overcharged for hospital services. In California, the risk is 0. Jason Shafrin of The Healthcare Economist explains why here.

Recently, there have been some remarkable changes in how life insurance is now underwritten, including the use of social media and new technology. Henry (Hank) Stern of InsureBlog has the details.

Julie Ferguson of Workers’ Comp Insider isn’t talking scratch when she asks: “How much risk do you want to take with your kids’ chicken nuggets?” Chickens are on the front burner on the legislative circuit lately with the USDA seeking to overhaul poultry processing regulations that many see as unsafe for workers. But Julie notes that there is more than just worker safety at stake. Read her fast take on fast food here. I would have said, “Winner winner; chicken dinner.” Except after reading her post, and watching the video, I may go vegan. Soon.

David Williams of Health Business Blog says that a patient advocate tells him that it’s “dangerous” to rely on online doctor ratings and reviews and to rely on the “facts” instead. David argues that the case against reviews is seriously overrated and the proposed alternative paths are not as promising as they sound. Read his comments here. I have to admit, I’m a big believer in Yelp and a frequent Yelper myself. I don’t go out to dinner without checking Yelp, let alone try to find a service provider, doctors and dentists included.

Here are some closing thoughts from yours truly regarding the trends I and other risk management experts throughout the US are currently seeing.

  • Enterprise risk management is becoming increasingly important to organizations.
  • Jury verdicts continue to rise. Check your liability limits and double check your policies to determine if you have defense inside or outside limits. Most professional liability policies provide defense within limits, and defense costs can erode your limits significantly.
  • Workers’ compensation costs have moderated in a few states; however, don’t expect to see rates decrease anytime soon, like never. Medical costs continue to escalate nationwide, outstripping wage loss benefits paid.
  • Cyber risks continue to be the bane of businesses at home and abroad; however, hackers increasingly target small-to-medium sized businesses because they seem to provide the path of least resistance to hackers.
  • Commercial insurance prices increased by six percent in the second quarter of 2013, the 10th consecutive quarter of price increases, according to a recent survey conducted by Towers Watson. Now is the time to bulletproof your risk management practices and consider increasing your deductibles or taking higher self-insured retentions.

This does it for another edition of Cavalcade of Risk.

Take the Associate in Claims Class AIC 37 Online and Earn Your AIC Designation

I’m teaching the revised curriculum for The Institutes Associate in Claims Class, AIC 37, Managing Bodily Injury Claims, for Prepacademy, an on-line learning organization that provides an outstanding way to prepare for and pass your exams.

It’s not too late to join us! I’m teaching the revised curriculum for The Institutes Associate in Claims Class, AIC 37, Managing Bodily Injury Claims, for Prepacademy, an on-line learning organization that provides an outstanding way to prepare for and pass your exams.

We began last night, but have a week breather. Our next AIC 37 class covering Chapter 2 starts on Thursday, September 26. It’s not too late for you to join. You can also listen to the recording from Chapter 1 to catch up before our next class. For more information about this exciting web-based training opportunity, click this link.

We’re just winding up the Workers Compensation portion of the AIC. Prepademy is a convenient and easy way to successfully study for your Associate in Claims and other Institutes designations.

Journalists Covering Insurance can Benefit from Free Handbook

The Insurance Information Institute offers a free, 200-plus page handbook for journalists who cover insurance. It’s available as a free download at this link. While it can be hard to understand the intricacies of insurance jargon and how the industry operates, this guidebook answers many questions and provides a handy reference to various organizations who can assist journalists with more information.

Defining and Achieving Maximum Medical Improvement in Workers’ Compensation Claims

Achieving Maximum Medical improvement in a workers’ compensation claim may not be easy, but it is one of the most important goals in claims management.

Maximum medical improvement (MMI) is a term used frequently in workers’ compensation claims management. Often, your adjuster will explain that a case is not ready to settle because your employee has not “reached MMI.” What is MMI? From the employer’s viewpoint, achieving MMI is one of the most important goals in a workers’ compensation claim. MMI is the point at which treatment options have been exhausted and, generally speaking, temporary total disability payments can be terminated. MMI may also be referred to as “permanent and stationary.”

Case law varies in defining MMI

Case law in various states defines MMI in a variety of manners. In Ohio, for example, MMI is defined statutorily as “a treatment plateau.” In California, the Division of Workers’ Compensation defines MMI this way: “Your condition is well stabilized and unlikely to change substantially in the next year, with or without medical treatment. Once you reach MMI, a doctor can assess how much, if any, permanent disability resulted from your work injury.” Texas defines MMI statutorily as “the earliest date after which, based on reasonable medical probability, further material recovery from or lasting improvement to an injury can no longer reasonably be anticipated.” MMI will vary depending on the claim’s jurisdiction.

MMI – “As good as it gets”

The common thread of both case law and lengthy discussions attempting to define MMI is this – the employee is at a treatment plateau: his or her medical condition will probably not substantially improve. MMI then, might be described this way: “This person’s medical recovery is as good as it gets.”

Does MMI mean the employee can function at his or her pre-injury status? Not necessarily. Even if the employee has not reached his or her pre-injury status, however, the employee can achieve MMI. Some states such as Texas are very clear in stating that an employee’s recovery need not be equal to or better than the pre-injury state.

Defining MMI may be clearly defined in statute, but getting your doctors to declare an injured employee at MMI is not always straightforward. One way to determine if an employee is MMI is to send a nurse case manager with the employee to the medical provider. The nurse should ask this important question: “Is the employee’s recovery as good as he or she will get?” If the doctor says, “Yes,” then obtain a written opinion to that effect and begin the settlement process.

Lack of cooperation in treatment can be managed

What about the claimant who refuses to cooperate in his or her recovery? All reasonable treatment must have at least been offered to the employee. There are times when further diagnostic testing and evaluation are deemed medically reasonable and necessary. It may later be determined that no further treatment would benefit the claimant, or where further treatment is identified and the claimant refuses the treatment. In that intervening time until the employee refuses treatment, the claimant has, in many states, not reached MMI and the employer still owes benefits. Only when treatment is recommended and refused, or not undertaken within a reasonable time, has an injured worker reached MMI. For example, a consulting surgeon may recommend a back fusion; however, the employee declines surgery. In this case, the claimant has usually reached MMI and your claims administrator can begin to conclude the case.

Pressuring the employee for a quick decision on surgery may push the employee to obtain an operation he or she would otherwise refuse. If may be best to give an employee a few weeks to consider his or her decision to obtain further treatment rather than insist on an immediate answer, even if it means paying a little more in temporary disability.

Chronic pain and MMI

Many injured workers allege chronic pain. Chronic musculoskeletal disorders and diagnoses such as arthritis and fibromyalgia impact workplace injuries. In most cases, if the employee’s pain would be materially improved by participation in a pain clinic or pain program, the injured worker has not reached MMI. A patient with chronic conditions may require continuing treatment to maintain his or her recovery or to avert any further deterioration. However, if further treatment is directed solely to maintenance of the patient’s condition and there is no likelihood of further improvement, the patient is at MMI.

The most difficult situation is when the employee’s symptoms fluctuate dramatically. These employees will complain of “good days” and “bad days.” These types of symptoms are troublesome and often delay MMI; however, fluctuation alone is immaterial to a decision of MMI. When symptoms fluctuate, the time it takes to determine whether the patient is at MMI may increase. However, the underlying reasoning remains the same: if the patient has plateaued or the number of good days is growing, consider the patient MMI and begin the settlement process.

However, before deciding MMI has occurred because the employee has had no continuing substantial improvement, the adjuster must offer all “reasonable treatment.” Reasonable treatment does not include experimental procedures. Reasonable treatment usually means treatment that is based on evidence-based medicine guidelines such as the Official Disability Guidelines. With alternative treatments plentiful, employees may want try therapies with only anecdotal track records of success. Just because there are untried treatments available, this does not make them reasonable. Treatment options should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. When addressing requests by employees for alternative treatments, solicit the treating physician’s opinion in states where employers can direct medical treatment.

MMI is an often subjective and always an important goal

Reaching MMI is subjective and often a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process. A great deal of state-specific case law concerning the definition of MMI provides some guidance. If you are in doubt, your claims adjuster or legal counsel should assess the likelihood that your employee’s condition has stabilized to the point of MMI. If so, your adjuster or legal counsel should begin to immediately attempt to settle the claim.

Take the New and Improved Associate in Claims 37 Class

In conjunction with Prepademy, I’ll be teaching the revised curriculum for The Institutes Associate in Claims Class, AIC 37, Managing Bodily Injury Claims, beginning August 28, 2013. For more information about this exciting web-based training opportunity, click this link.

We’re just winding up the Workers Compensation portion of the AIC. Prepademy is a convenient and easy way to study for your Associate in Claims designation.

 

Germond Recertifies in Human Resources

Germond re-certifies her Senior Professional in Human Resources certification.

As part of my dedication to continuing education, I recently received my Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) re-certification. This renewal of my SPHR certification means that I stay current in human resources issues facing today’s business owners and claims departments.

The SPHR is the industry gold standard among human resource professionals. I keep up-to-date in this important area for two reasons: 1) because SPHR training supports me in becoming a more skilled curriculum developer and trainer and 2) because a lack technical talent both in the US and abroad impacts the insurance industry now and will even more so in the coming decades. 

Cut Rate Auto and Homeowners Insurance May Cost You

Cut rate auto and homeowners insurance may cost you big in the long run.

You no doubt frequently receive solicitations and ads from insurance companies promising to save you money on your auto or homeowners insurance. Most consumers are looking at each expense they pay to cut costs. However, buying cut-rate insurance may cost you much more in the long run.

Insurance is your first line of defense against life’s calamities. After a loss, these are just a few of the problems a good insurance company can help you solve.

  • Provide prompt and courteous service year round after a loss.
  • Provide knowledgeable adjusters who can assist you in making important post-loss decisions.
  • Find a top-rated repair shop to repair your damaged car.
  • Promptly and conveniently provide a replacement vehicle while your vehicle is in the shop if you purchased rental coverage.
  • Pay for a similar alternative living space if you are unable to occupy your home after a loss.
  • If you are sued after a loss, provide a strong defense with excellent legal counsel.
  • Provide prompt board-up services after a loss.
  • Help you locate a trustworthy contractor if your home or roof is damaged.

Cut-rate insurance carriers cost less because they generally provide fewer services and less coverage. The decision to purchase insurance should go beyond price. Protection for your home and family after a loss is priceless.

Several of my friends have recently been involved in auto accidents and found themselves lacking rental reimbursement coverage and gap coverage. Gap coverage helps make up the difference between a totaled new car and its depreciation if the vehicle is damaged while the owner is still “upside down.” A good independent insurance agent can help you avoid these necessary coverage gaps. 

Don’t get suckered into buying insurance solely based on the lowest premium. If you have a loss, cheapest may cost you.

The AIC 44 Workers Compensation Claims Practices Class Begins May 23

I’m teaching the new and improved Associate in Claims class, AIC 44 Workers Compensation Claims Practices, on-line at Prepademy. This class begins Thursday, May 23 at 5 p.m. Pacific time.

Register with Prepademy for a great preparation for the AIC 44 class. Visit this link for more information.

As a former workers compensation claims manager, I love teaching this class, especially in its new, streamlined format. And if you miss the live presentation, Sandy Masters, the owner of Prepademy, makes the classes readily available on line so you can view them at your convenience.

We hope you can join us!

Hoarding Behaviors Cause Landlords Big Problems

Hoarding behaviors are on the rise. Take proactive steps to address problems head-on before they escalate to save you repair costs and potential liability.

Today animal and other hoarding cases are mainstream news and the stuff of television reality shows. Early in my career, I worked for a group of self-insured cities and experienced my first case of animal hoarding, if you consider a rat an animal.

In a small Bay Area apartment complex, fellow tenants walked by an apartment unit and noticed a rat sunning itself once in a while on the windowsill. No biggie, they thought. “Live and let live” is a Bay Area core value. Eventually as they passed, however, they noticed the curtains were chewed at the bottom. Still not a big deal. Until one morning, lots of rats were hanging out on the sill and the neighbors decided to peek under the ever-shortening curtain hem. What they saw freaked them out. There were many, many rats, hundreds in fact, scampering about or chillin’ on the furniture, maybe even watching Animal Planet. Neighbors called the management company which turned to the city for help. As the city’s claims representative, I arrived right after a Hazmat team.

Sure, it started out innocently enough – two rats that bred. Then those rats bred. Then the tenants turned their bedroom into the “rat room” and moved into the living room. Soon, rats were everywhere, hundreds when I arrived, as city workers in respirators caged and counted.

“Domestic squalor” is a term used by professionals to define people who slowly destroy their own living quarters. Those who stockpile may experience extreme loneliness after the death of a partner or may have a mental disorder. However, despite the reasons one begins to hoard, landlords must proactively manage these issues to reduce liability. After all, others have to live near these blighted properties.

If you own a rental unit, you probably have a hoarding story or two of your own. Tenants who store papers, hoard animals or even cook meth may be in your story repertoire. Managing the general factors that encourage or discourage these types of problems and others in housing risks can help you to avoid contending with a big, big mess. Those factors are environmental, biological and equipment-related.

Environmental factors include crowded hallways, inadequate lighting which encourages acts like using dark areas as toilets, overgrown landscaping and floors in poor condition.  

Biological factors include not treating vermin infestations, such as roof rats we harbor in inner city Phoenix. These pesky creatures destroy wiring and bring a host of other problems, including mites, rat waste and odor. Bedbugs, too, have become a national problem.

Equipment factors like leaking boilers and other poorly maintained equipment are frequently the root cause of other injuries and incidents like mold.

Only by frequent condition assessments of your tenant-occupied properties can you hope to discourage hoarding and other problems. Here are some tips to help you reduce the exposure to hoarding losses.

  • Try to develop relationships with repair people. Use them to report on the general condition of that property when making repairs, for example a plumber who replaces a leaking faucet or a heating specialist who repairs the heater. They can tip you off to any problems.
  • Put language in your lease agreements allowing monthly property inspection. Use monthly maintenance calls to replace heater filters as the time to eyeball the property condition. This monthly visit helps you both ensure your equipment is well maintained and that hoarding or filthy conditions are nipped in the bud.
  • Hoarding is a difficult situation. Do not let situation get out of hand. If you never faced this problem as a landlord, visit this URL to see what can happen when hoarding runs wild. Your city or county health department may offer guidance, as the city I represented did in the rat affair. Local social service organizations can often assist with the human element, which may be the hardest piece to manage.
  • If you do run across a case of domestic squalor, you may need to marshal outside resources before safely deploying workers. Many companies now specialize in cleaning up after hoarders. Beware, though, coverage for hoarding-related losses may be dicey under your insurance policy.

Landlording is never simple, but with many living alone without family support, hoarding behaviors are on the rise. Take proactive steps to address problems head-on before they escalate to save you repair costs and potential liability.

What is the Best Day to Blog or Update Facebook?

When social media is queen, it pays to understand when you should post. We know that posting twice a week will keep your blog rising to the top in SEO optimization. This short, graphical link outlines the best days to post to your blog. Click here

Whether you consider your business part of finance or consulting, it looks like leaning toward weekend publishing may get you more bang for your blog buck.

We provide blog content for some of the nation’s most respected regional and national insurance carriers, agencies and consultancies. We can help you succeed in your SEO or other marketing efforts. Contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Taking the Associate in Claims 30 Class?

Take the AIC 30 virtually.

I’ll be teaching the AIC 30 class for Sandy Masters’ Prepademy beginning next week. This virtual live class takes you through the Associate in Claims 30 introductory claims class and is the basis for sound claims handling.

Visit Sandy’s site for my information.

Four Steps to Giving a Great Speech

These four tips will help you painlessly prepare your presentation and deliver a talk that audiences will remember.

 

As insurance professionals, we often deliver speeches or talks in meetings. Finding the time to prepare adequately for the talk is challenging. Often, the hardest part is getting starting — writing that first sentence or paragraph. Even after we prepare our talk, many of us still dread public speaking. These four tips will help you painlessly prepare your presentation and deliver a talk that audiences will remember.

  1. What is the theme of my talk? Always begin and end with a clear theme. If you are discussing premium increases at a Rotary Club, for example, your theme may be this: Premiums are increasing worldwide. The only way to control your premiums is through a more structured, loss-sensitive insurance program or through tighter risk management controls. Punch that theme repeatedly in your talk.
  2. Know your audience. If you are addressing your colleagues, your tone will be much different than when addressing CEOs of competing businesses, for example. Just because you feel comfortable with your audience, do not let your guard down too far. Remember that every word you utter could later appear on social media or in some blogger’s post, either in or out of context.
  3. What steps can the audience perform when they leave that can help them take action based on your theme? Maybe they should meet with their current broker or hire a risk management consultant. Perhaps business owners should explore higher deductibles or other premium cost-saving measures. Anyone can regurgitate statistics and dry, “Yes, rates are expected to increase six percent in the commercial property sector in 2013.” Provide action steps for your audience as a takeaway from your talk and watch their interest grow.
  4. How do you want your audience to feel after your talk? In a sputtering economy, it may be hard not to sound negative. No matter how bad the news is, open your talk with humor to grab attention and close with a little levity, as well. Never let your audience walk away feeling gloomy. Audiences rarely remember content — they remember how you made them feel.

By taking these four steps each time you prepare a speech or even informal talks to your staff members, insurance professionals will find preparation easier and your talk much more effective.

Why You Need A Professional Bio

A professional bio quickly showcases your experience and sets you apart from the crowd.

Every insurance professional should develop his or her professional biography. Why a bio? Because despite our increasing reliance on electronic communications, people still want to know a little about you before they contact you. Your bio is a marketing tool that helps to build your brand. Your brand is your name, and the name of your company. When people consider insurance, you want your name to be the one that comes into their minds. This can only come through repeated branding of your name, or the name of your agency, with insurance.

Here are the top reasons to write your professional bio.

There are thousands of insurance agents for people to choose from, plus growing competition from direct writers. Therefore, it is imperative that you set yourself apart from the crowd. A professional bio quickly showcases your experience and sets you apart from the crowd.

A bio is the quickest way to say, “Insurance is not just a job; insurance is my career and I am proud to be an insurance professional.”

A bio will introduce you to new clients and potential strategic partners. Your bio can open doors to many new opportunities.

You can use your bio to obtain speaking engagements and media appearances. Perhaps you might author an article for a local newspaper on some aspect of insurance. Maybe you could be a guest on a local radio talk show. Perhaps you may give a talk at a local service organization. The bio opens the door to all this and more to help you build your brand.

Your bio can provide a dash of personal information that helps people relate to you in some way. This builds bridges and encourages people to contact you.

Your bio should be short, so pick the key points in your personal life and your career that provide the best flavor of who you are. A bio, once written, can be used again and again, or revised as your career deepens and your expertise grows.

If you need help creating a bio that works for you, feel free to contact us at Insurancewriter.com

Teaching the AIC 33 Class Virtually

Beginning May 17 at 5 p.m. Pacific time, I’ll be teaching the AIC 33 Claims Handling Principles class for Prepademy. Here is the link to the class.

If you’re a newer claims adjuster or wringing your hands over providing in-house claims training, I think you’ll be delighted with this solution.

Prepademy offers a unique, 24-hour access to attendees so if you miss a class you can log in at your convenience and access the full class and discussion.

We hope to see you there!

Why Consultancies Need Insurance Coverage

Consultants by choice or by chance need strong insurance advice before hanging their shingle.

While this was written a few years ago, my advice is timely and bears repeating. More professionals are launching their own consultancies. Now more than ever with cyber-liability and intellectual property claims escalating, consultants need a highly experienced agent and solid insurance coverage advice.

Here is the link to the column that may help you.

Beware of Pumping and Pedaling

There are many things people do wrong when driving. How can you stress the importance of safe driving to your employees? Here are a few tips.

While trying to mind my own business as I was getting my nails done this week, three young gals who had just had babies came in for a pedicure and sat right behind me. They talked for about twenty minutes about breast milk pumping. One complained about finding the time to pump. “How long is your commute?” one asks the time-strapped mother. “15 minutes,” she answers. “Oh, that’s not long enough to pump,” the advisor said.

“I want to read that police report,” I said to the gal doing my nails. A woman sitting a few chairs away said to me, “Oh, they do it all the time,” meaning the young women who breastfeed, I guess.

Something Tells Me It’s All Happening At the Zoo

Then the gal with time constraints said, “Well, we’re going to the zoo tomorrow, so I can do it then.” I couldn’t resist, at that point, not knowing if she meant she would pump while she walked among the giraffes or on the trip there, so I said, “Well, at least you’ll be among mammals.” They didn’t find that amusing.

I posted this conversation on my Facebook page because I found it so amusing and completely bewildering. The comments I received made me realize: pumping and pedaling is not an anomaly. One gal told me her friend’s daughter told her teacher she wanted to be when she grew up, “Just like my mom. She can breastfeed the baby, eat a hamburger, and drive with her knee, all at the same time.”

What Else Goes Wrong Behind the Wheel?

So if your employees are pedaling and pumping, I wondered what else they might be doing behind the wheel that might impact the small business owner. Since I’ve been out of front-line claims handling for a number of years, I decided to ask some of my friends who handle claims. Here are some things they find in police reports as they investigate claims.

  1. In a long-haul trucking accident that involved fatalities, the truck driver was reviewing pornography as he drove. He drove over the top of another vehicle, resulting in several fatalities.
  2. Shaving and driving are frequently reported.
  3. One adjuster reported his insured activated cruise control in a recreational vehicle then headed for a nap.
  4. Reading at stop signs is a frequent problem in accidents.
  5. Eating behind the wheel also contributes to many accidents.

How to Avoid Pumping and Pedaling and Other Unsafe Driving Habits

There are many things people do wrong when driving. How can you stress the importance of safe driving to your employees? Here are a few tips.

  1. Set the expectation at employee orientation that safe driving, whether at home or at work, is critical to job performance. How employees drive in their own vehicles is a direct indicator of how they will drive yours.
  2. Put safe driving reminders in pay stubs from time to time.
  3. Have employees sign a form when they use a pool car that clearly states they will wear their seat belts and obey all rules of the road.
  4. Let all employees know how much accidents cost your company. While you don’t have to identify the employee who had the accident, in your next meeting, for example, tell employees, “The accident where we rear-ended another vehicle cost over $120,000 to settle.” Employees understand money.
  5. Hold employees accountable for at-fault accidents. Make it clear in your personnel policies that any failure to work safely, including driving safely, can mean discipline up to and including termination.

Know Your Employees’ Driving Habits

From time to time, ride with your employees. Do they tailgate? Do they chat more than they drive? If so, a company-wide driver training may be in order. National Safety Council offers driver training in most states. One auto accident can devastate your loss history, so money spent to prevent auto and other accidents almost always pays for itself.

In the case of breast-pumping and driving, I cannot even fathom how to avoid this exposure. Perhaps your female managers who have had children can take your lactating Madonnas aside and offer some advice. Good luck with that.

White Papers Position You as an Expert!

Tired of competing against the crowd? A well-crafted White Paper positions you as an expert. A cross between a full-length article and a marketing brochure, the White Paper offers free information and helps solve your clients’ problems. When you provide knowledge, you gain unique access to your target market.

With years of experience writing White Papers and advertising collateral for the insurance industry, we know how to position you in your unique industry niche. Contact us for more information about how a White Paper can help you stand out in a crowd.

Cavalcade of Risk #144 is a Turkey!

Nancy Germond hosts the 144th Cavalcade of Risk, and it’s no turkey!

 

Since this is the closest the Cavalcade of Risk will come to Thanksgiving this year, what better topic than “turkey” risk problems? While not all blog entries conform to this juicy topic, here are a few that do. In that tone, let’s begin with my Allbusiness blog post, “Consider the Total Cost of Jerks to Your Organization.” In it I discuss how much one human turkey in the workplace can actually cost your organization.

In “The Truth is Stranger than Fiction” category, Jon Coppelman of Workers’ Comp Insider, presents “Turkey Shoot.” This post discusses a case of an insurance investigator shot by the claimant he was investigating, allegedly after being mistaken for a turkey. The truth is often stranger than fiction, isn’t it?

Next, we move to another big turkey that is making the excess market sit up and notice just a bit on the topic of climate change. Have you ever asked yourself if Mother Nature could disrupt your business? This is an old tale for many companies who make their homes in states that regularly experience extreme weather—but what about the rest of us? Read “GRC Preparedness in a Changing Climate” on the Risk Management Monitor written by Alex Bender here.

We move on to some of the biggest turkeys of them all: mortgage makers. At Insurance Bad Faith Claims Bad Faith Law Blog, Dennis Wall updates “Good Faith: Homeowners Betrayed, Banks Unreal: California Investigates, Refuses Pre-Immunity.” His posting presents a reality-based review of why there should be a settlement in the talks between State Attorneys General and financial institutions which are, at one and the same time, Mortgage Loan servicers and originators. This settlement would include all claims based on anything other than the original conditions of the talks. What reasons do the Attorneys General have for even considering a Release of All Claims including claims not yet made and that they have not yet investigated? Read more to learn how Dennis Wall really feels.

As the Supreme Court announces its intent to ponder the national health care debate and those fortunate enough to have group health ponder high-deductible savings accounts and what that means to their budget, Louise Norris presents an interesting look at opting out of group health for individual coverage. Be sure to read her entry, “More Flexibility With An Individual Health Insurance Plan,” posted at Colorado Health Insurance Insider.

In our next post on Disease Management Care, Dr. Jaan Sidorov examines Medicare’s efforts at reducing costly readmissions. It turns out that it’s not only difficult to identify those patients who are likely to be readmitted, but the math necessary to compare readmission rates across hospitals is in its infancy. Dr. Sidorov argues in “Medicare Hospital Re-Admissions: Bad,” that while Medicare’s program is well meaning, this is another example of policy running out ahead of reality.

Medicare will start paying hospitals more which receive high marks for patient satisfaction. What steps are hospitals taking to avert the risk that they receive low scores? The Healthcare Economist weighs in with “Medicare to Hospitals: The Patient is Always Right.”

And as long as we’re talking about healthcare, Hank Stern asks the timely question: “Have you considered the risk of disability and how it might affect your ability to earn a living?” InsureBlog has some thoughts on how to manage that risk. As someone who became quite ill without disability coverage, I can tell you this is a question we should all consider. Read “Are You Protected” and take heed.

That is all the entries we have this time. Have a safe and secure Thanksgiving.

 

Develop a Style Guide to Build Your Brand

What is a style guide? It is a multi-page document that standardizes your employees’ use of grammar and style.

If you have many people sending emails, writing letters or developing proposals, it may be time for your company to develop a style guide. What is a style guide? It is a multi-page document that standardizes your employees’ use of grammar and style. It helps a company ensure their documents look professional and conform to your company’s “brand.” Why pay someone all that money to develop a logo, a theme and your website then not link your written communications to that brand? 

The first few pages of a style guide are normally devoted to standard punctuation, grammar and capitalization styles. Then in-depth information follows to address style and presentation matters. For example, how often do your employees use a hyphenated term like “workers’ compensation”? Or is it “worker’s compensation”? Heaven forbid, they use “workman’s compensation.” Or what about hyphenated words, like “Call our toll-free number”? If you consider all the words and phrases normally used in your business communications, you can see that a style guide helps you develop consistency in your communications.

How do you develop a style guide? First, ask your insurance carriers if they have one developed that you can adopt for your agency. That may make the most sense. If not, put together a committee of a few good writers in your organization and let them do the work. There are many style-guide recommendations on the web found easily with a web search. Then look at some of your most frequently developed documents, both internal and external, to determine the phrases you use most frequently.

Alternatively, you can hire an editor to develop one for you. You can always ask them to provide their best recommendations and tweak them for your organization. If you would like to discuss this or other copywriting issues, don’t hesitate to contact me.

My Allbusiness Blog Continues to Gather Readers

My Allbusiness blog, Risk Management for the 21st Century, is going strong.

My Allbusiness blog, Risk Management for the 21st Century, continues to gather readers. Some are agents and other risk management types, but many readers are business managers seeking better ways to manage risk. I post a new entry, usually about 500 to 600 words in length, about every ten days. Here is the link. Take a look.

Stop Struggling with Insurance Writing Tasks

Whether you want to develop a White Paper to hand out at your next sales event or write an article for a national trade journal, Insurance Writer can help.

Are you tired of struggling with writing tasks that are better outsourced?

Let’s face it, if you are a rainmaker agent or a consultant struggling to find enough hours in the day, writing may not be your best use of time. I work with insurance professionals all over the nation to hone and perfect their written communications. Whether you want to develop a White Paper to distribute at your next sales event or write an article for a national trade journal, Insurance Writer can help.

Writing that piece of sales collateral or a report may take you hours. We can assist and quickly turn your bullet points or a short interview into a collateral piece of advertising you will use for years.

Call us today at 602.870.3230 for a free consultation.

Why Wait to Publish or Advertise?

Why wait until the economy is in full swing to publish or advertise?

This has been a busy year for me. While I don’t think the recession is over yet as the financial pundits trumpet, most of the human resources directors I speak with indicate they are hiring more.  Since the first of 2011, I received more agent and carrier phone calls and emails asking about advertising collateral and training.

As the recession lifts, well-crafted and carefully placed publications keep your organization in the public eye now and help you stay ahead of the competition. I would love to help.

Here are just a few of the projects I’ve either completed or have in process right now.

  1. Website rewrite for a Arizona-based tax accounting firm.
  2. White paper “ghostwriting” for an agent and a consultant. In addition to ghosting, I recommend placement targets for your articles to expand your reach.
  3. Worked for the CPCU Institutes on two projects. I am always proud of my affiliation with them whether I am teaching the Associate in Claims classes  or writing.
  4. Completed a webinar for Insurance Journal Academy on the management of social media in the workforce.
  5. Wrote a lengthy article for IRMI on the basics of workers’ compensation claims management.
  6. Continued to write newsletter copy for one of my favorite clients. Call me for more details if your insurance agency needs an inexpensive but high quality newsletter to keep your name in your clients’ and potential clients’ minds. Or, contact Easy Insurance Newsletters directly and tell them I sent you.

Why wait until the economy is in full swing to publish or advertise? If I can help, please contact me at 602.870.3230. It costs nothing to call.

How Are You Handling Generational Challenges?

How is your organization handling generational challenges?

Recently I told my brother I was cleaning the house and asked rhetorically how one person and one dog could mess up a house so badly. His response was simple. “Perfect coordination.”  He is a bit of a wiseacre, but when I think more about it, perfect coordination is a wonderful thing.

Don’t you love those days when you have a thousand things to do and, at the end of the day, you sit back and say, “I accomplished most of what I set out to do.” Perfect coordination is important in business. If you are like me, my attention span fractures quite easily. I’m working on a project, the phone rings, an email arrives, a friend texts me — suddenly I am multitasking and not doing anything well.

I recently presented a series of seminars on challenges insurance professionals face as we blend four generations in the workplace. Each generation has its own work style and generational strengths. However, there is also an additional challenge in the “fringes” of each generation, who have characteristics of both generations. For example, I am a late -model Boomer, yet I have many characteristics of the following generation, Gen X. So if someone applied solely Boomer psychology to me, they would have troubling figuring out what motivates me.

In another few years, a fifth generation, now called by some the “i-Generation,” will arrive in the workforce with an array of electronic devices and technical capabilities. Remember, this is a generation that never knew life without a computer. How is your organization handling generational challenges?

If you would like to know more about how my presentation on managing generational differences, please drop me an email or call me at 602.870.3230. I’d be happy to help you with your company’s unique challenges.

What I Do For Fun

What do you do for fun? My dog and I chase bad guys in our spare time.

I spent an amazing weekend with my German shepherd, Asland, training with the famous Jiri Novotny, the principle trainer and breeder of the famed Czech Republic border patrol dogs. The seminar was hosted by my good friend, Hans, who owns Alpine K9. I have been raising and training German shepherds for many years and find these imports undoubtedly the finest. The top photo is of my dog, Asland, biting “the bad guy.” The bottom photo is of Jiri and yours truly.

I wonder what other insurance professionals do for fun? Let me know!

Stemming the Brain Drain in the Insurance Industry

Insurance trainers are the first to go when times get tough, but also the first to return when times get good.

 

By Michael K. McCracken, CPCU, ASLI

 

I began my insurance career in 1977. I was hired as a personal lines underwriter trainee at the Huntington, West Virginia branch office of Buckeye-Union Insurance Company (one of the Continental Companies). I was joined by four other underwriter trainees at that time – another in personal lines, one in bonds, and two in commercial lines. The HR Director told us that the insurer wanted to fill its personnel needs, and that it had decided to go after bright, talented young people, instead of passively waiting for job applicants. She told us that her superiors were concerned about the “brain drain” at Buckeye-Union (and in the insurance industry in general) and that the company wanted to be pro-active in addressing the problem.

As the old saying goes, “What goes around comes around.” It seems that every couple of years, I read another article or two about the “brain drain” in the insurance industry and what can be done about it. Unfortunately, it seems that all I ever read is moaning and groaning; all I ever see is a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing. Rarely do I see any concrete, positive suggestions.

It seems that the problems range from the retirement of “baby boomers” to the “burn out” (and subsequent retirement) of underwriters, adjusters, and agents. It also stems from an over emphasis on sales and the cancelling or reduction of company training programs.

I’d like to make a couple of suggestions of my own and then share something that I read. In facing the “retirement problem,” I’d like to suggest this: top management should identify those in this group (age 57 to 62), who are doing good work. The insurers should then give these folks incentives – and I mean big incentives – to stick around a while longer. Create positions like “Master Adjuster” or “Master Underwriter.” Give them authority and compensation and ask them to actively mentor younger employees in the company.

Another event that seems to track the cyclical insurance profitability cycle is the staffing-up and then cutting-back of insurance company training departments. Trainers are the first to go when times get tough, but also the first to return when times get good. I believe that companies that have terminated or curtailed their training programs should reinstate them – yesterday! If a company – any company, be it an insurer, or grocery store, or car dealership – hires good people and trains them well, the benefits will be enormous in the years to come. There’s an old saying that applies to insurance data: “garbage in, garbage out.” In the employment world, a similar maxim might apply. “Poorly trained people in, poor results out.”

In a past issue of the National Underwriter, CNA took out an ad entitled “Building the Next Generation of Insurance Talent.” It talked about the lack of talented individuals for the “next generation” in the insurance industry. In that ad, CNA encouraged the insurance industry to do the following five things.

1. Support internships

2. Develop trainee and mentoring programs

3. Bench strength development by providing ongoing training to current employees

4. Improved producer and adjuster training

5. Encourage designation program participation

What do you think? Do you think CNA was right? What else can be done to stem the exit of talent from the insurance industry?

New Strategic Alliance at Insurance Writer

Nancy Germond, owner of Insurance Writer, LLC, announces a new strategic alliance with Michael K. McCracken, CPCU.

New Strategic Alliance

at

INSURANCE WRITER, LLC

 

Nancy Germond, MA, SPHR, ARM, AIC, ITP – Owner of Insurance Writer, LLC, announces a new strategic alliance with Michael K. McCracken, CPCU, ASLI.

Mike McCrackin has a  long history in the insurance industry as an underwriter for companies such as Cincinnati Insurance and Ohio Casualty. He also spent 14 years on the editorial staff of the FC&S Bulletins, analyzing insurance policies, writing books, and answering subscriber questions.

Mike is an experienced seminar presenter and has addressed various insurance groups, including agents and adjusters. Mike is also a registered CE provider and instructor in Florida. Welook forward to this new alliance, which brings new and exciting offerings to Nancy’s readers and clients.

For more information, please contact Nancy through her Web site at https://insurancewriter.com or call Nancy at (602) 870-3230, or  Mike at (513) 317-2972. We look forward to serving your insurance needs and continuing to present information and entertaining training and solid writing services.

Risk Management Challenges in 2011

What will keep risk managers on the edge of their seats in 2011? As the year begins, here are some top worries of risk managers in the United States.

What will keep risk managers on the edge of their seats in 2011? As the year begins, here are some top worries of risk managers in the United States. Read my latest column in Allbusiness here.

Happy New Year

Community service should be as much as part of life as is getting up and going to work.

2010 has been an interesting year. I’ve been blessed with a variety of projects including one that I think most agents will find very interesting. I know from talking to agents throughout the country how hard they struggle to stay in contact with their clients. Now, there is a solution, and I am happy to be a part of it. It is called Easy Insurance Newsletters and it allows agents to stay in touch with their clients in just a few minutes per month without “spamming” them. Visit the Easy Insurance Newsletter website or more information, or call me or email me for more details. I was pleased to be selected as the principal copywriter and would love feedback from agents who join up about articles they need for future issues.

Additionally this year, I developed a customer service training for CSRs in agencies, which has been well received. Contact me for more details if you are interested. I grew up in this industry and understand how difficult it is to provide the level of service we need to provide as we continue to lose business to the geckos of the world. I believe that the only way to compete in this era of instant communication is to outcommunicate. That means we treat our customers so well with exemplary customer service that they will not consider going elsewhere. However, we also have to have the markets available to price shop and move clients where needed. How often are we reviewing our clients business and trying to 1) place them more competitively with comparable or better coverage and 2) mining their needs to ensure they have all the coverage they need, whether they know they need the coverage or not?

In 2011, I will emphasize increased training offerings. While I know that many agencies and carriers now utilize mainly online training (and I am an Insurance Journal Academy trainer), I believe there is nothing like a trainer completing an on-site needs assessment and delivering training tailored to the problems your organization faces.

Finally, this year I continue to be active in my community. At least one night a month, I go into our County jail system and spend time with women who are struggling with many challenging life issues, to put it mildly. Several days a month I focus on providing public relations support to a non-profit and work individually with several women facing challenges. This is what really keeps me in touch with how much I have to be grateful for. My parents, two fine agents, and my brother, also an agent, set the example for me that community service should be as much as part of life as is getting up and going to work. There are always needs to fill in a world that is increasingly disenfranchised from friends, relatives and the larger community.

2010 has been a great year. I know that 2011 will be that much better. I hope to get to know you in the near future.

I Am Grateful For …

I recently realized just how passionate I am about this industry.

Recently I presented a customer service training for CSRs at a large agency. What I realized as I began the presentation is just how passionate about this industry I am. It has provided me with a decent living, an ability to buy a home, time and the resources to travel to several countries, a career that constantly challenges me, and an ability to obtain an education without significant debt. Mainly, though, the insurance industry has provided me with a host of colleagues and friends I can turn to for support both professionally and personally.

I get up each day eager to begin work. In fact, often at midnight I find myself lying in bed with my phone checking tweets and email. Am I a workaholic? No, I’m simply someone who has found her niche and incorporated that niche into her life. This doesn’t mean that all I do is work, because I have balance in my life. I have friends I spent time with, animals I cherish, family members who mean much to me, and a family legacy with wonderful (now deceased) parents who brought me, albeit reluctantly on my part, into this industry.

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. My turkey is roasting in its bag and my dog is lying near me. In an hour, I will gather with some of my closest friends (family this year is somewhat occupied) and celebrate the most important part of life to me: gratitude.

I hope your day is blessed and if you have found your career niche and have gratitude for an industry that has provided for you and your family, you are truly blessed.

Weasel Words Weaken Your Message

Weasel words are ambiguous terms and phrases, like “popular opinion,” “dynamic,” or “completely satisfied.” These words and phrases, rather than providing clarity, complicate and cloud your message.

Do you use weasel words? I don’t mean furry critters that go through your garbage “of a night,” as they say in Missouri. Weasel words are ambiguous terms and phrases, like “popular opinion,” “dynamic,” or “completely satisfied.” These words and phrases, rather than providing clarity, complicate and cloud your message.

Weasel words get their name from the crafty weasel, reported to suck eggs without breaking the shell. Similarly, weasel words suck the meaning out of your messages, making them much less effective. If you communicate with phrases like “highest quality,” “prompt service,” or “highly qualified,” you may be weaseling.

Before you write, ask yourself, “What exactly am I offering?” If you believe your product is “the highest quality,” don’t use that cliché, detail the service you provide. Tell your customers that you represent only A-rated carriers and briefly explain a rating. Or describe the customized insurance profile you offer your potential clients. This offers much clearer information than using an empty phrase.

If you offer prompt service, you could say “We return all phone calls within 24 hours.” Everyone, no matter what product they are buying, wants to be a priority purchaser. This clear message tells them, “We are so committed to excellent service that we offer you this promise.”

“Highly qualified” doesn’t explain the depth of your expertise. “Over a decade meeting the insurance needs of my community” gives potential clients a clearer look at your knowledge.

What about “with all due respect”? (You know you’re about to get hammered when you hear this one, don’t you?) If you disagree with someone’s opinion, don’t bother telling them that you respect them. State your case and then offer, in a final paragraph, to discuss their concerns with them personally. This leaves the door open for more communication.

Weasel words weaken your communications. Although you may be an excellent writer, a professional writer offers you an objective edge. She can take your raw copy and help you develop communications that are specific and tailored to your audience.

Handle Claims With Scrabble-Like Strategy

I was trained by some great claims managers who taught me the first important lesson of claims handling—make a decision.

Last year, I bought a Scrabble game to entertain my guests at my summer home, which is out in the sticks in a little town called Skull Valley. With no TV, a group activity like Scrabble helps prevent descents into insanity from the silence. Although we hear an occasional elk bugle or coyote howl, Skull Valley is pretty darn quiet.

Although I hadn’t played Scrabble in decades, I figured I would pretty much smoke my opponents, since one speaks Czech as a first language and the other reads mostly romance novels (nothing against romance novels, but, the most complex words are usually “sigh” and “crushed”). I was dead wrong. In the first game, the romance reader smoked us both, indeed so badly that the Czech speaker quit in the first ten minutes of the game when we refused to let him spell phonetically and sat glaring at us, his arms folded across his chest.

I started thinking about Scrabble strategy and in anticipation of facing them on their next visit, I visited Google and typed “Scrabble strategy.” I found a great link that outlined top tips for Scrabble players. Upon reflection and because I think of almost everything in terms of risk management, I realized the same rules that applied to Scrabble could apply to managing claims.

What I figured out after my initial Scrabble trouncing is that I was applying the way I settled claims to my Scrabble game. I was trained by some great claims managers who taught me the first important lesson of claims handling—make a decision. There are plenty more files where the one you are agonizing about came from, so decide and move on. That is precisely how I played Scrabble, and ended up with about one-fifth the points of my opponent.

As I read the tips on Scrabble Pages and a few other sites, I translated many of those tips, using or paraphrasing Scrabble language, to efficient and ethical claims handling. Here are a few tips. However, I’m sure if you’re a claims person you could add a few of your own.

Move your tiles!

A file doesn’t get any better sitting on your desk. Pick it up, develop a plan of action, make a decision, and kick the claim forward!

Maximize your power tiles

Don’t squander the biggest advantages you may have. If you have winning surveillance, determine the best time to disclose it. If your plaintiff has a criminal record or previous injury you discovered that may undermine credibility, decide how and if that factors into the settlement equation. Play your tiles closely until you have a strategy; don’t inadvertently let diamonds fall through your fingers.

Be consistent

Inconsistency is some adjusters biggest failing — don’t fall prey to it. In Scrabble, you need 20 points a play to win. Score 10 and you need to score 30 on the next word to catch up. The same is true with files. You may be wildly successful on one file, but if you let 20 others erode because you are too focused on the one you spotlight, your performance will still be criticized.

Get thee to a claims association or obtain an insurance designation

Did you know there are 126 official Scrabble clubs in the US? If you want to improve your game, which for our purpose is handling claims, join an insurance association or take insurance classes and network with your peers. I teach the Associate in Claims designation classes and it is sometimes difficult to convince adjusters these classes improve their chances of promotion. Do you sit around and moan about who gets promotions? You are only as strong professionally as your education, your experience and your network.

Follow the rules

Study ethical behavior and know the rules your company espouses. When adjusters schmooze too much with vendors, saying “no” or criticizing them becomes difficult. Keep a professional distance between you and your vendors, no matter how much you like them. In addition, don’t take advantage of claimants just because you know more about their coverage than they do. I have sometimes heard adjusters crow about the money they saved the carrier on insignificant charges that in reality should have been paid. Candor should be your mantra, even when it costs a little bit more.

Look for the hooks

To score in Scrabble, words hang on existing words. In claims, we generally settle claims one at a time. However, one of the first rules in claims handling I was taught is that we will work with the same people, including plaintiff attorneys, over and over again, so build relationships. Relationships are our hooks. When I have worked with an attorney on one file, I determined what other files I had with that attorney or that firm. Next, I kept notes on those attorneys. What is his hobby? Where did she go to law school? Is she a Denver Broncos fan? Maybe he is a Civil War buff and I can couch a settlement in terms of a famous Civil War battle. Do they take cases to trial or are they simply geared to settle? Early in my career I was led down the garden path by one plaintiff attorney in the Bay Area on traffic light sequencing. When I wrote the denial letter, I addressed him by saying, “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.” About four years later, I was working in Los Angeles on a claim and which attorney surfaced? Bernie. I was able to pick up the phone, call him and immediately we had a rapport. Little things stand out and improve your “hook.” Those hooks are our signature as negotiators and make the next claim with that attorney easier to settle, sometimes even enjoyable.

Track your opponent

Before beginning negotiations, I wrote a list of the strengths and weaknesses of my case. This way, I know what my opponent is likely to emphasize and I have either an answer, an admission—“You’ve got a point!”— or a counterargument. In other words, I know what my opponents are going to say almost before they say it. I can usually anticipate what is coming next. One word of caution—do not become so focused on framing a response that you stop listening. If you have outlined your case’s weaknesses on paper before you negotiate, you can frame a response so you don’t have to think too long before you reply.

It’s okay to root for yourself or your company

I have an advanced degree in sociology and sometimes I feel badly when bad things happen to good people. However, at some point early in my career an excellent file auditor told me to “lose the sociology” and just handle the claim. Ultimately, you work for your employer, and are not a social service agency, despite how you may feel personally on a loss. I realize this is not a problem for most claims people, but for some, it is. It is perfectly okay to know that you are, overall, fighting the good fight, even if a particular claim outcome bothers you.

It’s just a game

With claims handling, just like in life, you will win some and you will lose some. Get used to it. Savor the wins, learn from the losses, but most of all, once the claims is closed, forget about it. There are plenty more where that one came from.

I often tell others that despite the bad rap the insurance industry receives, I would recommend it in a heartbeat to young people looking for an exciting career. Each day in my career has been totally different and challenging and on some days, downright fun. Much like Scrabble.

Cavalcade of Risk #111

The Insurance Writer hosts the 111th Cavalcade of Risk.

Today’s Cavalcade of Risk has no obvious theme,  just some interesting posts, so let’s begin. I’ve posted a bit early, but as Batman once said, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”

Just for Laughs
Holy cats, Batman, this dog is cool! 2.1 million viewers can’t be wrong.

Medical

Let’s start out with some medical information as companies across the nation scramble to begin implementing national health care changes.

David Williams presents Malpractice defense: Complications post op partial hip replacement posted at Health Business Blog. By the way, did you hear about the zebra with a bad hip who fathered a zedonk? You can’t make this stuff up.

Henry Stern, LUTCF, CBC presents Jump in the Pool, Make $50 posted at InsureBlog.

Jason Shafrin presents Three Tiers of Accountable Care Organizations posted at Healthcare Economist.

Financial

Mike Piper presents Guaranteed Annuity Income: Is it Really Safe? posted at The Oblivious Investor.

Freefrombroke presents Dollar Cost Averaging Helps Eliminate Emotion And Market Risk posted at Free From Broke.

General Posts

I frequently promote the benefits of having an experienced independent agent on your side whether you are a personal insurance consumer or own a high-value commercial enterprise. Silicon Valley Blogger presents How a Good Insurance Agent Helps Cut Insurance Costs at The Digerati Life.

Tred R. Eyerly gives us a look at a coverage decision favoring the carrier. He presents Motor Vehicle Exclusion Bars Coverage Under Homeowner’s Policy posted at Insurance Law Hawaii. While the exclusion in the Homeowner’s Policy would seem to be a slam dunk to preclude coverage, it is always interesting and somewhat frightening to see what matters trial judges allow to move forward. Hmm.

I wish I had more time to follow more blogs and tweets. Julia Wells’ list can help. Julia presents 50 Excellent Twitter Accounts Every Public Administrator Should Follow posted at Master of Public Administration.

Susan Howe presents 9 of the World’s Most Expensive Oil Spills posted at Insurance Blog: Life Insurance, Health Insurance and Car Insurance news and opinions.

Tax Debt Help presents Top Bizarre Tax Laws By State posted at Tax Debt Help.

My contribution this week to the Cav is a  post from my Risk Management for the 21st Century column employers to quantify the costs of intimate partner violence to their organization. It’s always closer than we think. And sometimes an employer intervention can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Workers’ Compensation

John Coppelman’s post at Workers’ Comp Insider has an interesting take on how an employer’s attempts to reduce work comp costs can cause more problems than it solves! In claims, bad decisions sometimes make bad law and I think this could tread on bringing the wrath of the legislature down on all employers. What do you say?

Thank you for dropping in. It’s late, and now, it’s away to the Batcave and up the Batpole to bed.

Insurance Writer Offers New White Paper on Diversity

Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse. Our increasingly lean organizations must utilize the unique talents of all their team members to effectively compete in today’s global marketplace.

White Paper ‘Microinequities in the Workplace─

What if Some of Your Key Team Members are Invisible?

Helps Insurance Organizations Manage a Diverse Workforce

Now Available from Insurance Writer

July 26, 2010

Phoenix, Arizona

Release:  Immediate

Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse. Our increasingly lean organizations must utilize the unique talents of all their team members to effectively compete in today’s global marketplace. Microinequities, negative subtle messages we send to our coworkers, can restrain workplace productivity and ultimately drive talented employees out of your organization.

Today an organization’s brand is largely driven by social media. When employees feel disenfranchised, they frequently voice their complaints in cyberspace. Organizations without a diverse intellectual workforce cannot compete effectively in today’s global marketplace. And although companies support diversity, diversity does not always equal inclusion.

Nancy Germond, MA, SPHR, ARM, AIC, ITP, the president of Insurance Writer, a risk management and insurance consulting and training firm, developed a White Paper outlining steps organizations can take to avoid microinequities in the workplace. Ms. Germond’s White Paper, “Microinequities in the Workplace,” offers unique solutions to help companies strategically address the challenges inherent in today’s diverse workforce. For a copy of this informative paper, click here: https://insurancewriter.com/MicroIneq_Offer.htm.

For more information regarding presentations to your organization of this subject or other management topics, please contact Ms. Germond at (602) 870-3230. Ms. Germond develops marketing material, training curriculum and provides consulting services to insurance carriers, agents and insurance industry vendors. A skilled and perceptive presenter, her relaxed and humorous presentations focus on societal risks impacting today’s insurance professional as well as tips for tightening day-to-day claims operations.

You can contact me here.

Germond earns the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) Designation

Germond earns the Senior Professional in Human Resources

Nancy Germond, MA, SPHR, ARM, AIC, ITP,
EARNS CERTIFICATION AS A
SENIOR PROFESSIONAL IN HUMAN RESOURCES

Phoenix, AZ, July 9, 2010.

Nancy Germond, President of Insurance Writer, recently earned certification as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).

The certification, awarded by the HR Certification Institute, signifies that Germond possesses the theoretical knowledge and practical experience in human resource management necessary to pass a rigorous examination demonstrating a mastery of the field.

“Certification as a human resource professional clearly demonstrates a commitment to personal excellence and to the human resource profession,” said Mary Power, CAE, Executive Director of the HR Certification Institute.

To become certified, an applicant must pass a comprehensive examination and demonstrate a strong background of professional human resource experience. “I find that in today’s difficult financial climate, employment issues top the list of risk exposures insurance organizations face,” Germond said. “The SPHR simply assures seniors managers of my dedication to the employment arena.”

The HR Certification Institute is the credentialing body for human resource professionals and is affiliated with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest organization dedicated exclusively to the human resource profession. The Institute’s purpose is to promote the establishment of professional standards and to recognize professionals who meet those standards.

Make the Most of Your Training

I participated in a teleconference today sponsored by the Society of Insurance Trainers and Editors and hosted by the Insurance Institute. Much of what was discussed was the issue of training younger generations, who, as one participant put it, leave school in a state of “permanent partial attention.”

This is the first true television and Internet generation and they live, he remarked, in a state of perpetual multi-tasking. (He then joked that some of us on the teleconference were probably multi-tasking. Yes, I was guilty of it, I was checking my e-mail at the time.)

In addition, he believes some members of this generation learn only what they need to learn then discard the knowledge, bringing their test-cram college mentality into the workforce. What can trainers do to help Gen Xers and Ys retain knowledge? One good tip was to set some training ground rules. Insist students to turn off cell phones, PDAs, and yes, their laptops if they have access to wireless Internet.

Next, since class participants often leave classes using 25 percent of what they learn, one trainer asserted that you can improve that rate to 90 percent if you involve supervisors who will reinforce, coach, reward, and encourage trainees in their newly learned skills. Supervisors must reinforce what is taught in the classroom or, no matter how sophisticated the training, it will fail.

Training, they insisted, must come from trainers who understand the cultures, the practices, and the processes of the insurance industry. Real-world examples are critical to learners, because if they cannot contextualize what they hear, no matter how smartly packaged the information, it is virtually useless.

It’s also useful to provide access to experts in the subject whom students, post training, can email or call for additional help when they need it. This allows students to put their knowledge into practice with the help of an expert mentor and without fear of ridicule for asking questions.

Finally, they believe, you must instill in insurance students that their insurance education is lifelong to ensure their success. I know when I earned my professional designations I was making a statement: That insurance wasn’t my job, it was my career.

Writing Coaches

An interesting editorial in Business’ Insurance’s April Industry Focus touched on an issue I’d blogged about a few weeks ago. Big changes are heading our way as Generation Ys enter the workforce.

Editor Ronn Zolkos (he’s obviously a Gen Xer; notice the spelling of his first name!) commented on a problem discussed at the Finance and Insurance Workforce Summit recently in Chicago. That problem is the poor writing ability of Gen Ys.

Apparently, constant instant messaging and e-mailing has enabled a generation to skip grammar almost entirely. Although highly competent technically, members of this generation may lack even rudimentary writing skills.

Zolkos recommends hiring writing coaches for the Yers who struggle with writing’ write. He called hiring a writing coach a “perk.” Others managers may, as they struggle with this critical issue, call it a “necessity.”

Get Ahead of the Market Madness

This has been a busy new year for me. While I don’t think the recession is over yet as the financial pundits trumpet, since the first of 2010, I have received more agent and carrier phone calls and emails asking about advertising collateral and training.

As the recession lifts, put your organization in the public eye now and get ahead of the competition. I would love to help.

Here are just a few of the projects I’ve either completed or have in process right now.

  1. Website rewrite for a large Midwest independent agency.
  2. Website rewrite for a California insurance agent who sells to a highly technical market.
  3. Helped an agent craft his biography, which he loved. We found an awesome “hook” that makes his prospective clients say, “I need to meet this guy!” Boring biographies are, well, boring. Most professionals need at least one and perhaps two bios. I would love to chat with you about building a strong bio.
  4. Completed three seminars for Insurance Journal Academy on agency/carrier human relations management. My next seminar on April 28 is on the Agent/Carrier claims relationship. I promise, if you attend, you’ll never look at claims management and service expectations again!
  5. Writing curriculum for CPCU education.
  6. Presented to the Arizona Claims Association about the importance of diversity in the workforce.
  7. Assisted a large MGA with marketing collateral.

Why wait until the economy is in full swing to advertise? If I can help, please contact me at 602.870.3230.

Diversity a Great Topic for the Insurance Industry

I spoke last month at the Arizona Insurance Claims Association, the premier (albeit only!) organization in Arizona dedicated to the property/casualty claims adjuster. When I last spoke there, I talked about the brain drain carriers and agents are experiencing and how Gen Xs and Ys could leverage this exodus to their advantage, but I wasn’t sure diversity would go over too well. One of my blog readers asked how it went. Frankly, I was surprised by how interested the audience was in this topic.

To remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing and global market, the insurance industry, like any other industry, must have top intellectual talent. And that talent lies in diversity, not just of race and gender, but in diversity of thought.

Studies have repeatedly shown that diverse groups perform better and that a certain amount of healthy conflict must occur before groups arrive at superior decisions. And because the insurance industry is becoming more and more team-driven, the need for training in areas of diversity becomes even more critical. Studies repeatedly show that diverse teams make better decisions.

If your organization would like to explore diversity or inter-generational issues, I present in these critical areas. As an instructor for Insurance Journal’s Academy, you are invited to take part in my upcoming seminars or purchase my earlier seminars for your organization.

The link to the Academy is here.

Have a great, productive week.