But for every one of the public entities that can afford to pay a risk manager to help prevent, mitigate or transfer its risks, there are probably 10 governments, school districts or other public-sector entities that are either too small or don't have the budget to hire a risk manager.
It's those small entities, that little borough council or municipal water authority serving some mid-Atlantic hamlet or remote mountain or desert community, that most need PRIMA's help.
That's where Sarah Perry, the new president of PRIMA, hopes the organization can step in.
Perry, who was christened as PRIMA's new president on June 4 at the association's annual conference in Anaheim, Calif., said the organization knows that it wants to provide more help to those smaller communities that don't have a full-time risk manager. The question is: How can the organization provide that aid and education without straining its own resources?
One of the ways PRIMA can do that, according to Perry, is to partner in giving insurance and other financial advice to those small government officers and elected officials, along with other public-entity professional development organizations like the Government Finance Officers Association, which has offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The other is to make resources like the members-only section of PRIMA's Web site available to nonmembers. How much access PRIMA can provide and what it will ask nonmembers to pay for it are notions that are still in the planning stages, according to Perry.
Because PRIMA isn't exactly IBM, it has a limited number of staff members to field calls from those who bump into thought- or question-provoking items on its Web site.
"It's an idea, and we don't want to make it so expensive they can't utilize those things. But we don't want to bankrupt PRIMA," Perry said.
"Because we have necessary staffing and currently things that our members' dues help pay for, and providing it free to those entities or to nonpaying members, we have to balance that, and that is what we are exploring is, how to best do that," she said.
Perry has been in risk management for a while. She currently serves as the risk manager for the city of Columbia, Mo. Before that, she served as the risk manager for a workers' compensation trust and the Des Moines General Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.
She also served two stints as a loss control consultant with Alexander & Alexander Services Inc., the billion-plus brokerage that was acquired by Aon Corp. back in 1996.
With that track record, Perry is like many in her organization. She has lots of experience and has reached a high level of knowledge and expertise in her field, but also wouldn't mind retiring in five to 10 years.
That brings us to another big challenge facing PRIMA and any president of PRIMA: finding and encouraging the young talent to not only take a leadership role in the organization, but in the profession at large.
"I think it's just a case of we need to develop them and provide them with input on ways to get involved and ways to be interested in our organization, especially with the changing demographics agewise," Perry said.
Bill Kostner, the risk manager for the city of Lincoln, Neb., who handed over the reins as president of PRIMA to Perry in Anaheim, said she has the energy level and the experience to lead the way in her one-year term.
"Sarah is a real doer and is someone who has good experience in risk management. She has been there. She has a lot of good knowledge and experience that she can bring to PRIMA," said Kostner.
That being said, there is still plenty that worries Perry. For one, there is shakiness in the U.S. economy.
"Who knows what cuts may occur in the future, what kind of increases we may see in insurance premiums, if litigation will increase, or how our employers will handle the economic challenges," Perry said.
"Fortunately insurance premiums have been stable, but many of us feel there may be changes in the insurance market on the horizon. It's enough to turn your hair gray," she added.
The other is the knowledge that she has to balance her desire to be a giving public servant with the knowledge that public resources, just like PRIMA's, are limited.
"The biggest challenge for me as a public risk manager is balancing the desire to serve our citizens and employees with protecting the city's assets," Perry said. "I believe everyone in public-entity service wants to give all they can to the people they serve, tax-payers, citizens and employees. However, we can't give the farm away or we won't be around to serve anyone."
DAN REYNOLDS is senior editor of Risk & Insurance®.
(Read the rest of the People on the Move newsletter from June 25.)
June 25, 2008
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