What would happen if the sewer system in your town backed up and your home was covered with a foot of muck? Or what if someone snipped through your lock and rode off with your bike? Thanks to the insurance industry, you probably wouldn’t have much to worry about. Insurance is designed to cover these types of losses.
The insurance industry is huge. Doctors, lawyers, actuaries, computer experts and public speakers are just a few of the talented individuals who come together to make the industry tick. No matter what your skills are, the insurance industry is a viable career option.
“Insurance can mean so many things,” says Heather Clowater. She is an assistant manager of human resources at a group of insurance companies. “Our market is the high-end client — the $2-million home, the yacht and the jewelry collection,” she says.
But wealthy people aren’t the only clients in the insurance business. Churches, homes, people, cars, bicycles, clothing — all of these things are insurable.
Insurance works like this: everyone pays a little to cover the losses of a few. The money (premiums) goes into a big pot at the insurance company. When someone suffers a loss, they are able to take money from the pot to recover what they’ve lost.
Remember the Y2K millennium bug at the turn of the century? According to Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim and Ballon (a law firm), Nike attempted to claim as much as $110 million in insurance for the costs of fixing up the Y2K mess. If it weren’t for insurance, companies like Nike would have been forced to fork out millions of dollars.
Insurance is Here to Stay
The insurance industry has a bad rap for being boring. Trudy Lancelyn is the deputy executive director of the Insurance Brokers Association of British Columbia. She points out that it’s a very traditional industry. “There’s been insurance for hundreds of years and there always will be,” she says. “It’s not something that goes through fads.”
Unlike some high-tech industries, the insurance industry isn’t grabbing the world’s attention. It is, however, a stable industry. And it’s here to stay. “Insurance is one of those products that is not so volatile,” says Clowater. “Everyone needs insurance.”
Clowater’s company is a prime example of just how stable this industry is. It’s been around since the 1880s and it’s still growing at a steady pace. “This year alone, we hired 10 or 11 trainees,” says Clowater. “So, certainly we are growing.”
The insurance industry needs workers with hundreds of different talents and specialties to make it run smoothly. Clowater’s firm, for example, has an accounting department, a collections department, a customer service department and an IT department. Just imagine how many different skill sets are called upon in each of those separate departments!
Here are just a few of the titles that insurance employees may hold: actuary, actuarial assistant, case manager, underwriter, broker, casualty adjuster, customer service rep, sales rep, marketing rep and auditor.
Since the industry experiences steady growth, there is always a well-rounded selection of jobs available. “Our vacancy positions [are] across the board,” says Clowater. “It’s not just underwriting or claims or IT jobs.”
This is a very traditional, pen-and-paper industry, although Lancely says that there are IT positions available. “Like anything else,” she says, “the large, multi-branch brokerages would probably have an in-house IT person.” But there certainly isn’t a wild cry for IT experts in the world of insurance.
Since the insurance industry is so diverse, there isn’t a standard educational pathway for getting involved. It depends on the company you work for, the state or province you’re working in and the position you’re after. In fact, Clowater believes that this lack of structure may be the biggest stumbling block for students — the career path simply isn’t straightforward.
“For anyone who is going to get into actuarial sciences, there are undergraduate programs out there,” says Gretchen Schaefer. She is the media relations director for the American Insurance Association. She adds that actuaries take courses and classes throughout their careers. “It’s just an ongoing education.”
For anyone becoming an insurance agent, there are licensing requirements. These differ from state to state.
In some cases, a generalist background combined with a pleasant demeanor is all you’ll need. For example, the human resources department at Clowater’s company isn’t necessarily looking for someone with an insurance background. “We’re just looking for someone that has a general business background or a university degree,” explains Clowater.
Take Schaefer’s background, for example. “I had a communications and marketing background,” she says. It was enough to get her foot in the door. “It’s really a matter of learning the industry,” she says.
Once you’re in the industry, there is no shortage of certificates or professional examinations that you can obtain to improve your status, ability and wage. For certain positions, like actuary, you’ll be expected to upgrade your qualifications continually.
Clowater encourages young people to stop and think about just how huge the insurance business really is. “Whatever your interests are, think of it as an option.”
If you have any doubts at all, pay a visit to a local insurance company. See if you like the atmosphere and start making your connections. “There is a lot to learn. It’s a very interesting industry,” says Schaefer.
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