“The phrase to describe MEMIC is: Never Stop Learning,” says Nick Burke, a 34-year-old senior underwriter and CPCU who has been with workers’ compensation insurer MEMIC for more than a decade. “It comes from the top down. I think (company CEO) John Leonard’s got 36 letters after his name,” adds Burke with a laugh. “He’s always trying to better himself and he expects all the MEMIC employees to continue to better themselves.”
The MEMIC Group, a super-regional workers’ compensation specialist with offices from Portland, Maine to Tampa, Florida, knows the key to its future is a knowledgeable and well-educated workforce. To that end, the company’s leadership continually asks, “How do we attract and develop the best talent?” Investing in the continued educational development of their employees through professional designations like the CPCU is a vital answer.
“I have always viewed education as the cornerstone to the foundation one needs to maximize their success within any industry,” says John T. Leonard, MEMIC president and CEO.
“The percentage of underwriters and analysts who have, or are working on, their CPCU at MEMIC is nearly 100%,” says Greg Jamison, senior vice president of underwriting at MEMIC and active member of the Maine CPCU Society Chapter. “We’ve created an environment where everyone feels peer supported, and peer pressured, to obtain their CPCU. We provide 100% financial support for the courses, and even award a stipend upon completion of the program. They are also encouraged to attend the conferment. We feel it’s really important because that’s where they can stand with 2,000 of their peer CPCUs from all across the country, and it’s their moment to enjoy and be honored.”
“CPCU attainment has also branched out from just underwriting in the company,” adds Cathy Duranceau, vice president of underwriting. “John Leonard has his (CPCU), our chief financial officer, our director of audit, and people in claims. A lot of people who get their AmCOMP WCP designation then plunge into getting a CPCU.”
Even though MEMIC specializes in workers’ comp, it sees the benefit of developing well-rounded employees with broad industry knowledge. “There’s nothing worse than trying to have a conversation with an agent who is concerned about the big picture, and your understanding is very narrow,” says Joanna DeBie-Nguyen, a 29-year-old CPCU and underwriter II at MEMIC. “Having your CPCU gets you on that same level as someone who deals with that every day; you can have a conversation with them about all these other coverage types that are impacting what they are doing for a client.”
MEMIC, with more than $1 billion in assets, is licensed to write workers’ compensation in 46 states plus the District of Columbia. The company is expanding, having grown by about 25 percent annually in its targeted areas in the last few years. But the talent pool is not expanding fast enough, as has been widely covered in industry publications. The average age among insurance agents is 59, and in the next decade retirement looms for many of the industry’s most respected leaders. Vast institutional knowledge is on the verge of being lost. That’s one of the reasons why MEMIC has found the networking and mentorship opportunities provided by professional organizations like the Maine CPCU Society Chapter to be important to the professional development of talented employees. “After you’ve obtained your designation you become part of this CPCU community and you go to meetings, it’s really great for networking and building relationships with agents. It keeps you in the loop professionally,” says DeBie-Nguyen.
“It really stands out when you go to the Maine CPCU functions. There’s almost a 15-year divide. We have the late 40s and up, and we have people in their 20s, but there aren’t many 30-somethings in between,” says Duranceau.
The aging workforce was the genesis for MEMIC partnering with the University of Southern Maine (USM) and others in the local insurance industry to develop the Risk Management and Insurance specialty program offered to business majors at USM. Dana Kerr, a CPCU with nearly ten years experience in the risk management and insurance industry as a claims specialist and corporate risk analyst, became the first professor of the program.
“It’s hard to think of someone we’ve hired in the last two years who didn’t come from that program," says DeBie-Nguyen. "Companies fight over the program’s graduates – it’s 100% job placement for them. It’s a huge influx of young people into an industry that’s aging.”
While start-up was funded by MEMIC and the local insurance industry, the program is now self-sustaining and developing a workforce for good-paying jobs in a thriving industry which provides more than 10,000 jobs in the greater Portland area alone. Great talent attracts great company, which is why companies like Toronto-based Sun Life Financial recently announced it is opening its Sun Life Center for Healthy Work in the Portland area where MEMIC is headquartered, bringing 100-200 high-paying jobs. Dan Fishbein, president of Sun Life’s U.S. subsidiary, is quoted by the Portland Press Herald as saying, “There’s really no better place in the country for us to find great talent and a great workforce to help us grow, expand and improve our disability business.”
The success of MEMIC at creating an environment of excellence did not happen by accident. It comes from both the top-down and the bottom-up, from continual investment in bettering one’s self and one’s community. Education is the foundation of future success for the industry and the company as well as the individual, they must all foster and support one another.
“Nick and I are done with our CPCU but it’s not expected that we are done with our continuing education. The response is, ‘That’s great, what else are you going to do? What else is on your plate? Keep getting better,’” says DeBie-Nguyen. “Because the industry is always changing.”