Back to School: Staying Ahead of the Insurance Learning Curve

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This article was first published in Pulse Magazine, a Pennsylvania Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (PAMIC) publication. The author, Tim Foy, a December 2016 The University of Olivet graduate of the MBA program, is employed by Beazley Group in Philadelphia, as part of the Specialty Lines Treaty Team specializing in Embedded Products: Cyber/Data Breach, EPL and Pollution Solutions. The below view are his personal views and not those of The University of Olivet or the Beazley Group, though Beazley does support industry education.


At various industry events I often hear speakers pose the question, “How many of you planned to be in insurance?” Usually a chuckle breaks out, and a show of hands demonstrates that many of the audience accidentally landed in the business.

Another question often asked, is the age banding of the audience. The demographics are changing throughout the industry and companies are scrambling to fill the knowledge gap. However, here are questions I have not heard at industry events, “How many years ago, did you earn your last formal degree?” and “How many years ago did you complete a certificate/designation program?” From my personal conversations with industry professionals most had earned their formal degrees over 20 years ago and if they had earned a designation it was over 10 years ago. However, it is interesting to note that much of the insurance and reinsurance world do not require insurance licensing/CE of their employees.

Does anyone think that the degree and advanced degree received 20+ years ago is relevant? Most would agree that we are in a new age of information and it is time to ask how employers and employees should respond.

About five years ago I realized I had an interest in pursuing a master’s degree. How could I fit that goal into an existing work-family balance that was already under stress? I found myself listening to Bill Gates on his view of the future environment of higher learning, and to no surprise the learning process included technology where instructors and professors deliver their lectures from live and recorded formats from accredited higher learning institutions across the country and world.


Realizing Your Educational Goals

While I was thinking through my personal and educational needs I decided to attend a CPCU Annual Meeting where Boston University, Quinnipiac University and The University of Olivet were scheduled to exhibit.

As I researched the differences between the programs, The University of Olivet had dedicated resources with the advantage of being able to attend from the office, home, or a hotel. Their courses are designed to have the feeling of a traditional class lecture, interactions and power points. This quickly became a deciding factor because I could attend via computer wherever there was Wi-Fi.

The University of Olivet, founded in 1844 in southwest Michigan, is known for their undergraduate Insurance and Risk Management Program, which competes in projects against: Temple, Georgia, FSU, SJU etc. This small liberal arts school, a fraction of the size in comparison is delivering an MBA program that fits today’s working world.

How much would a program like this cost? I found that in comparison to other universities Olivet is a very affordable option for an MBA program, and it encompasses many insurance case studies and projects, whereas many generic MBA programs do not.

So, I applied in late 2012 and began my journey in January 2013.


Beginning Again: Return to the Classroom

Olivet had pre-class learning to test my equipment: computer speeds, band width Wi-Fi, video signals and audio. Were there any challenges using the technology? Yes, for example, I was at the beach for vacation in the summer and my internet connection froze. I quickly packed up my computer and ran to the lobby in search of an internet connection. Luckily, I managed to continue the course with only a few strange stares from hotel guests who assumed I was talking to myself instead of an online classroom.

My daughter was 4 when I began and she would ask me the question, “When do you finish learning, Dad? Does this go on forever?” She wondered when I would have more time to play, instead of giving her the “hush” sign from the dining room table as I concentrated on a three-and-a-half-hour live class.

As most guess, the answer to my daughter was, we never stop learning. This answer applies to everyone, especially if our formal degree was earned many years ago. It may be time for a refresh to keep us competitive for our employers and for ourselves.

On a weekly basis, I spent 12 to 18 hours preparing for presentations, papers and exams. If you choose to enroll in formal courses then plan on integrating studying into existing work, travel and family calendars.

One example of integration came when I found I could use downtime to study in an empty conference room while my daughter participated in swim practice at the YMCA.

Regarding the quality of education, I had professors who worked in the industry and assigned challenging work based on their experience. Lessons taught from real life situations were the most valuable from my perspective.

I had the opportunity to work on a case study that detailed the process of establishing an insurance company from scratch. The professor used his experience to take us through starting a company, creating a board, finding capital, reinsurance support, filings with insurance departments, appointing agents and growing the business plan.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Olivet. Although, I would suggest that professionals interested in returning to school take the time to understand their work-life balance when picking a program that works best for them.


Conclusion and Next Steps

As professionals, we must stay current with our education, as it stimulates our brain and resets the clock on how we think. We can’t stop technology from changing, however, we can control our willingness to learn and make a commitment to earn another degree utilizing technology.

Where will you be 2 to 4 years from now? Is pursuing another degree something that you should, and want to do? Does your life permit the traditional classroom approach? Or do you need flexibility due to business travel and family commitments?

Learning is a lifelong venture and we need to take hold of the opportunities to improve our education and professional capabilities if our industry hopes to thrive well into the future.


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