“Being an insurance claims professional is a noble profession,” says Stephen Hunckler, Chief Claims Operations Officer at State Compensation Insurance Fund. “If you’re handling property claims, you’re helping people put their lives back together after a devastating loss.”
Each time I have the privilege of interviewing a chief claims officer, that message is reinforced. Not only is the claims resolution profession about helping others, but also it is a career with many interesting facets, offering a wide variety of career options.
As we close out the year, let’s review some of the thoughts these industry leaders have shared on topics ranging from advancing your career in claims resolution, challenges facing the industry, and transitioning into management.
“The advice I would give to people entering the claims industry now would be to look for ways to expose themselves to new areas of claims handling or new lines of business. That might mean putting your hand up to volunteer when new projects are announced, or suggesting new roles that maybe don’t exist yet in your company. I think that, in today’s world where claims can be more specialized, it is important for newer professionals to push themselves into areas outside their comfort zones. It is important to remain flexible and keep an eye out for opportunities.”—Becky Kenyon, Former Senior Vice President, Chief Claims Officer, Argo Group U.S. Years in the Industry: 30
“I think it’s absolutely crucial to keep yourself relevant. What I mean by that is that it really is important to keep abreast of the industry, regulatory changes, and legal decisions that impact your business and the types of claims with which you work. I also think it is crucial to learn about emerging issues, new products, and the legal and claims implications so that you are the ‘go to’ person.”—Carol Ann O’Dea, Executive Vice President and Chief Claims Officer, AXIS Reinsurance. Years in the Industry: 28
“My strongest advice would be to embrace the concept of professionalism in your job. Recognize that claims truly is a profession that requires an incredible amount of skill and training, and continual education really is important. Be curious constantly. When you see articles that relate to claims issues, read them. When you’re in the doctor’s office and have the choice between magazines, pick the one that can provide you with some technical information that you can apply to your job. Take every opportunity to demonstrate that you care for your position. Jump at every opportunity for education that you find. The Lancer motto is ‘The Difference Is Our Attitude.’ We encourage our staff to embrace this in many ways, including making every effort to constantly increase their knowledge of claims issues whenever the opportunity arises.”—Paul Berne, Senior Vice President and Chief Claims Officer. Lancer Insurance Company. Years in the Industry: 34
“Claims calls for some unique skills. The role itself includes being able to make a coverage determination and to provide appropriate investigation in the most efficient way possible. Claims professionals have to be able to deal with ambiguity and seek out answers that are not readily available. We look for individuals who can make decisions, prioritize, and who have functional skill sets, such as being able to write well and communicate clearly with people of different backgrounds. In some roles, like handling claims in the field, we look for the ability to work independently.”—Dave McNutt, Senior Vice President, Head of Claims, American Modern Insurance Group. Years in the Industry: 20
Challenges Facing the Industry
“Finding, hiring, and retaining talent is our biggest challenge. Getting out there and exposing students to the opportunities that exist in claims is important. As an industry, we’ve highlighted the underwriting career path; now we need to focus on promoting the claims career path. While the business of insurance doesn’t sound exciting on the face of it, the claims industry is exciting and fulfilling. We need to spread that message better. So often we see insurance and claims portrayed negatively in the media. As an industry, we have to highlight all the good that we do and the positive impact that we have on peoples’ lives.”—Michael McMyne, Senior Vice President and Chief Claims Officer, IFG Companies. Years in the Industry: 36
“Customers today have much higher expectations in terms of response time. Not only the pace, but also overall customer expectations have changed. For example, it’s easy now for claimants to do their own research and have their own expectations in terms of valuation. That can make the claims resolution process more challenging when a claimant’s research differs from reality.” — Tom Nelson, Vice President of Claims, Continental Western Group. Years in the Industry: 37
“Another big challenge is keeping up with the change. We began a big investment in claims transformation four years ago, but continuing to invest at a certain level to be able to continue to meet challenges is critical. What we started four years ago will be obsolete sooner than we want. Continuing to invest in change and balance that investment with the service we provide will continue to be a big challenge for the industry.” — Robert Bowers, National Claims Leader, Westfield Insurance. Years in the Industry: 27
Transitioning to Management
“In the beginning, I expected everyone to do things the way that I did. I quickly realized that much of the world is on a different clock than I am. Once you realize that people can accomplish things differently, you can coach and mentor them to be their best in their way, helping them to excel. I also learned how to communicate in various ways rather than expecting everyone to respond to my communication style. I think those are important lessons for all new managers.”—Vince Kellaher, Senior Vice President, Claims, Arch Insurance Group. Years in the Industry: 30+
“There is a need for more daring leadership within the industry. Leadership that challenges the status quo and includes a clear vision of a new path forward can rejuvenate a claims team and inspire great work. Willingness to make changes to entrenched departmental structures and empower new local leaders creates energy and focus and is a practice that should be taken up periodically by any organization, not just those within the insurance industry. An inspired claims staff is necessary to deliver the high-quality customer service found at the core of a successful claims department.”—David M. Siesko, Chief Claims Officer, Arch Insurance Group. Years in the Industry: 29
“When looking at potential employees, we tend to evaluate more from a personality perspective than a technical perspective. We’re looking for people who are interested in a career of helping people. We want enthusiasm and good listeners. We bring candidates in for an open house and show them videos of a day in the life of a claims professional. We like to show them the emotion of what it means to be in claims and how rewarding it can be.”—Rick Long, Senior Vice President, Claims, Western National Insurance Group. Years in the Industry: 31
“I’ve always been interested in process improvement, and at one point in my career, I took it upon myself to become formally educated on the topic. The strategies I learned on how to improve processes have been exceptionally useful. For example, Berkley Southeast Insurance Group is a newer W.R. Berkley company. We started this claims department and its processes from scratch, everything from claims workflow, vendor management, guidelines, and hiring. All of that could not have been done as well without the concepts of LEAN and Six Sigma. It’s a great example of how investing time and effort into learning something new can pay off down the road.”—Scott Jurek, Vice President of Claims, Berkley Southeast Insurance Group. Years in the Industry: 34
As we enter the holiday season, it is a wonderful time to celebrate the diversity and excitement of the claims industry. Having conducted more than 50 of these interviews with chief claims officers from across the industry, I have heard firsthand the passion they have for their people and the vision they have for the future of claims resolution. This is an exciting time for our industry as new technologies and new risks come into play.
We wish all of our readers a wonderful holiday season, and we’ll see you in 2016 with a new series of profiles of the industry’s top leadership.