Insurance is like ‘reaching for the carrot, but you're never going to catch it’

Pardon the Interruption

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How do you build a career in the insurance sector? Knowledge, networking and being comfortable in a fast-paced environment are some of the key attributes to work in the insurance industry, but what are the pros and cons? Three experts at Argo Group share their insights.

One of the common misconceptions about insurance is that it is a “boring and stagnant” sector, says Kimberly Lewis, senior vice president and professional insurance manager at the specialty insurer. However, she encourages sceptics to talk to those who work at insurance firms about the various roles that exist in the sector.  

Speaking at a webinar organised by social network LinkedIn on 18 May, she said: “When I explained to them the different roles and the different things that we do in just my line and other lines, they are very surprised. ‘Oh, really? That's what you do?’ So if you are thinking that ‘I don't want to go to insurance because it's very boring’, it’s not. Talk to different people in different roles, not just underwriters. Talk to people in claims, talk to people in accounts, in operations and just see what they do. You will be very surprised.”

Network and be proactive

Networking is important and one way of doing so is to join insurance groups, Lewis advised, as workers can learn about the business through networking.

Self-discovering one’s weaknesses is also important to thrive in the sector, she said. “Find out what your weakness is and actually work on that. Try to be better. Be brave. While we never know what we're going to end up, I would say be ready. Be adaptable. Be open, raise your hand. And when opportunities come, they usually come without notice. Be ready for those opportunities and take them.”

Another way of gaining knowledge is offering to take on tasks disliked by others. 

Jason McMichael, workers compensation claims manager at Argo, described himself as “living proof” of the situation when he started his career at Argo from the “very bottom” and offered to run monthly reports.

“It's very tedious, nobody likes to do it. It's complicated. The person that used to do it was no longer there. I was the first person to raise my hand.”

He encouraged those who are early into their insurance careers to be the first to raise their hands when a project comes up. 

He said: “Be that person to volunteer because whatever you learn you can take to your next role. My advice, again, is you're going to get something out of it.”

McMichael added that having knowledge could also provide job security when trying something new. 

“Learn everything you possibly can. Make yourself the person who knows as much as possible. Let's say for an example, this particular section is going to downsize or you're going to move out of a particular section. What you did prior, you learn from it… so that skill set might transfer into another department.”

Be passionate

Christina Parr, head of learning and development at the Bermuda-based insurer, emphasised passion as an important attribute in the insurance industry. 

She said: “Who wakes up and has passion for insurance? How many folks in insurance woke up and have passion for insurance? Most of the time, it's not necessarily that they understood insurance or not, it's [that] they were very interested in working with a team that had their own decision making, a team that maybe had the chance to work in various parts of the country or a team that could work with Bermuda.”

Pros and cons

When asked about the pros and cons of working in the insurance industry, McMichael said the sector’s pace could be seen as positive or negative. 

“It's very fast-paced. It’s never the same. It doesn't get boring, it's always something new. Right when you think you know it all, something new is going to pop up and you're going to learn, which is a pro,” he said.

“The con is just that you never are done. When I was interviewed… I was told if you're the kind of person that likes to end the day with everything done, this is not the job for you, because it doesn't happen in insurance, which I liked - the day goes fast. It's very rewarding, because you're always reaching for the carrot, but you're never going to catch it, which again is both a pro and a con.”

Parr said those wanting to be in the sector need to be comfortable with change.

“If you want something that is incredibly stable without change, this might not be the one for you. We get to change and we get to grow at a fast pace.”

Getting into management

Asked how to help younger staff obtain positions in management, Lewis provided a brief answer: “Lead by example.”

Meanwhile, McMichael said: “If somebody asks a question, I'm typically one of the first people to answer it. It’s just a natural leadership thing. People either have it or you don't. You got to want to help people and have the satisfaction of wanting to do that.”

He added people needed to have a strong desire to support co-workers.

“Help your co-workers. Again, be noticed. Be the person in meetings that raises their hand, ask questions, don't wait for an offline chat. Because most of the time, we all have the same questions. It's the person that asks the questions that gets noticed.”

What do you think are the attributes to build a successful career in insurance?

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