40 Very Unique Years in Insurance

Full disclosure, it was 39 years and three weeks in reinsurance. But let me back up a minute. I didn’t go straight off to college after high school. I was in a band and had a dream of being a rock star. A couple of years later, after playing mostly in local bars, I went back to school. I actually helped finance school by playing in bars and coffee houses near my college. By the time I was a junior I found a few other musicians at the school and we formed another band. I continued playing with my new band for a couple of years after graduation, still trying to become a rock star.  I supplemented my income by trying my hand as a car salesman (I really wasn’t very good at it. Those who know me may get a laugh as the dealership owner told me I wasn’t pushy enough).

As it has dawned on so many with a similar dream and the rent due, it was time to get a real job. I turned to the want ads in my local newspaper. At this point, I had never heard of “reinsurance.”

With my college degree in hand, my first position in the reinsurance industry was three months spent as a temporary worker. In November 1979, I was offered a full time position as a file clerk and set about to making the smooth transition from budding rock star  – where work never started before 8:00 p.m. and usually came with free alcoholic beverages – to reinsurance.

In rather rapid succession, I was promoted to an information clerk, a rater and then as the New York City branch administrator with a staff of over 20.

If I’m being honest, I still didn’t think I’d be with the company for more than two years. After all, it was the “insurance industry” and the transition, as you may have guessed, did not seem all that smooth.

After a few years in NYC, I was transferred back to the home office administration (a division that no longer exists) and did a short stint in Contracts and finally the Programs Department (a department that no longer exists having been absorbed into Treaty).

By way of background, I’ve always been interested in environmental protection and wildlife conservation. So, I would often read about the effects of pollution, toxins, etc. While working in the Program Department, I believe in 1984, I found my personal interests and my career converging.

The emerging issues of the day (although they were not called “emerging issues” at the time) were pollution, largely due to courts in many states refusing to uphold the intent of the sudden and accidental pollution exclusion found in General Liability policies, and asbestos exposure resulting in illness.

I wrote a memo (we didn’t have e-mail yet) discussing how the CDC’s plan to lower the blood lead level in children deemed harmful would result in more plaintiffs, litigation and claims for the P/C insurance industry. This memo made it to the company’s Chief Underwriter – who tossed it on my desk and told me to write another. I wrote about the potential impact of the greenhouse effect. It wasn’t called climate change yet. I had yet to learn that while it was good to be out front, 20 years might have been too far out front for an industry that primarily looked backwards.

Once again the Chief Underwriter was at my desk, my memo in hand. He said “You’re doing this full time from now on.” As he walked away, I asked “Doing what, exactly?” He just continued back to his office. There would be no guidance. I didn’t realize it at the time but he gave me quite a gift. He let me create the position. I had a full time job looking forward, monitoring issues that underwriters may not have been considering in their risk analysis and pricing, and that may not have been addressed by existing policy language. Issues that could come back and bite the industry hard, particularly as most business was being written on an occurrence basis and with courts in many states allowing limits stacking over policy years.

At first I focused on issues that would likely impact GL and Commercial Umbrella policies (e.g. judicial reformation of the absolute pollution exclusion and other policy defenses, construction defects/faulty workmanship coverage actions, silica exposure, and electromagnetic fields exposure-and yes, I’m aware that last one hasn’t developed much – yet).

Over time, the job grew to include monitoring issues for all lines of business.  It’s only in the last few years we began calling them “emerging issues” (although others have used the terms “emerging risks” or “emerging exposures.”)

It hasn’t always been easy to convince insurers to take action, given market conditions, possible growth targets and a preference for wanting to see data. For emerging issues with latency potential, this could, however, leave insurers with 10 to 20 years of policy limits exposed.

The position turned into one that required writing client publications to educate our clients on the issues they had yet to see in their results, and offer suggestions as to ways, given their differing books of business and risk appetite, they might address these issues. Over the coming years, I would write over 200 client publications and blogs.

The position also evolved into giving client and industry presentations. It didn’t take long to realize that my position was rather unique in the P/C insurance industry. In later years, I was giving 30-40 presentations annually. Presentations could be in depth on a single emerging issue or a dozen emerging issues. Some could be as short as 45 minutes and some were four hours. I gave these presentations all over the U.S. as well as in Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, Australia, and many countries in Europe.

It’s been widely reported that public speaking is one of the most frightening things for a significant percentage of people.  As it turned out, my original career aspirations prepared me for public speaking. If one could be in front of an audience singing, where one has to think about being on tune, keeping tempo and using vocal dynamics, well,  just talking in front of people was not at all scary – as long as I knew the subject matter.

After 30 years, we were monitoring nearly 200 emerging issues including: autonomous vehicles, exposure to nanomaterials, vaping and e-cigarettes, marijuana and cyber attacks that could result in actual property damage and/or bodily injury.

I mentioned that originally I didn’t think I’d stay in the industry more than two years but that was before I found my passion. Being an emerging issues officer gave me the opportunity to study how scientific and medical advancements, technology, changing social mores, new regulations and litigation could all impact society, the P/C industry, our clients and our company, and it allowed me to always learn about new things and travel the world.  When I started back in 1979, I couldn’t imagine I’d be so happy with how it all turned out.

For those just starting out, find your interest and develop your expertise. You might be happily surprised where you can go.

About Charlie Kingdollar

Vice President and Emerging Issues Officer at Gen Re

2 thoughts on “40 Very Unique Years in Insurance”

  1. Thanks Charlie – I enjoyed reading and am grateful for the valuable knowledge you’ve shared with me over the decades.

  2. Charlie, our paths are remarkably similar. I was in a band in college. The closest thing to fame was the time we were asked to open a 5-band charity concert headlined by Styx and REO Speedwagon. (We didn’t, but that’s another story.) NOW, I’m in a band again preparing for our public debut a week from tomorrow…after I spend a week in Kansas doing insurance seminars.

    I was an engineering major on an ISO/predecessor scholarship and worked for ISO for 15 years after graduation. Like you, I got noticed writing analyses of various issues that put me on a management fast track. But my heart was in education (my original plan pre-scholarship was to be a high school math and science teacher) and I left to teach and write and ultimately create the Big “I” Virtual University where, like you, I created my own job.

    At the end of 2016, I retired after 28 years working for independent agents at the state and national level of the Big “I” and started blogging at http://www.InsuranceCommentary.com where I can say anything I want and not have to be overly concerned about violating McCarran-Ferguson. AND, after an absence of 45 years, I’m pursuing my love of playing music.

    When I left the Big “I” I wrote an article for their magazine about developments in my now almost 50 year career. I’ll see if the InsNerds are interested in sharing it.

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