Insurance professionals who claim there aren't enough opportunities for professional improvement in their industry are going to run out of excuses. That's because insurance trade and educational groups are expanding their certification offerings, not only in the size of their curricula, but also in the number and type of channels used to educate those professionals that seek more knowledge.
Promoting the investment is the need to serve an interconnected, global economy that waits for no one.
Like the insurance business itself, the universe of organizations dedicated to continuing insurance education is vast, so we won't attempt to list every recent educational expansion initiative here. But we did talk to a number of educational and industry groups who paint a picture of a dynamically expanding field of insurance education.
In one corner of this universe is the Austin, Texas-based National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, which is seeing interest in its online educational offerings explode.
William J. Hold, vice president of the National Alliance Research Academy (pictured above) and its business development department, said there were 750 participants in the Alliance's online Certified Risk Manager program in 2011. That number is expected to jump to more than 1,750 by the end of 2012, he said. "In talking with agencies and risk managers it seems like we needed to offer this," Hold said.
"They wanted the CRM designation, they thought it was valuable and they just couldn't afford to spend the two and a half days away from the office and their families," Hold said.
Hold also said the organization has offered its Certified School Risk Manager designation online since 2009 and its Certified Insurance Service Representative designation online for the past 10 or 11 years.
Due to the slow economy, Hold said overall registration numbers have been "relatively flat" since a peak in the 2006-2007, before the recession.
Although groups that offer certifications compete with one another to a degree, Hold said the fiercest competition is for the narrowing window of free time available to most people. "But in reality and what we discuss internally is that our biggest competitor is what other people do with their time and money," Hold said.
Brad Smith, the chairman of Milliman and the president of the Society of Actuaries, points to the burgeoning middle class in emerging markets as part of the rationale for SOA adding a general insurance educational track to help professionals around the world adequately underwrite these new markets.
"We will certainly tailor our needs to the needs of the emerging market," Smith said.
Backing up Smith's assertion are the society's rankings of its busiest exam centers globally.
Toronto ranks first and New York is next, but one has to tick through Montreal, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul before landing on another American city -- Chicago -- which is seventh on the list.
For the society, the benefit of adding a new track now with globalization on the march clearly outweighed the risks of investing time and energy in creating a new educational track. "The risk is that the emerging markets are not served on a timely basis," Smith said.
There was some trepidation among members when the SOA Board of Directors in March approved the general insurance (property/casualty) track as the sixth track for its Fellow of the Society of Actuaries designation, joining life and annuities, retirement benefits, group and health, investment and finance/enterprise risk management. The society also offers an Associate of the Society of Actuaries designation and a Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst designation.
In an April 2 letter to members, Smith tamped down that concern, writing that the society had the resources to add a sixth track and that it would better achieve its objectives by doing so.
"The investment required to develop the curriculum and administer the exams is manageable," Smith wrote to the society's 23,000 members.
"There are a number of one-time and annual expenses, but our conservative estimates show the track will pay for both its development costs and operating expenses by 2017," Smith wrote.
The society plans to give the first exam in the general insurance track for the FSA in 2013.
Relevance to the market is important. But trade groups also recognize that they must give their members more value in these changing and demanding times if they want to remain relevant to their members.
Ray Scotto, the executive director of the Target Markets Program Administrators Association, heads a group whose members serve an expanding niche in the insurance business, the program administrators who serve as both underwriter and agent, bringing packages of related risks to carriers who depend on the program administrator to understand and aptly underwrite that program. U.S. premiums handled by program administrators amounted to $17.5 billion, according to a 2011 online survey.
Target Markets is rolling out Target University, a 12-course online program that will award graduates with the Certified Programs Leader designation. Ten of the courses are up and running, Scotto said, and the remaining two, finance and accounting and program submissions, should be available this month.
To be eligible for the designation, applicants must have two years in a program leadership role, and five years' experience in the business overall, and have successfully completed the Target University courses and be TMPAA members.
Target Markets has two well-attended meetings annually. But these days, just having meetings is not enough, Scotto said.
"The TMPAA wants to add resources that become important elements in the continued success of our members' program business operations," Scotto said.
News of other course offerings and membership additions were coming in as this article was being written.
On May 2, the 25,000-member CPCU Society, affiliated with The Institutes, announced that its leadership council has approved a new society chapter in India. The India CPCU Society gives the society five international chapters, including South Korea, Japan, Europe and Bermuda.
"Given the growth and insurance penetration that is forecast in India, I envision a high degree of growth of CPCU designation holders and society members for years to come," said CPCU President and Chairman Steve McElhiney.
--By Dan Reynolds
June 1, 2012
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