Today we feature the story of our Co-Founder and Chief Editor Carly Burnham.
You’ve read a couple stories from friends of Insurance Nerds about why they love their insurance careers. Today, I will share the story of how I started off in the industry and two of the reasons I’ve come to love it.
Like many in the industry, I sort of fell into it. When I graduated from high school, I decided I wanted another part time job for the summer before going to college. A local Farmers Insurance agent was hiring an office assistant, and I applied and was hired. I was very lucky to be hired by an agent who truly believed in protecting her clients and educating them about their policies. Though I started out as a non-licensed employee, she took the time to teach me about the importance of coverage, front-line underwriting, and claims experience for her clients. I remember Farmers had introduced a new homeowner’s insurance product at the time that really improved the coverage for their policyholders, and one of my projects was to call each of our homeowner’s customers at renewal time and set an appointment for them to come in and talk to the agent about rewriting to improve their product. When the client came in, she would meet with them for half an hour or more and review the policy line by line, so they truly understood what changes were being made. I was impressed by how much she cared about each policyholder. After my first year of college, I needed to take some time off from school, and I began working full time at the agency. I got licensed, so I could act as a full-time Customer Service Representative, and after a couple years, I was promoted to Office Manager.
During my time working full time, I learned something new from the agent almost every day. It was a small agency, so I was able to experience all aspects of running the business, I was involved in operational decisions, I ran our website and social media presences (which were minimal at the time), I did some event planning, and the general day to day customer service. Eventually, I decided it was time to go back to school, and we hired more staff to help fill my shoes, so I could cut back to a 30 hour work week. Hiring new staff gave me the opportunity to help train them and share some of the knowledge that I had gained from working there. After six years of working at this agency, I chose to move out of my hometown to accompany my now-fiance to Des Moines, IA for medical school.
I was sad to leave the agency; I enjoyed having such a broad role and loved the people I worked with, including our clients. But, I thought moving to Des Moines might give me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and try to find my “true” career. I considered law school but decided against it as I read more and more articles at the time about how hard it was to make it financially with the student loans from law school. I accepted a position as a Customer Service Representative for a large national bank. I thought I would get the opportunity to really help customers and build relationships with them like I had at the agency. I quickly realized that this position was all about keeping your interactions as short as possible and trying to sell them additional products. This was not the right fit for me, so I started looking for roles where I could use the skills I had gained at the agency.
My producer’s license was still active, so a natural fit was looking at all the insurance companies in Des Moines. I accepted a role at Nationwide Insurance as a “Retention Agent.” In this role, I was responsible for doing account reviews for existing customers who were covered through Nationwide’s Direct Channel. I was thrilled to be back teaching people about their coverage and discussing a product I truly believed in-even if the fact that I typically spoke to these customers once and never heard from them again wasn’t quite the same as the long term relationships I had with customers at Farmers. This was also an interesting role because the office that I worked in housed all kinds of employees of Nationwide; claims adjusters, actuaries, underwriters, analysts, IT professionals, marketing professionals, and various others.
Yes, we know that’s Nationwide old logo but that’s the logo they at the time.
Like most insurance companies, Nationwide strongly supports its employees professional developments. During my time there, I was able to participate in an Associate Resource Group that allowed me to form relationships throughout the company even outside of the Des Moines office, complete my CPCU and my MBA, and go through an Emerging Leaders Program. I learned so much about the broader industry and about my professional ambitions during my time there. It was during this time that I realized I wanted to commit to the industry. I love working in insurance because there is always something new to learn, and generally, the companies support their employees in their pursuit of knowledge.
I also love that insurance is a promise to make a customer whole after a loss. When I was at the 2015 CPCU Annual Meeting, I had the pleasure to attend dinner with RMI students who are graduating in the next year. One of the students asked me if I felt like I was doing something worthwhile that was providing a helpful service to our customers. I was able to wholeheartedly say yes. I explained that at Erie Insurance, I work directly with our agents and don’t get to hear from our policyholders directly, but I can reflect on my time at Farmers and remember some of the stories I heard from customers about how grateful they were to have had insurance after a hailstorm, a burglary, or a car accident. And at Erie, if I ever needed inspiration, I could talk to any of our claims adjustors, and they’d have stories to tell. Another gentleman at the table was a 30 year veteran in the industry, and he said something that stuck with me “If you’re working at an insurance company, and you haven’t seen your coworkers cry discussing the impacts claims settlements have had, ask serious questions about the integrity of the company.” It resonated with me because I can say that I have had that experience at each of the three companies I’ve worked for, and I can proudly say that even though I’ve never served in claims, those messages have been shared and are understood by the sales and underwriting staff that I have worked with.
At InsNerds.com, we spend a lot of time talking about why insurance is a great choice for a career and how to do well and educate yourself. But, at the end of the day, Tony and I both believe that the industry also supports our economy and the policyholders in important and beneficial ways. We strongly believe that educating yourself serves the clients well, and this is one of the reasons that we think it is so important, beyond the fact that it will promote your career. I look forward to building a career in this industry, and I’m grateful that I started in an agency that truly cared about its clients.