From the February 2012 issue of Claims Magazine •Subscribe!

Speaking Of: Education-Driven Business Results

With Donna J. Popow, Sr. Director of Knowledge Resources and Ethics Counsel, The Institutes

The 80/20 rule is a common saying in insurance. It refers to the theory that about 20 percent of insureds generate 80 percent of claims. When dealing with too many “worst case scenarios,” however, claims professionals can develop a myopic view of insureds. This is where formal and hands-on learning come into play. Donna J. Popow, Esq., CPCU, AIC, explains how education helps cultivate a better understanding of claims handling and the business overall. She also says that striking a balance between hectic workloads and professional development is easier than one might think.

Claims professionals often report being overworked. How attainable is education and specialized training in this pressure cooker environment?
I started in claims in 1977 and I don’t think a year went by that we weren’t complaining of being overworked. Having said that, I do think the change in the way claims are handled has put an increased burden on file handlers in terms of file documentation and additional reporting and data entry work. So I can empathize with overworked claims personnel and acknowledge that companies are doing more with less. It is always debatable as to whether claims organizations have ample resources.

There is no doubt that they’re busy. Claims professionals have to make a decision about continuing education, whether that means license requirements, requirements of the job, or their own professional development.

So you are saying that development falls into essentially three distinct groups?
Yes. It’s common for insurers to build in a professional development plan in an employee’s performance review. The bottom line is that if you have any ambition in making insurance a career, you are going to have to find the time to do this so hopefully you and your employer can come to an agreement as to when that time will be reserved. For instance, you may need to find a way to carve out two hours of study time with the employer giving the student one hour from work and the student giving up one hour of free time, say at lunch.

Why is the need for development arguably more pronounced in our profession?
Claims professionals have to keep learning because the environment is constantly changing. Case law and building standards must evolve, and those affect how we interpret the terms of each policy and then apply coverage. For example, consider ‘green construction.’ That represents a whole different line of thinking when replacing portions of a structure or rebuilding.

Does formal education offer a professional advantage compared to hands-on field training?
I think that there is a need—and also time—for both types of training. A claims professional must be a "jack of all trades." Informal training could mean having lunch with a law firm to learn about case law developments that will help you do your job better. With that said, if you have any ambition for upward movement in your company, then formalized education is a must.

Specialized or more formal training equips you with expanded business acumen. By their nature, claims people tend to focus entirely on the claims world. However, you will get a broader view of the industry through education. In turn, this makes you a more valuable employee. A formal program, assuming that you have picked an area in which you are either currently involved or should be, will increase your technical competency.

Formal education for any insurance professional will position that individual and, by extension, the employer to be more competitive. If an independent adjusting firm can say that 95 percent of their staff have an associate in claims designation from the Institutes, then that is a clear metric. An employer can point to this, and their clients should see that those people are making a concerted effort to stay on top of things. Also, education gives you a better understanding of global issues that impact insurance both today and in the future. Continuing education is clearly a high-value proposition.

How might all of this play out in the hiring process?
It may be difficult to initially evaluate knowledge gained in the field. People falsify resumes all the time. In my personal experience, the certification or designation is often the tie breaker between equally qualified individuals. So if an insurer is evaluating two candidates that are equally qualified in terms of experience, that certification or designation may be just enough to tip the scales in one’s favor.

Are there modes that facilitate learning for Millennials specifically?
There has been a lot of talk about Millennials. The bottom line is this: today’s workers, regardless of the age group, only have a limited amount of time to devote to education, and so education providers must listen to what those people are telling them. For example, claims folks always say they want highly portable material. So we have gone to more online presentation and even there we are packaging it in smaller more digestible chunks so that an adjuster stuck in an airport with a 45-minute delay might be able to go through one module during that time period. That is the beauty of online content. It is reacting to what customers tell us they want.

These days, training is geared to how people actually work and how they find the time to pursue professional growth. At The Institutes, courses are typically oriented toward laptop and desktop learning. Our online courses are Flash-based and will run on devices that support Flash. We put the information into more manageable units. If that employee says he or she can only manage one hour, then I know he or she can complete a specific module during that time. We have a mobile app for our SMART online practice exams. We offer SMART QuizMe Review apps for each of our CPCU courses—500, 520, 530, 540, 551, 552, 553, 555, and 557. Versions are available for purchase for use on both iPhone and Android.

Is classroom training going the way of the dinosaur?
I don’t think classroom instruction is going away but what we will find is that it is reserved for certain types of topics that require more hands-on learning. You can learn a lot online but when you are standing in a burned building with a tape measure, it is a bit different.

There is value in learning in a mockup of a damaged vehicle or house. Similarly, negotiation simulations are great for practice but you still need to get in there face-to-face, to read body language, watch eye movement and become attuned to the dynamics. In the high-end complex world of negotiation, this practice is of extraordinarily high value. There is a reason why we still have jury consultants and do mock trials in front of sample juries.

Also, when you look at attendance at conferences, there is still demand for classroom. Some content is more effectively delivered in a classroom setting. At the very least, this setting provides an opportunity to talk with others and get feedback.

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