Tag Archives: management

RIMS 2018: What Did I Learn?

I’ve lost count of the number of national RIMS (Risk & Insurance Management Society) conferences I have attended over the years, but I’m guessing it is around 20 or so. I always come away from the conference feeling a bit melancholy as I am reminded of how important the relationship aspect of this industry truly is and how much I enjoy hanging out with my friends in this crazy and wonderful industry. Here are a few key takeaways from my recent 2018 RIMS experience:

  1. Be well-read. I had the honor of joining Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg for lunch after he spoke at Chubb’s annual leadership luncheon. I am always impressed at his worldliness as he speaks on world affairs, American politics, challenges in business, and Chubb’s strategies. Given the plethora of misinformation out there these days, I asked him, “What do you read?” He responded that he reads three newspapers daily: The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times. He also reads The Economist each week. I have been pondering this ever since, as this is an area in which I can improve.
  2. Relationships are important. In this industry, people prefer to do business with people they know and trust. The purchase of insurance for a large publicly traded organization is an important two-way transaction: While I need to rely on my trading partners to be there if the crud hits the fan, they need to rely on me and my team to manage our risks the way we say we do to mitigate that potential. There is much at stake for both of us. Part of my process is to personally meet every underwriter in my portfolio, and to get to know well those who take on the most significant risk transfer. RIMS offers me an annual opportunity to nurture these relationships, and this is one of the aspects of my role that I enjoy the most.
  3. If you need something, ask. I had a need in my claims program that had not been addressed to my satisfaction. At RIMS I had the opportunity to state my case to senior management of an important trading partner, and within a few days my need was met. One important reason was the foundational relationship between our two organizations and us personally. See number 2 above.
  4. You own your program. We risk managers rely heavily on our brokers for coverage placement and addressing any issues or concerns that may arise. They are an incredibly important leg on this three-legged stool (broker, insurer, client), and I value their experience and expertise. Sometimes, however, we must take ownership of solving a problem, not because our partners are deficient, but because it is my problem; I have the greatest stake in seeing it addressed. See number 3 above.
  5. Never stop learning. I recently joined the Board of Houston’s RIMS chapter. Along with four other Board members, I attended a Sunday morning Chapter Leadership forum led by national RIMS. There was much discussion of the RIMS CRMP (Certified Risk Management Professional) designation. I had heard of it, but never explored it. You see, I am fairly seasoned in my career, I have a graduate degree, and I earned my ARM designation many years ago. “What’s the point,” has been my response to earning CRMP. The point is, retirement is several years out (God willing). I have much work yet to do and my organization deserves the most well-rounded professional I can be. And learning is fun. So I’m going for it.
  6. RIMS is worth supporting. The Chapter Leadership Forum offered the opportunity to learn from many very successful chapters from around the US and Canada. We have great people in Houston and we have a great Chapter but we can be better. I have gained much from my RIMS membership over the years and now it’s time to give back. I’m looking forward to working with my fellow Board members on several takeaways we gained in this session.
  7. Work hard, play hard. OK, it’s not really a takeaway. Those who know me well know how much I enjoy the social aspects of what we do for a living. Yes, it’s fun. But it is also very important. In these social settings, we get to know one another personally. We learn about each other’s families. We talk about life’s struggles. We celebrate life’s successes. We build bonds of trust that are personally gratifying, but also business beneficial. Many who I consider my closest and dearest friends are friends through this industry, and for their friendship I am truly grateful.

I suppose these are not really “learnings” per se. They are reinforcements of things I know to be true and sources of inspiration from which I plan to drive my future success and professional development. Thank you, industry friends and partners, and thank you RIMS for being a very important part of my life. I am blessed.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of “Cheap” Insurance

I read a post on LinkedIn the other day that purported to offer tips on how to buy “cheap” business insurance. Ever since reading it, that post has really stuck in my craw. The phrase “cheap insurance” is like fingers on a chalkboard to me and it should be to you, too. Why? Because I’ve seen what can go wrong when price is king.

Photo credit: insurancejobs.com

Photo credit: insurancejobs.com

Why do businesses purchase insurance anyway? Because they have assets – people, property, profits – at risk of loss due to something accidentally going wrong. Furthermore, business owners and their employees are sometimes unjustly accused of wrongdoing, and in those situations, the cost of defending the claim often exceeds the value of the claim itself. The financial cost of defending claims, repairing, replacing or rebuilding damaged business property, and indemnifying claimants may exceed the business’s ability to pay for the loss on its own. Insurance is really a source of funds to cover the costs resulting from accidental loss; costs which the business cannot otherwise afford to absorb.

Truth is, insurance companies and the insurance policies they sell are not created equal. If the insurance buyer isn’t careful, that “cheap” policy may not respond as anticipated when a loss occurs. Perhaps the policy was cheap because the insurer’s financials are not real strong. Will the insurance company be around to pay the loss when it comes due? That day of reckoning often comes years after the temporary satisfaction derived from getting that cheap premium has worn off. Perhaps the policy was cheap because the underwriter excluded some key elements of coverage or reduced coverage limits on some aspects of the policy in return for cheapening the cost of his product. Such adjustments are sometimes the very thing that jumps up to bite the business in the behind when the claim is presented and declined by the insurer, leaving the business owners with nothing more than a three-ring binder full of paper that just might be worthy of campfire starter fuel. If you are the business owner or the owner’s designated manager of her risk management and insurance strategy, you do not want to place yourself or your business in this precarious position.

Photo credit: sorryaboutyourweight.com

Photo credit: sorryaboutyourweight.com

So what is a business owner to do? How can she be most assured that the insurance she purchases today will truly be there for her business later when it’s needed? Let me answer this way. I consider myself to be a pretty decent handyman. I’ll tackle basic repairs to many items in my home, but there are three items I will not touch: electricity, natural gas, and plumbing. If I mess with those systems and make a mistake, the result could be catastrophic. So when those systems need work, I call a pro. Business insurance falls into that category as well. The business owner is very skilled in her chosen field but probably does not have the expertise or the relationships to self-source the best possible insurance policy for her business at the best possible price. That’s where the insurance broker steps in.

A quality insurance broker will be familiar with the business owner’s industry and the insurers most qualified to cover it. A quality broker will interview the business owner or her designee to glean as clear an understanding as possible of the potential causes of accidental loss the business might face while counseling her on practical strategies that just might help prevent the loss from occurring in the first place. In transacting an insurance purchase, the broker’s job is to gather required underwriting data, prepare marketing materials for presentation to qualified potential insurers, receive quotes, and negotiate policy terms, conditions and price. The broker then presents quality options with pros and cons of each to the business owner or her designated insurance buyer so she is equipped make an informed purchase.

Photo credit: dearmediacare.com

Photo credit: dearmediacare.com

Managing the insurance transaction in this manner benefits the business owner in at least two ways: (1) The business owner is free to focus on her business while letting the insurance pro work the marketplace in her behalf, and (2) The business owner is now in the best possible position to achieve the optimal balance between coverage quality and coverage price. Even better is the fact that insurance brokers are typically compensated by the insurers via commissions; thus, the business owner should not incur additional cost for accessing the services of a quality insurance broker. (Note that there are other methods of broker compensation, but that is a topic for another post).

If you are a business owner with the objective of buying “cheap” business insurance, I hope you will rethink that strategy. Don’t put your business at risk to save a few bucks on your insurance premiums. Call a pro who will manage the insurance marketplace in your behalf to help you achieve a quality purchase at a reasonable price. That, indeed, is the wise business decision.

Note to the Reader: The information offered herein is derived from my personal experience as a risk management professional. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. This information should not be considered as a substitute for legal, tax and/or actuarial advice. Please contact the appropriate professional counsel for such matters.

Know Your Audience

“Did you know that workers’ compensation claims cost our company over $24 million last year!?” I asked incredulously. And, with that opening line, I lost my audience.

I had the best of intentions. I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to achieve buy-in. I wanted my audience of operations vice presidents and warehouse managers to leave the meeting with a sense of purpose and a committed resolve to run their distribution centers in the safest manner possible. Unfortunately, I only achieved one of my three objectives, and that only in part: They all left the meeting.

This squandered opportunity underscores an often overlooked component of successful communication: the need to tailor the message to the audience. Truth is, we did have an opportunity to reduce workers’ compensation costs. Achieving the buy-in of the operations professionals who ran the warehouses and loaded the trucks was essential to our success. And, in this instance, I failed.

I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority.

Fast-forward one year. After the debacle of the year before I had to battle to get the risk management team a spot on the operations meeting agenda. Quite frankly, I understood management’s hesitance; my presentation the year before used an hour of valuable time and achieved nothing. I told them I had learned my lesson. I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority. I showed them a draft of my new presentation as I told them this year would be different. And it was.

“I want you all to close your eyes,” I said. “Picture in your mind the best order selector in your warehouse; you know, the one with the near-perfect pick rate and lowest error rating. I know that each of you already has that person pictured in your mind. Now, picture him at home because he hurt his back at work. He’s off for six months. Open your eyes.”

I had their attention. I asked, “How many of you have had this experience in your operation at least once during the past year?” Many raised their hands. I asked them, one by one, “How was your warehouse impacted by that employee’s prolonged absence from work?” All of a sudden, a discussion broke out! Operations VP’s and warehouse managers shared how overall pick rates deteriorated and overtime costs increased. Several even talked about reduced morale and reduced bonus payouts. “If I could show you three simple things you can implement now to help avoid this disruption going forward, would you consider them?” I now had their full attention. I had a room full of risk management deputies. Mission accomplished.

During that second presentation, I never talked about money. I didn’t preach the virtues of prevention as a means of reducing retained loss costs. Why? Because this audience couldn’t care less about those things. That is not the world in which they live and breathe every day.

I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.

I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.

That presentation, now some 20 years in the past, was the catalyst for some amazing results. And, for me personally, it launched a true appreciation for and enjoyment of public speaking.

I offer this glimpse into my career learning process in the hopes that you might consider (or reconsider) each slide in that PowerPoint deck you’re about to present. Persuading a Board, a C-Suite, mid-management colleagues, and operations professionals to support any given objective will typically require a different approach tailored to each of those groups. To whom are you presenting? I’m sure the content is important to you, but is the content important to them? How can you make your objective meaningful to your audience? Will your supporting facts resonate with them?

After several years of absence, I rejoined a local Toastmasters club two years ago. I believe strongly that well-honed communication and presentation skills are an essential component to any leader’s success. I know they have contributed hugely to mine.

Click here to learn more about Toastmasters and how it can help you hone your communication and presentation skills!

Listening for the Win

“Don’t puke on your prospect.”

OK, a bit crass perhaps, but it is some of the best advice on salesmanship I’ve ever been given. Any of us who have purchased B2B goods and services have experienced this. The sales rep reaches out and you grant that first meeting. Upon entering your office, the sales rep launches into a completely one-sided dialogue about how great he is, how great his company is, and why you should be doing business with him. He asks no questions, and although you try to turn this into a real conversation, he won’t allow you to participate. He simply has too much to say!

Case in point: When I was Director of Risk Management at a large restaurant chain, I was called by a representative with a local insurance brokerage firm. Upon entering my office, he asked me one question: “Do you purchase accounts receivable insurance?” he asked. “No,” said I, “our guests typically pay with credit cards…” and that was the end of the discussion. Oh, the meeting lasted another 15 minutes as the rep droned on and on about how uncollectable accounts receivable have practically sunk many businesses and how every business should have this coverage. I finally cut him off and showed him the door. As he walked out, he dropped some expensive looking accounts receivable insurance marketing materials on my desk as he said, “I’ll be in touch.” The marketing materials went straight into my trash can, and thankfully, he never did follow up. Indeed, “sales puke” is a sure-fire way to ensure that you never win that piece of business.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

A former boss of mine was a Covey disciple. He had his entire team read Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and he recited this quote incessantly. He even found budget money for each of us to attend a live presentation by Dr. Covey himself a few years before he passed away. I agree with my former boss that 7 Habits is a must read for any business professional, regardless of your line of work. But it is this quote in particular that has stuck in my mind over all these years. I have applied it in my risk management roles and I apply it in my current role in commercial insurance sales.

People need, indeed they like, to be heard. I believe failure to listen is often to blame when negotiations end in stalemate or objectives fail to be met. Applying Covey’s principle generally yields one of two results in my experience:

 (1) The business associates (or sales prospects) with whom you are speaking are more apt to hear you out and more readily consider your viewpoint (or product) if you’ve heard them out first and asked meaningful questions;

(2) You begin to see enough value in your associate’s viewpoint that you begin to change your own mind. In a sales scenario, you may learn about a pain point your prospect is experiencing and alter your approach accordingly. In both scenarios, you learn something and the ultimate end result is best for all!

Do you see what is happening here? Both outcomes are wins!

As I look back over my career, I readily see that I have been most successful when I have worked hard to practice good listening skills. It’s a sign of interest. It’s a demonstration of respect. And no matter the line of work, sound listening skills will open doors. Go ahead, give it a shot. I dare you.

Photo credit: My iPhone 5s, Idaho Springs, CO. February 2015

Photo credit: My iPhone 5s, Idaho Springs, CO. February 2015

New “Normal” Begins Today!

With my employer’s announcement on January 16 of the company’s acquisition by a private equity firm, my work schedule imploded. There were special projects and additional meetings as we worked with our future owners to gather documents needed to complete the sale. There were temporary changes in procedure, which although necessary, were often disruptive. Some in the office were stressed and worried while others did their jobs without any evidence of worry or concern. Not a worrier by nature, I fell into the latter group as I handled the workflow changes and calendar disruptions as they came while I looked forward to the scheduled February 14 close. Fortunately, the sale closed as scheduled and I now look forward to our new “normal”.

As I sit here on the first Monday morning following the Friday close of sale, I wonder: what is “normal” anyway? What, exactly, am I looking forward to?

Certainly, with new corporate ownership comes change. Working under private equity ownership at various stages in my career has yielded a mixed bag of experiences ranging from stressful and unpleasant (working for a PE firm that focused mainly on cutting costs by reducing head count) to new and refreshing (working for a PE firm that shared growth goals and allowed us the flexibility to work towards achieving them). How will this one conduct itself? Sure, they said all the right things as the transaction was pending, but what will they do now that the sale is final and they are at the helm? What will our new “normal” look like?

Truth be told, it doesn’t matter. They can do what they like. I cannot control or even influence what our new “normal” will be. Many in this situation find that fact downright scary, but I know better.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Joshua 29:11

When God delivered this message to Israel through the prophet Joshua, Israel had been exiled to Babylon. Talk about a new “normal”, Israel was living it! God promised that He was in control; that there was an end game to their exile. His plan would be revealed in due course. In the meantime, He told them to live their lives – build homes, build families, build careers – God told them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Joshua 29:7)

I said earlier that I am not, by nature, a worrier. I don’t worry because I trust God’s plan. This aspect of my nature is not my doing; it is a gift from God. Whatever happens, He has an end game in mind. All He expects of me is to work with our new owners in earnest and do my part to execute their plan. God’s plan for me in all of this could be a myriad of things – maybe a promotion, maybe increased job security, perhaps a new career altogether. Whatever it is, it will be grand. So as I head to work on this, the first Monday morning under new corporate ownership, I will stand firmly on the promise that God delivered to an exiled Israel and trust God for my new “normal”. That, my friends, is a relief. God is good, indeed!

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