Insuring the Future

0215insuringfuture

Center for Insurance and Risk Management helps fuel the next generation of insurance industry specialists

Story by Rick Berg

 

For an industry steeped in actuarial data, the numbers are sobering: Every seven seconds, a Baby Boomer turns 60.

Within the next 15 years, 50 percent or more of the insurance industry workforce will retire. In Wisconsin alone, that means more than 40,000 actuaries, underwriters and other insurance industry personnel will need to be replaced. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that insurance industry staffing needs will grow by more than 20 percent by 2020. All that adds up to a potentially crippling shortfall in staffing needs for an industry that contributes about 5 percent – more than $12 billion – to Wisconsin’s gross state product. For a state that ranks among the top 5 nationally in the number of insurance companies and employment, those numbers can’t be ignored.

This doesn’t come as breaking news to insurance industry executives in the New North, home to several of the largest insurance companies in the state, including Secura Insurance in Appleton, Jewelers Mutual in Neenah, Society Insurance in Fond du Lac and Thrivent Financial in Appleton, among others. They have seen the personnel shortfall coming for years. Along with staff from New North Inc., they began discussing ways to fill the talent gap almost a decade ago.

“Secura has had a long history of wanting UW-Oshkosh to create an insurance-related program,” said Garth Wicinsky, vice president of human resources at Secura. “Knowing how much of an economic impact the industry has in Wisconsin, coupled with the fact that the industry provides very good careers, we approached former UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells years ago to sell him on the value of an insurance program.”

Wells and other educators at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh were listening. Starting in 2008, with finance professor Scott Beyer helping to lead the way, the university created the Center for Risk Management and Insurance. The Center is supported by Secura, Jewelers Mutual, Society Insurance and Thrivent, as well as Sentry Insurance in Stevens Point and Church Mutual in Merrill. Those six companies provide financial support and also serve as an advisory council.

Rapid growth

The first class of 12 students enrolled in the center’s insurance and risk management program in 2009. The program has grown rapidly, with 136 students enrolled since 2009. The 2014-15 academic year has seen the most rapid growth, with 34 new students enrolled.

“The trend has definitely been upward,” said Beyer, who now serves as executive director of the center. “There’s such a universe of career opportunities because of all the people in the industry retiring and so many of those positions not being backfilled.”

To help meet the growing demand, the university added industry veteran Daniel Kugler last year to help lead the program. Kugler retired after 35 years in risk management at Snap-On Inc. to serve as director for the center.

Kugler had already been involved in risk management education through his work over the past 15 years as risk-manager in residence with the Spencer Foundation, and as an adjunct professor at Concordia University. It was at a Spencer Foundation function that Beyer and Kugler connected.

“I wasn’t looking for another opportunity because I enjoyed my work at Snap-On and at the foundation, but this seemed to be the next logical step,” Kugler said.

“Thanks to the financial support we have from the industry, we were very fortunate to be able to hire someone like (Kugler) to help take us to the next level,” Beyer said. “He has a great background and when I first talked to him I could see that he was hungry to come in here and help out. He told me, ‘I want to help grow something,’ so we’re very excited about that.”

“I’m very fortunate to be in this position, because I’ve seen for a long time the opportunities there are for students and the need in the industry, and this is something I see as very important for the industry,” Kugler said. “Really, I’ve been a lucky guy throughout my career. I have a passion for this industry and I want to help it grow.”

Industry-specific education

In the past, traditional business and finance education programs have provided much of the staffing needed by insurance companies and corporate risk management divisions. However, that educational background – which concentrated on capital markets and corporate finance – left out much of the specific expertise required for insurance industry positions such as actuaries and underwriters. With so many of those positions required to be filled today and in the future, there’s less time available for on-the-job training, according to industry executives.

“What has attracted our partners to support the program is that it compresses the time frame necessary for them to train new employees they bring on board,” Kugler said.

“We believe one of the benefits of having the insurance program is helping students understand there are very good career choices within the industry, and the specialized training will better prepare them for a career in the industry,” said Wicinsky of Secura Insurance.

UW-Oshkosh’s program is one of only a handful of insurance industry-specific programs in the United States. Others include Butler University (Indianapolis), Illinois State University, Indiana State University and Appalachian State University (Boone, N.C.).

The UW-Oshkosh Center’s programs offer minors in insurance and financial planning, as well as risk management and actuarial, with courses in principles of risk and insurance, commercial insurance and advanced risk management. With the support of its industry partners, the center also offers scholarships, grants and internships.

Kugler said the industry-specific education is only part of the value of programs like the one at UW-Oshkosh.

“Programs like ours also help develop students who will have a true passion for the industry,” Kugler said. “We bring in risk managers and insurance people from other organizations to speak with the students so they can begin to see what these jobs are really all about. So, the insurance companies know that when they hire these students, they’re not only getting well-educated employees, but also people who have an understanding of, an interest in, and a passion for the industry.”

Industry investment is the key

In addition to the six active partners on the advisory council, Beyer noted Acuity Insurance in Sheboygan and West Bend Mutual have also provided internship and instructional support.

“In a relatively short time, we’ve had a lot of success, and I credit a lot of that to the investment we’ve had from the industry,” Beyer said. “That has been a major driver. Beyond the financial assistance they provide, they also give us direction and feedback to make sure we’re meeting the industry’s needs.”

“We support the center, knowing that the center supports the entire industry and not just Secura,” Wicinsky said. “We believe it’s in our best interest to have a well-educated future workforce. A graduate from the college of business at UW-O comes out with an accredited business degree, and a well-rounded perspective. Further emphasizing the insurance industry within the curriculum helps the entire industry position itself for future success.”

“Because of the support we have from the industry, we can be assured that we’re aligned properly with what the industry needs,” Kugler said. “But, we can’t rest on our laurels. Now the devil is in the details and we have to continue to work very hard as we continue to expand awareness, build the program, and increase participation to be able to meet the workforce needs of the insurance industry.”

Rick Berg is a freelance writer and editor based in Green Bay.