Switching to an insurance career 23 years ago proved to be an excellent decision for Nick Kaler, sales director for California State Auto Insurance in San Francisco.
"I was a school teacher in the late '70s and trying to support a family on a small salary," he recalls. "I began looking into other industries when my wife told me her employer, an insurance company, was looking for underwriters. They brought me on board with a training program and I stayed."
Kaler attests to the opportunities for career advancement. "Insurance is always changing with new ideas and new plans, and if you are dedicated, work hard, continue to learn and increase your skill level, you will become successful. Best of all, the industry will pay you for your achievement."
A Challenging Time
"It's an industry that will always be here," Kaler contends. Not that the industry isn't without challenges. Right now, it is trying to recover from the devastating effects of 9/11.
"It was the single most expensive insurance disaster in our history," declares Pete Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.
Insurance claims from 9/11 could exceed $35 billion. Prior to that day, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the Northridge earthquake in 1994 topped the list.
Despite the fallout from last year's terrorist attacks, the industry is rebounding. "We're starting to feel ripple effects of 9/11, but overall the market is readjusting," Moraga believes.
"The industry is always looking for talent," Moraga notes, "and there is one particularly hot growth sector - risk management." The insurance business depends on risk managers, who come up with ways to cut claims and lower premiums.
"For example, let's say a factory with 50 employees is looking for ways to reduce their insurance costs. The risk managers work to lessen the number of accidents by requiring goggles and checking potentially unsafe equipment."
The same principles apply to e-commerce, where risk management (protection) of electronic data is a growing concern as more companies do business online. In fact e-commerce insurance is growing 25 to 30 percent annually and expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2005, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Moraga says companies have tremendous exposure if they don't safeguard their computer systems, software and Internet sites from hackers, who cause millions of dollars of damage each year. Insurers work to protect against such intrusions by installing digital barriers, like firewalls and anti-virus software, and by establishing stricter computer security procedures.
Sales and Supporting Roles
The career choices in insurance go far beyond risk management and include claim representatives, sales underwriters, support staff, marketing, and other activities common to any big business. Most college business curriculums offer insurance training - from actuarial science to under-writing and management. Students with insurance majors typically get job offers upon graduation.
"The insurance business is always in need of seasoned, highly skilled loss control, actuarial and claims people who want to escape the corporate structure," contends Scott Kotroba, president of GreatInsuranceJobs.com, an online recruiting agency. "There are also opportunities for people with sales and marketing aptitude to be their own boss on the agent side, as well as entry-level people to learn the business and move up the ladder."
He says the money is good. The average annual salary in the claims area is in the $30,000 to $40,000 range. An underwriter's wage is higher.
Kotroba observes that success in the insurance business is often limited only by your personal effort. "It offers a wide range of career interests - from the administration side to the finance side. [Insurance] is the cornerstone to industry as a whole."
If sleuthing is more to your liking, most of the large insurance companies have investigators, or they contract with private agencies to look into claims ranging from suspicious fires to fraudulent worker's compensation claims.
"Our major recruiting focus is for people to become independent insurance agents with their own staff," explains Amelia Duer, public affairs officer with State Farm Insurance in Sacramento. "We offer a paid training program plus support and mentoring."
She explains that the selection process involves testing to determine if a candidate has the propensity for the insurance industry. Successful applicants move onto training, while simultaneously applying for a license with the California Department of Insurance.
"It's a good business because you connect with people. And in an emergency, an agent can step in and help people get their lives back on track," she observes. "You can make a good living if you are responsible and have an interest in helping people." It doesn't hurt to be good on the phone and have the ability to multi-task.
Insurance in general is expected to be an industry with a solid future. "People need insurance. No matter how bad the economy gets, there will always be a need for it at all levels, from home to business," Moraga contends. "I wouldn't call it recession-proof, but it is recession resilient because it will readjust and pick up again."
For more information on insurance careers, visit these websites:
- 4InsuranceJobs.com - Job search engine for insurance with resume posting and links to other resources.
- eInsuranceJobs.com - Job search engine for all areas of insurance includes resume posting and writing tips, insurance news, and a section on interviewing tips.
- GreatInsuranceJobs.com - Post your resume, search for work, link to major employers.
- Insurance-Jobs-Center.com - Job search engine for all areas of insurance.
- National Insurance Recruiters Association - nirassn.com, online database of insurance jobs throughout the US.
- Professional Insurance Agents Institute - piagroup.org. Professional trade organization dedicated to insurance agent issues.
- State Farm Insurance - statefarm.com
- UltimateInsuranceJobs.com - Job search engine for insurance, includes resume posting, news/information and links.