Insurance Industry Professionals Share Insights

From left, Dr. David Whidbee and Greg Ness

Business students with a passion for investigation, discovery, and helping others may find the insurance industry a good career fit, according to several insurance professionals who shared advice and expertise at recent lectures hosted by the Carson College Department of Finance and Management Science.

Greg Ness (’79 Psy.), chairman, president and chief executive officer of StanCorp Financial Group and its largest subsidiary, Standard Insurance Company (The Standard) gave the 25th annual Walton Lecture. He spoke on the topic of the science and strategy of risk mitigation in the insurance industry.

“Risk is fundamental to the insurance industry,” he said. “Risk mitigation is unique in a way—we don’t sell anything tangible, but we are selling a promise to people. It’s the crux of the interaction between the customers and the firm that becomes the ‘product.’”

Workforce changes impact insurance strategies

Ness said risk mitigation strategy reduces the likelihood of impact and informs insurers where to invest time and resources. One risk category of growing concern is cyber security. The Standard spends millions paying hackers to breach its systems to see what areas need to be strengthened, he said.

The investment landscape is another big area of concern. The Standard disburses billions on small mortgage and commercial property loans, Ness said. He also identified artificial intelligence as an emerging insurance risk category that will pose new challenges. “We don’t know yet what the risks are for workers who will be repairing robots and technology,” he said. “Changes in the workforce impact how we insure.”

Ness advised students interested in risk management to start thinking about how to use risk to their advantage. “Try new things, continue to be curious, and find good mentors,” he said. “I’ve had 15 different jobs in the 30 years I’ve been with the company.”

From left, Kathy Hoiness, Yvonne Obeng-Curwood, Carla Pittman, Greg Lagreid

Company culture, DNA to be considered in career search

During Insurance Industry Professionals Night, six panelists spoke about the diverse opportunities and rewarding aspects within the insurance industry. Two panelists with long-term careers, Carla Pittman, (’86 Crim. Jus.) claims operations and program manager, PEMCO, and Jody Wilson, agency vice president, COUNTRY Financial, explained why they are passionate about their careers.

“The insurance industry is really broad,” said Pittman, who also emceed the event. “It’s a fascinating business.”

“I hope the culture and DNA of a company are a huge consideration for you,” Wilson said. “I wanted a career with a company in which I could make a difference in the lives of others; for me, this is a passion multiplier. Helping others is the genesis of COUNTRY Financial and why I have stayed with the company for 28 years.”

Wilson said as baby boomers head toward retirement, it will create the largest transfer of wealth in human history as well as a huge demand for insurance professionals to help with preretirement savings and post retirement wealth.

Insurance industry offers niche for any major

Panelists Yvonne Obeng-Curwood and Tyrus Sanders shared their experiences working in the different sectors of Geico. The company is unique in that everyone starts at the bottom to build character and moves up as they grow and develop within the company: Geico’s CEO started in the mailroom 56 years ago.

Obeng-Curwood, claims director, started with Geico 13 years ago as a property manager in New York, advancing in responsibility each year. “Insurance is very ‘sexy’ to me because there are so many intricate pieces and opportunities,” she said.

Sanders, regional college recruiter, said there is a niche in the insurance industry for students in any major. He has a background in hospitality and was introduced to Geico through a neighbor who worked there. Sanders started in claims before taking a recruiter position; both positions utilize his hospitality training in customer service and relationship building skills.

Connections matter

Panelist Kathy Hoiness, Northwest managing director, has worked for Travelers Insurance for 26 years. She underscored the value of making connections. “It’s about who you know,” she said.” Introduce yourself or have someone introduce you to company employees.” Travelers has a goal to create meaningful internships and will end up hiring students in a variety of majors—mostly finance, business, communication, and marketing—but also in biology and other sciences.

From left, Jody Wilson with Kathy Hoiness and Yvonne Obeng-Curwood

Greg Lagreid (’09 Fin.), global risk manager, Pyrotek Inc., shared examples of how networking led to something bigger in his career experience. He was introduced to the insurance industry while working as an intern at the YMCA in greater Seattle. When an opportunity opened there, he began working as a safety and risk management director, building a professional network and reputation in that sector.

In just a couple of years, Lagreid was recruited for a risk analyst position by Esterline Technologies Corporation, a global manufacturer of engineered products in aerospace, defense, and technology markets. This career building experience set him up for his current role with Pyrotek, a systems design and consulting service for customers in the aluminum industry. “There are lots of things you can do in the insurance industry,” he said. “I’ve traveled the world, working on exciting products. The industry is always changing, so further your education whenever you get a chance.”