Breeding the next generation through internships

October 9, 2006

In cooperation with insurance industry partners, universities across the nation are helping to cultivate the next generation of risk managers and actuarial scientists through insurance internship programs.

As an example, the California State University at Fullerton’s Insurance Leadership Internship Program provides College of Business and Economics students the opportunity to learn first-hand about leadership and careers in the insurance and financial services industry. Students who participate in the internship program can obtain practical insurance experience through many avenues, including underwriting, claims, client services, risk management, financial planning, actuarial analysis and technology.

“The idea is to get our students into the insurance industry before they graduate so they can get their feet wet. We want to make sure they really understand how this industry operates,” said Dr. Weili Lu, director of the Center for Insurance Studies (CIS) at CSUF.

Lu believes an internship helps round out the essential factors in a successful academic program. “To me, there are three essential factors. First is scholarship, to get the kids financially secured into the program and reward them for their hard work. Second is an internship, to get their feet wet and make sure they know the real-life industry. And the last one is a desirable job opportunity for the student, because after all their tough training, they deserve good career opportunities,” she said.

Any full-time junior or senior business student with a grade point average of 3.0 or better is urged by the university to consider an internship, Wu said. The value of the opportunity to mingle and work with industry professionals strengthens the student’s marketability as an employee.

According to Wu, CSUF’s internship program started with the help of Pacific Life Insurance Co. Students worked at that company in the summer either full- or part-time. “[Pacific Life] really enjoyed having them,” Lu said, estimating approximately 90 percent of the interns ended up working with the company after graduation.

“[Pacific Life] would often give the students part-time jobs after the summer internship, and when they graduated, the students would go [to work] full time for the company,” she said.

CSUF realized the value of the opportunity for its students, so it encouraged more companies to get involved.

“We had some insurance agencies and brokerages join and after that, risk managers from large corporations,” Lu said.

The Center now offers nearly a dozen internship positions with about a quarter on the agency side. Lu also hopes to start an Insurance Marketing Entrepreneur Program.

“Once that program starts,” Lu said, “our hope is for the students to have internship opportunities with brokers and agents because we want to teach students with entrepreneurial spirits and marketing skills insurance knowledge, which would blend well.”

She believes the industry has a significant demand in that area and wants that program to be rooted in the industry. “We are trying to develop the program to really accommodate the industry,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lu said agents and brokers routinely help with funding and education. “We have people come and do workshops for our students where they talk about what they do as a broker and how they started their businesses,” she explained. “They talk about how they survive and how they are successful.”

Former CSUF student and internship program participant Calvin Chow said he values his internship experience. “Working as an intern for Pacific Life helped me build a solid knowledge,” he said. “The work is hard at first, but you can get used to the routine after several weeks.”

But more importantly, Chow believes hard work has paid off. He came from Hong Kong as a transfer student to Fullerton College majoring in economics. He credits Lu, Jefferey Jolley, chief actuary at Pacific Life, and Al Gorski, risk manager at OCTA, for helping him to discover the field of actuarial science and risk management. Soon after taking their classes, Chow joined the internship program.

“During my senior year, I added math as a second major and interned as an actuarial intern at department of annuities and mutual funds at Pacific Life Insurance Co.,” he said. He was also chosen as a student participant in 2006 at Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc’s (RIMS) Annual Conference in Hawaii. Now, he is a graduate student majoring in actuarial science at the University of Connecticut.

Insurance internship programs span the nation. Opportunities exist in locations from Orange County, Calif., to Allstate’s home office in Northbrook, Ill. According to Allstate, a successful internship can help pave the way toward possible full-time employment opportunities after graduation. The company said many of its summer interns receive offers for a consecutive internship or for full-time employment after graduation.

The National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices Ltd. (NAPLSO) provides scholarship and internship programs for qualified students as well. The association connects member firms nationwide with interns who work in surplus lines for five weeks and then with a broker/agent member for four weeks. The program provides hands-on experience and reviews of all aspects of the surplus lines insurance business.

Selected interns have the opportunity to attend the NAPSLO Annual Convention with expenses paid, and one student is selected for an internship in London during the following summer. NAPSLO stated that many interns find positions in the surplus lines industry due to their internship experience and resulting networking opportunities.

Internship programs like CSUF’s provide a “strong connection to the insurance industry,” Chow said. Not only do the internships teach students solid knowledge about the industry, such programs also tend to provide tremendous resources to the students, such as awards and scholarships, and encouraging top-notch faculty to forge relationships with students, he said.

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