Giving Back & Paying Forward

Giving Back & Paying Forward

Giving Back & Paying Forward

One of the biggest issues facing the insurance industry is the impending talent shortage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 400,000 professionals are expected to retire from the insurance industry within the next few years.

One person making a difference in bridging the looming professional gap is Linda Luka, CISR, CPCU, CIIP, DAE, AAI, AIS, AINS, CPIA, CLP—recently elected President of the International Association of Insurance Professionals (IAIP). Involved in the insurance industry for 40 years, Linda’s commitment to recruiting, welcoming, and educating new industry professionals is long-standing. She has mentored, trained, and—by her own admission—learned from the recruits entering the field. Her philosophy is straightforward and far-reaching, with strong ties that extend into many areas of the industry. Her history is as instructive as her current activities are, and the spirit with which she approaches everything that she does is truly an inspiration and a model.

Linda Luka is a busy woman. She is the Agent Education Coordinator for West Bend Insurance Company, Vice Chairman of The National Alliance’s CISR Board of Governors, and she has been deeply involved with the InVEST Program for many years. Now, add to her list of distinctions the Presidency of IAIP—how does she find the time to seemingly do it all?

“When you have a true passion for what you are doing, you find a way to make it work,” Linda shares. My employer has always been a strong supporter of education. Well-rounded associates make us a stronger organization, and as one of the leaders in the Midwest, West Bend has a long-term vision for our company to have a greater presence in the insurance industry. They also encourage participation in community events. I became involved with Toastmasters, The National Alliance, IAIP, and the InVEST Program as ways to give back to the industry. Of course, my family is also involved in volunteering, and I originally learned that spirit from my parents. It goes back to helping others. You make sacrifices sometimes to get things done, but in the long run, everybody pulls together.”

Linda sees being elected President of IAIP as an honor, and she intends to be an ambassador for the organization that has been so important in her own life. “Insurance Professionals is focused on three principles: networking, education, and community service.” Linda explains, “Education is an ongoing event—a continuum. The more information you have, the smarter you become, and that makes you more valuable. IAIP is open to anyone involved in the insurance industry. We provide insurance education, but focus more on leadership skills. For example, our Certified Leadership Program has 17 different courses that include topics such as negotiation techniques, working with others, accounting basics, strategic planning, and other leadership skills essential to professional development.”

Linda emphasizes, “IAIP members are leaders both in and out of the office, and our courses complement the technical insurance training provided by The National Alliance. It takes both, so we have offered National Alliance courses here at West Bend for many years. The National Alliance provides the technical insurance skills, and we focus on interpersonal and ‘soft’ skills that help you become well-rounded. These days you must promote yourself and be your own advocate, and education gives you the confidence to do that. There are few jobs that are guaranteed for life anymore. You have to make yourself valuable, and the more knowledge you have, the more valuable you are.”

As Agent Education Coordinator for West Bend, Linda has her finger on the pulse of new trends in education. She has observed a significant change in learning styles. “IAIP started providing webinars, and we’re finding that people want to learn information in shorter snippets. At West Bend, we’re creating five to ten-minute video segments, and we intend for some of these videos to be used for client education as well. We’ll always need longer courses—both classroom and online—but we are also going to have to meet the need for shorter, more intensive educational presentations. The dynamics of learning are also changing, so it will be interesting to see how state insurance departments respond to this in terms of adaptability and flexibility.”

She notes changes in training parameters, as well. “We have 850 associates here at our main campus, and as we bring younger trainees into the underwriting world, we’re finding that they are more engaged with social media and their mobile devices. Now we ask them to leave their mobile devices behind and focus for an hour to get through the materials. We also include interactive, hands-on activities because we want them to be able to apply what they’ve learned.”

Another difference that Linda sees in the next generation of workers is an intriguing shift. “Millennials view everyone as their peer,” she says. “Being at a company for ‘x’ number of years doesn’t really mean much to them, per se. But when you can show them what you know, articulate why they need to do something, and demonstrate what the consequences could be for NOT doing it, then you start to gain their attention and respect.”

“I’ve learned things from the younger generation, as well. Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Why would you do it that way?’ and we’ll look at each other and ask ourselves the same question. That creates an opportunity for dialogue. It allows us to ask them, ‘What do you think would be a better way to do that?’ If we want a different result, let’s look at it with fresh eyes, and we do make improvements based on those conversations.”

Another important trend in the industry that Linda points out is the use of social media in interacting with clients. “Social media is playing a bigger role in everything as we go forward, and adapting to your client’s communication style is becoming very important. How often do they want to be contacted, and through which media? The insurance industry sells a promise, so it’s all about building relationships with the client. West Bend partners with independent insurance agents, and nothing happens until an agent develops a relationship with the client. The agent then chooses to place that client with one of their companies. At West Bend, it is important that we differentiate ourselves with our agents. One of the ways that we do that is by offering top-notch education classes. It really sets us apart because we offer courses every year in the states in which we are licensed. It helps the agents remain current with the industry, and staying current with the latest social media options is part of that education.”

Linda has worked with the InVEST Program for many years. InVEST is geared to high school students, with the goal of educating them about the insurance and risk management industry. Linda explains, “We talk with the InVEST students, and we invite high school students in the area to visit our campus. They really don’t know what jobs are available in the industry, and how interesting they can be, so we have subject matter experts come in and speak to them about the opportunities on both the company and the agency side. Insurance is not typically ‘on their radar,’ and they tend to think of insurance as involving door-to-door salespeople, so we show them the opportunities available to them throughout the industry.”

This philosophy carries over to the work Linda does with IAIP. She says, “One of the things that I always stress—with everyone—is that education is never wasted. The more knowledge you acquire, the more valuable you are. You’re valuable to your current employer, but if you relocate, you have skills, and hopefully designations, that you can take with you. If you’re applying for jobs internally or elsewhere, having designations is important.”

Linda’s bottom line is this, “Insurance people are caring people. When you are involved in insurance, you are trying to help clients protect their lives and assets. These days everything is so fast paced. It is important for an agent to sit down with a client, ask them how they are doing, and really mean it. Time is so precious, so when someone is sincere and wants to know how you’re doing and how they can help you, it really means a lot. Good communication is critical.”

Stressing the importance of building client relationships, one of the courses that she teaches is Ethics. “People joke about having to get ‘more ethical,’ but the sad reality is that there are reasons why the Insurance Commissioners required ethics education originally.” Linda observes, “There are issues and problems in the real world, and we see it every day. As a faculty member, I find that Ethics is one of the hardest classes to teach. Coverages are pretty much defined in the policy, but there are a lot of gray areas in Ethics.”

Linda does see generational differences. “I had a class recently that was divided over a case study about getting involved with an account written with a competing agency. The choices were narrowed down to the older group saying, ‘No, you don’t take that account, because that’s a handshake agreement, that’s an unwritten rule—you just don’t do that,’ and the younger people in the class said, ‘What do you mean? There’s nothing wrong with trying to take that account—you absolutely would go after that account.’ And then, after more discussion, the younger group was saying, ‘Why is it unwritten, and why didn’t anybody ever say anything?’ The case study brought up real-world issues, and differing perspectives on those issues, and that’s helpful to everyone.

Ethics is a difficult topic because people have differing opinions, morals, and values. There isn’t always a cut and dried answer, and the fact that something is legal doesn’t always mean that it is ethical. You may need to talk to other people to decide what to do. Sometimes you don’t have all the information and must make assumptions and choices based on the information that you do have. As the situation develops you can reanalyze and make different choices based on the new information. The client sometimes forgets to tell you pertinent information—when you get that information your answers may change.”

Linda muses, “There are always differing perspectives. The classic example is the agency owner asking producers to write business with a specific company to earn a trip. The producer informs the CSR to do likewise. What are the dilemmas for the CSR? For the producer? The same thing goes for underwriters and adjusters. There are opportunities for deception and fraud every day, but it is important that we have these conversations so that people think about these types of situations.”

Linda watched IAIP transition from the National Association of Insurance Women into the International Association of Insurance Professionals. She has seen many changes during that time. “I started my career fresh out of high school,” she relates. “I did not go to college because I thought that I was through with learning! I started my career typing policies, and I was encouraged to take some classes. That made me realize how much there was to the industry. I continued taking classes and moving my way up in the company.

In 2003, I joined IAIP, and a group of us went to our first international convention in 2005. I remember being impressed by the women who were running that convention, and by my third convention, I decided I wanted to become one of the leaders of the organization some day. Without IAIP, I never would have taken the agent education position I’m in now. I wouldn’t have done a lot of things, because I would have lacked the skills, and the gumption, and the confidence to try it. IAIP empowered me.”

She continues, “The people at IAIP have always been helpful and supportive. Knowing that someone has been there and done that, and they have your back and can give you advice, is really encouraging, and it gave me the courage to step forward and just go for it. Glass ceilings remain, but not nearly as many as when I started in this business. It’s rewarding to see women in roles throughout the industry and to know that future generations of women will have the same opportunities that males have always had. I’m proud of the part that IAIP has played in that.”

For someone who is thinking about insurance as a career, Linda has solid advice that is based on experience. “Education is one thing that can never be taken away from you—and insurance is a dynamic and challenging career. It’s like I lay it out for the students in the InVEST Program. Insurance is exciting because so many things in the world are affected by it, and that is especially relevant to the new technologies that interest the younger generation. They really don’t understand that the insurance industry is on the cutting-edge of almost everything—drones, driverless cars, all the new technologies. They don’t know about all the opportunities there are in the insurance industry, but once they understand, they become engaged and ask all sorts of questions. Then they begin to understand that it is an ever-changing and ever-challenging business.”

Linda reiterates, “Education is my passion. I don’t want associates coming to the programs that we offer just to fulfill their CE requirement. We conduct National Alliance in-house courses because I want our agents to be engaged in the classes that they attend. I want them to learn something and to be able to apply it. That’s what makes it a fascinating business—just look at me—40 years later, and more engaged than ever.”