Insurance offers exciting career options, say industry leaders

Dec. 2, 2019 - Wendy Martin

This November, Dean Ed Grier and Risk and Insurance Studies Center (RISC) Director Tim Cook welcomed dozens of regional insurance leaders and students to the VCU School of Business for the annual RISC Industry Leaders Breakfast.

“A lot of the momentum for our Center comes from outside Snead Hall,” Grier said, “We seek out help from executives like you – leaders in the industry – who are seeing what’s happening outside of the School of Business and influences our curriculum and students.  When we do that, our students come back to you as great employees.”

Industry leaders endorse RISC program & students

Throughout the program, industry leaders endorsed the RISC program and its students.

“The RISC program helps students differentiate themselves in a competitive hiring environment,” said Ben Pully, senior vice president of Specialty Underwriting for Kinsale Insurance. “RISC students are very well prepared. They know the lingo, ask pertinent questions and can talk eye-to-eye with interviewers about all facets of the industry. It’s impressive. Kinsale has hired several employees from the RISC program in recent years. It’s refreshing to have this program right here in town and we appreciate our partnership with VCU.”

Amanda Huang is chief operating officer with Continental Underwriters, a small wholesale and managing general underwriter that got its start seven years ago in Richmond.

“Richmond has become an insurance mecca,” she said. “VCU students come out of school with so many options and opportunities. We’re constantly impressed by these students. We have 19 employees right now and eight are VCU graduates.”

Insurance industry “not vanilla” says successful student

Participants also heard from Brad Carroll, an RMI student set to graduate in December. “I thought I wanted to go into business administration or corporate finance,” he recalls. Then he met Tim Cook who educated him about opportunities in insurance (watch RISC video) as well as the RISC program’s impressive, five-year job placement rate of 100 percent.

“The program opened my eyes and helped me find a passion for something I previously had little interest in. Risk isn’t just home, life and auto. It’s not vanilla. It’s much more complex than it seems.” In the end, he chose to work as an hourly employee with Virtue Risk Partners representing five types of coverage and will become salaried when he graduates in December.

What industry leaders look for in a candidate

As the breakfast concluded, JenniLee Crocker, managing director and corporate leader for Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., for Marsh, expressed a desire to “switch up” her company’s recruiting to include VCU candidates. “We should be hiring from here,” she said.

“Resilience is the key characteristic I look for when hiring,” she noted. “We only get calls when bad things happen. There is a new risk every day – wildfires, cyber breaches, environmental problems, terrorism. Insurance is ever-changing and our people need to be tremendous multitaskers.”

Like Crocker, Glenn Harris, managing director of business development at Markel, also serves on the RISC Advisory Council. “We work in a problem-solving business and it’s a unique industry in that it’s the only industry that sells a product that people buy and hope they never use.”

Markel employs dozens of VCU alumni as well as students. “Students in VCU’s program obtain valuable insurance acumen prior to their first day working in the field. They balance that with soft skills – the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with others. Technology is making rapid advances in our industry, but it’s still a people business.”

Jeff Parker, vice president of Human Resources & Risk Management with Lansing Building Products views his role on the RISC Advisory Council as helping to perpetuate the industry. “Some young people have a perception that insurance is boring. But, in fact, it is incredibly diverse, demographically, and the areas you can concentrate in are so widely varied.

“This isn’t just a job. It’s a job where you can be comfortable and have a life too. There are so many options. If you like working prospects, then be an agent. Want to be on the road? Do loss control and go out and investigate. If you are insanely smart, become an actuary. That’s one of the best and most respected jobs in America.”

What’s next for the program

2020 will mark a year of transition for RISC. When Tim Cook retires in December, his role will be shared by Robert Taylor, executive director of VCU’s Kornblau Real Estate Program, Manu Gupta, chair of the Finance Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) department.

“Going forward, our goal is two pronged,” Gupta told industry leaders. “We want to produce more skilled and capable students for your workforce, and we want to produce more of them. We plan to change our curriculum to provide students with next-generation skills like data analysis. We also offer a bachelor’s in Finance with a concentration in RMI which should help us attract more students. We currently offer a bachelor’s in Financial Technology with a concentration with actuarial sciences.”

VCU also plans to host the fourteenth annual RISC Trends Conference on March 10, 2020. The 2019 conference was the largest and most successful to date, attracting 250 attendees and nearly 30 sponsors. “It was a stellar event,” said Cook. “We had very interesting speakers on highly applicable topics and attendees enjoyed the ability to meet industry peers.”