With remote work becoming the norm due to the coronavirus pandemic, some insurance industry professionals might be left wondering how they can advance their careers in this new environment. At the Private Risk Management Association’s (PRMA) 2020 Virtual Summit, this very question came up during the panel, “Advancing Your Career Virtually,” where insurance leaders came together to address how they have pivoted their careers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the panel, some professionals have implemented new strategies during the crisis to become more valuable insurance advisors to their clients, while also broadening their skillsets.
“Prior to March of this year, I was usually not involved in the day-to-day of servicing accounts. Since the explosion of the pandemic, however, this has dramatically changed,” explained Tim Madden, personal and commercial lines producer at Honig Conte Porrino Insurance Agency, based in Manhattan, NY. “This came about with my desire to want to go beyond the generic, mass distribution email campaigns that were going on, or by shooting one-off emails to my clients with vague questions, asking them simply, ‘how are you doing?’”
As both a commercial and personal lines producer, Madden decided that the best way to support clients amid the pandemic was to set up telephone calls and video meetings, with the objective of informing insureds about premium relief options, and what would happen to their policy if they reduced their payrolls and estimated sales for the remainder of the year. This task proved to be “quite a chore,” considering that the New York Department of Financial Services was heavily involved with policies and procedures on how to deal with premium relief, but the work paid off.
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“Being in the trenches of this type of service work was really appreciated, both by my commercial clients and the centers of influence who had referred me to them, and this made for an excellent opportunity to cross-sell personal lines for those customers, who we weren’t the broker of record for,” said Madden. “Although at first, getting knee-deep into the service side of the business was outside of my comfort zone, it paid dividends for growing the volume of accounts, building strong relationships with my network, and becoming more of a well-rounded insurance professional.”
Other insurance professionals may have switched careers before or during the pandemic hit, putting them in the unique position of having to learn the ropes at a new company, while dealing with the challenges that COVID-19 introduced. That was the case for Susan Muston, today the sales program director at AIG, who transitioned from her position as a producer to working for a carrier at the start of the year. At the PRMA summit, she gave advice to others who may have pivoted in their roles during this time.
“My team and I definitely had to pivot – we had to think outside the box and be creative in shifting our live sales program to an interactive virtual format, and we wanted to offer a valuable educational series,” she explained. “We wanted to not only educate our brokers and keep them engaged, but we wanted to differentiate ourselves from our competitors – at first, it seemed like a daunting task.”
Over a short period of time, Muston and her team had to learn how to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” What that meant for the AIG leader was that she had to learn to quickly embrace change and become proactive, instead of reactive.
“I had to become familiar with using technology to convert our live courses to virtual, using a webinar tool that I had absolutely no experience with, so I dedicated my free time to educating myself,” said Muston. “I was [also] confident in asking questions to clarify what needed to be done, and I reached out to find colleagues who could mentor me and help guide me through that learning curve. But most importantly, I showed up willing to learn and willing to help.”
Providing services to clients hasn’t been the only area of focus for insurance leaders during the pandemic. Firms have also had to learn how to maintain relationships among their staff members and ensure that a spirit of teamwork could continue, despite people primarily working from home.
“A great way that we found to do this was to modify our one-to-one or small group meetings, which we previously would have held in person, and now those are shared together by maybe ordering a takeout meal from the same place,” noted Christen Losey-Gregg, principal of Losey Insurance and Financial Services, based in Baton Rouge, LA. “This provides an opportunity for us to have candid and transparent conversation on things evolving outside of the workplace due to the pandemic or strategize on ways to further ideas and goals. We also found that it reinforces our leadership’s role as a resource to staff who aren’t working in the same space.”
As the coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, leading people to make more permanent career decisions, like relocating to entirely new areas, one panelist offered tips for insurance professionals who hope to maintain contact with their networks of influence as they make such changes. One of the pieces of advice was to continue meeting with contacts virtually through fun events, like wine and cheese evenings.
“The second piece of advice is to get familiar with the underwriting risks for the areas of the country that your referral partners are moving to,” said Madden. “Just because they’re no longer in your community or in your region, that doesn’t mean you have to stop doing business together.”