Insurance Designations and Training

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by Christopher J. Boggs, CPCU, ARM, ALCM

There are over 210 insurance and insurance-related designations available to property and casualty, life, health, benefits, actuarial and other financial service professionals. This list includes US, Canadian and European-based educational programs with each locale having its own designations and criteria.

Non-property and casualty-related topics constitute the greatest number of these programs; more than half are focused on financial planning, life, health and benefits. The remaining designations are split among P&C, risk management, actuarial, regulation, licensing and safety courses.

“With all the available designations, is there need for (or even room for) another designation?” was a question I fielded just a few days ago. Looking at the list and range of designations, YES, as strange as it sounds, there may be more than just room for another designation, there might actually be a NEED for one or a few more.

Review the 210-plus designation descriptions and it becomes quickly evident that each was created to fill a particular perceived educational gap. Each has a specific focus and completers of any in the long list of programs gain a much deeper understanding of that narrow focus. Yet such education often is gained to the exclusion of the entire insurance mechanism inside which the particular course of study operates. Note that the course creators/providers do not overtly intend for the materials to exclude the broader insurance mechanism, such result is a matter of “necessity.” Students become so focused on the specific subject matter that they lose sight of where and how the information fits within the entirety of the mechanism.

At the risk of angering some insurance designation providers and some designation holders, the current system creates a false sense of competency. Some designation completers, like many new college graduates, think the piece of paper signifies the end rather than just one step towards the ultimate goal of professionalism. As the holder of eight insurance designations (and working on a ninth), I am obviously a full supporter of continuing professional development through study when done for the right reasons and in the right context.

So what’s missing; what education, course of study, program or new designation will fill the gaps and tie the information from all the other programs together in a practical way? The only course that could accomplish this goal is one that imparts information learned from the schools of “hard knocks” and “experience.” Experience takes the theoretical concepts learned in a class and from books and makes them practical within the insurance mechanism. The problem, experience has to be gained over time, it cannot be taught; and “experience” is often the polite term for a “mistake” (“he really gained some experience today”).

Boiled down, any new designation MUST be imbued with experience and practical application. Very little coverage or theory should be taught, rather the chosen course needs to focus on the principles surrounding coverage and form interpretation. Following are two examples of the preferred training program:

  • Learning how to read an insurance policy (any insurance policy) is far more beneficial than knowing what the commercial property, commercial general liability, homeowners or any other policy says. The mechanics of reading an insurance policy helps the student understand and effectively interpret ANY policy, even one they have not previously seen.
  • Most insurance professionals do not remember every exclusion in every policy. In fact trying to depend on memory is quite dangerous from an errors and omissions perspective. It is far better for the professional to know why the excluded losses or hazards are excluded. Knowing the six major reasons for exclusions allow the professional to better understand the coverage and take care of the client far better than simply knowing what the exclusions are.

Education must combine experience, errors and omissions training (either experientially or by attending class) and practical application if it is to be useful. Lack any of these and the practicality and usability of the training is lost.

What is lacking within the industry, but which is sorely needed, is training leading to a designation that can be used immediately upon the completers return to the office. But any new designation must also be very rigorous and hard to obtain if it is to mean anything. Its goal should be increased knowledge and professionalism, not simply a bunch of letters.

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  • November 18, 2009 at 11:06 am
    Jeff Lightner says:

    Each one of Mr. Bogg’s coverage articles accompishes the goal of the “NEW” designation. They provide valuable, practiable and useful information that can be professionally applied to the sale and service of insurance programs. I look forward to every new article as I know it’s contents will broaden my knowledge. Thanks Chris.


  • November 18, 2009 at 1:01 pm
    BJE says:

    Please keep up the good work Chris. Don’t they have University Degrees in Insurance now? I know that they don’t fulfill the practical experience side of things. Won’t most insurance companies or agencies put a new young worker on a sort of apprentice position initially?

    Your work has been very valuable to anyone who takes the time to read and digest the articles. Thank you for keeping them coming

  • November 18, 2009 at 1:58 pm
    Wes Pharis says:

    I find Chris’ articles very enlightening and useful. I agree completely that designations should be more than just letters. Education plus experience makes one invaluable to the industry and to the employer. One should always take every opportunity to learn.

  • November 18, 2009 at 2:12 pm
    Rob says:

    The only problem I see as we move forward creating new designations is not so much the need for a new specialized designation, but more so the educator creating a new designation simply to generate more revenue.

    Two years ago I obtained a new designation that I felt could be utilized on our agency. Now that my CE is coming up I feel the designation was created merely for the income CE would bring, more so than the education.


  • November 18, 2009 at 2:26 pm
    JoAnn Clarke says:

    While I agree there are a “boatload” of professional designations (some of wihch I don’t even know what they represent), I don’t agree that what is lacking is a designation that can be used immediately upon the completers return to the office. For me, CIC is that designation!

  • November 19, 2009 at 1:40 pm
    Judy says:

    I agree with you completely. I have several designations and my Masters Degree and most of what I learn in these courses – while interesting – doesn’t have much to do with my job.

  • November 19, 2009 at 2:56 pm
    Kitty Ambers says:

    In the age of specialization that we are seeing in our industry, a focused approach to learning is appropriate for some. Many designation programs hone in on this focus. However, I agree with Chris’s notion that experience is the best teacher. Some of the best seminars I’ve attended and / or facilitated have been idea-sharing sessions where there is an opportunity to learn from the experience of others. There comes a point where continuing education is actually being reminded of things you already know. Surrounding yourself with a solid network of experienced professionals that will challenge the status quo, and committing to life long learning, is what professional development is all about.

  • November 20, 2009 at 5:18 pm
    Anita Z. Bourke says:

    Chris Boggs makes valid points about the need for experience. Education and technical knowledge will take you only so far. If you think about it, professional development is a process that takes place over an entire career and occurs when education, training, knowledge, skills, and practice meet.

    It’s important to distinguish between designations and professional development. The former is tactical while the latter is strategic, or should be.

    This is precisely why insurance organizations must take a strategic approach to professional development and align it with their organizational goals so their employees who complete training and earn designations will have the opportunities to practice that which they have learned and experience professional growth. A good designation program must contain practical application-oriented content along with sound, proven theoretical concepts. After all, in order to be an effective practitioner of any vocation, one must possess an understanding of the “whys” in addition to the “hows.” Insurance education should:

    – Further the knowledge and professionalism of the person taking the course or designation program
    – Improve the decisions made when fulfilling job responsibilities, which improves the employer’s results

    Insurance professional development need not be limited to designations. While I disagree that designations create “a false sense of competency,” I believe that they provide a visible means to demonstrate the attainment of technical insurance knowledge. There is also a certain amount of justifiable pride and confidence that comes from earning a designation, the importance of which to employee morale cannot be overstated.

    Targeted learning can be delivered through online classes, in-person seminars or self-study, but the mentoring/coaching an individual receives when they return to work is every bit as important as the knowledge gained through pursuing the designation. In addition there is an obligation on the part of the designation holder or learner to seek out opportunities for practice and to apply that which has been learned. What we say to CPCUs during the designation ceremony is true for other designation holders, “By becoming a CPCU, you have reached an important goal. But professionalism does not stop there, nor should you. In the ever changing world in which we live it is imperative that we continue to learn.”

    Anita Z. Bourke, CPCU
    Executive Vice President

  • November 20, 2009 at 8:56 pm
    Tom Murin, CPCU, AIC, ARM, ARe says:

    Excellent article. Designations show a willingness and ability to go beyond the minimum requirements of the job.

    I’m probably more surprised by the number of career insurance folks that don’t have designations than those who do. While I believe they give credibility to the holder – the person still needs to “walk the walk” and prove it in their work product.

    I took an adjuster exam this morning which covered many lines of business that I have not handled (and almost certainly never will), but the exposure to them in my CPCU courses was valuable – and helped me pass.

  • December 3, 2009 at 2:50 pm
    Sarah Cady Hinkelman, CPCU, AU says:

    Having just spent the last 2 + years developing commercial insurance agent training for a small regional carrier, I wholeheartedly agree with Chris. We don’t need another re-hash of coverages; there are many fine programs out there that can do that.

    Designations are important. But I agree that they are missing the practical application portion that Chris is referring to.

    Experience is paramount but the challenge is how to acquire it more quickly. We are entering an era where we need to quickly pull in new agents and get them up and selling. How do you increase their chances of success? Hire the right folks. Hire those who are intellectually curious, those with good selling skills and those with a commitment to their professional and ethical development. Then start them out on the path that Chris suggests. Get them into a quality training program, mentor them and support their development. The ratio of agents that stay in our business dramatically increases when they receive quality training and mentoring.

    Quality training doesn’t involve just a push out of information; it’s creating experiences that mimic real life so students practice doing their job in a simplified environment then increasing the complexity. It’s one thing to be shown the Spoilage, Utility services รข€” Direct Damages form and a Mechanical Breakdown contract, memorize the coverage and pass a quiz and quite another to be able to determine which one(s) your case study client needs and then articulate the selling points and limitations in a mock conversation. A good training program will incorporate both.

    Look for programs that incorporate case studies and require students to apply the concepts around risk management and coverage issues to “real life” scenarios.

    Thanks for a great article Chris!

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