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?

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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

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.

 

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.

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?