Insurance is a knowledge business, and rapidly acquiring superior knowledge of the fundamentals and nuances of the business is one way to set yourself apart from the other risk professionals who are competing with you for clients or promotions. You can do this by embracing continuous learning, following a continuing education (CE) plan, and obtaining one or more insurance industry designations. This article provides practical advice for achieving your CE goals.
Two of the attributes of insurance that make insurance careers fun are that it is complex and constantly changing. The complexity must be navigated with strong knowledge of the fundamentals and the important details of the business. The constant changes require risk and insurance professionals to continuously update their knowledge. Thus, to maximize your career potential, you must embrace continuous learning.
The top insurance organizations will support your CE needs with internal training programs and financial support of outside programs. However, you should not wait for someone else to direct your CE program. Take charge of your own future, wrapping self-study or participating in outside CE programs around any internal training programs you are expected to attend. Particularly in the early stages of your career, be a sponge, learning as much as you can about the business. Then, once you have a base level of knowledge, engage in continuous learning to keep that knowledge up to date.
Wherever you are in your insurance career, objectively assess your current knowledge level in the various subjects that are important to your current work, noting the areas in which you most need to improve. Then think about the subjects in which you will need expertise if you are to obtain your career goals over the next 3–5 years, again identifying those topics on which you most need to bone up. Don't focus only on technical insurance topics but also consider any soft skills that you might need to obtain, such as supervisory skills, time management, public speaking, or project management. From this self-assessment, you should be able to develop a 3-year or 5-year CE plan.
When developing your 3-year CE plan, consider trying to build a particular area of expertise in a subject that is pertinent to your work. For example, if you work in the construction unit of a broker or insurer, you might try to become the most knowledgeable person in the office on liability insurance for construction defects or perhaps additional insured coverage. Once you reach a level of recognized expertise in the chosen subject, you will become the "go-to" person in the office for questions on that topic, which is a terrific development for building your personal brand.
You should also give very strong consideration to obtaining one or more risk management or insurance certifications or designations. Holding a recognized designation will greatly enhance your credibility with your peers, clients, and business partners, particularly when you are in the early stages of your career. Acquiring the knowledge necessary to pass the exams leading to the certification will also boost your own effectiveness and confidence level in your chosen field.
Insurance Designation and Certification Programs
There are now a large number of insurance designation programs to choose among from a variety of organizations (see Exhibit 1 for a partial listing). Generally speaking, each designation focuses on a body of knowledge and then tests the student on that knowledge. By completing the required curriculum and passing the related exams, the student earns the right to use and display the designation. Some programs have a mandatory CE component that must be fulfilled to maintain the designation. These programs can be loosely categorized as (1) generalist designation programs, (2) job-function-specific certifications, and (3) industry-specific certification programs.
The generalist insurance designation programs are not focused on one type of job function or industry. These tend to be more in-depth and rigorous than some of the other more specialized designations. Instead of being specific to, for example, claims, underwriting, risk management, or insurance sales, they provide broad exposure to all aspects of insurance. In the property and casualty (P&C) insurance industry, the two most recognized and prestigious designations are Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) and Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC). In the life and health industry, the two most recognized designations are probably Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) and Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS).
The second category of insurance certification programs focuses on the education needs of a particular type of job function, such as insurance sales, insurance claims, insurance underwriting, or risk management. There are a great many of these programs available, with some of the most well-known P&C programs being the following.
Accredited Adviser in Insurance (AAI)
Associate in Claims (AIC)
Associate in Reinsurance (ARe)
Associate in Risk Management (ARM)
Certified Insurance Service Representative (CISR)
Certified Risk Manager (CRM)
The third category of risk and insurance certification programs focuses on the risk and insurance needs of an industry rather than an insurance industry job function. Examples of these programs include the following.
Agribusiness and Farm Insurance Specialist (AFIS)
Associate in Risk Management for Public Entities (ARM-P)
Certified School Risk Manager (CSRM)
Construction Risk and Insurance Specialist (CRIS)
Energy Risk and Insurance Specialist (ERIS)
Transportation Risk and Insurance Professional (TRIP)
The choice between which designation to pursue is a personal one that should consider the following.
Your current position
Your short-term and long-term career goals
Your level of education
Your current knowledge level
Your sense of urgency about getting certified
If you are already working in the industry, you should certainly consider your current position in selecting a program, particularly if your career goals have you continuing in the same field. For instance, if you are a risk analyst in a risk management department and plan to stay in risk management, it may make the most sense to take the ARM or CRM program. Alternatively, if you are a risk analyst for a construction company or energy company, you may consider taking the CRIS or ERIS program. On the other hand, if you aren't necessarily committed to staying in risk management or within the specific industry on which you currently focus, it may make more sense to pursue one of the more prestigious and broader general programs (i.e., CPCU or CIC).
If your career goals are such that you anticipate making vertical and horizontal moves within a larger organization or with various different organizations, you may be best served by taking one of the general designation programs, such as CPCU. This would be particularly true if you see yourself one day moving up through the management and executive ranks. With nine college-level courses to complete, the CPCU program is the most rigorous in the P&C industry and requires passing courses on accounting, finance, and business law. This knowledge will be very helpful in your career, but these courses are challenging, and the process of acquiring the designation is usually lengthy (i.e., 5 years).
Your level of education and current knowledge of insurance can also impact your decision-making. For example, if you are currently in (or recently graduated from) a business school and majoring in insurance, you would be wise to match up the CPCU courses with your university curriculum and pass as many as you can while in school (or shortly after graduation). In particular, get the accounting, finance, and business law courses out of the way. You can then complete the program once you enter the workplace. On the other hand, if you did not major in business, you may be wise to start with one of the less rigorous and lengthy programs and consider CPCU or CIC once you've moved further along in your career. Similarly, if you are already working in a particular segment of the industry and have accumulated knowledge in your field as a result, you may consider taking a related job function or industry-specific designation.
Lastly, your sense of urgency about acquiring a certification will come into play. If you have a desire to quickly acquire a certification to build your credibility, you should opt for one of the shorter specialty designations as opposed to the longer general designations. Alternatively, the longer general designation programs may make more sense if you're already established in your career and are in no hurry to obtain the certification.
Insurance is a knowledge business, and rapidly acquiring superior knowledge of the fundamentals and nuances of the business is one way to set yourself apart from the other risk professionals who are competing with you for clients or promotions. You can do this by embracing continuous learning, following a CE plan, and obtaining one or more insurance industry designations.
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