Butler plans student-run insurance agency as lure to ‘boring’ field

Butler University is trying to sell millennials on the idea that working in insurance isn’t as boring as it sounds.

The plan is to create a student-run insurance agency that gives Butler undergraduates a chance to learn in real time how to insure everything from campus buildings to Butler’s live bulldog mascot Blue III, known as Trip.

The goal, along with protecting the university’s assets, is to attract more young people to careers in an industry that’s expecting a talent shortage as baby boomers retire.

The problem is that students don’t typically think of insurance as all that thrilling.

“It’s just a perfect storm and nightmare for employers,” said Zach Finn, a clinical professor who runs Butler’s Davey Risk Management & Insurance Program in the College of Business. “There are a lot of career opportunities. It’s much more than selling life insurance at the kitchen table.”

Butler plans to launch the captive insurance company in the 2019-20 school year. Captive agencies are essentially a form of self-insurance where a parent organization—in this case, Butler—owns the agency.

Students in Butler’s new risk management program will manage it under a team of professional mentors from the insurance industry.

“Once our students are given the opportunity to perform, they really do rise to the occasion,” said College of Business Dean Steve Standifird. “I am most excited about them getting the experience of writing a policy and thinking through the implications of it. What they’re underwriting isn’t as important as the process.”

Standifird said the experience will put them ahead of their peers once they start interviewing for jobs—hopefully in the insurance industry, which is already warning of possible labor shortages.

The median age of insurance carrier employees in the U.S. is 44, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2013. About 640,000 of them were age 55 or older.

One estimate by global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found the average insurance agent is 59.

By 2022, the insurance industry will need to replace more than 295,000 insurance sales agents, claims adjusters, claims and policy clerks, underwriters, software developers, analysts, and actuaries, according to BLS.

“It’s an industry that’s on the verge of a crisis in terms of talent,” Standifird said.

The program is getting off the ground with a $250,000 gift from Indianapolis’ MJ Insurance and Michael Bill, its chairman and founder.

MJ Insurance President and COO Jon Loftin said he hopes the agency convinces students that insurance and risk management aren't “boring or stale.”

“We are finding that most young adults today are simply unaware of what extraordinary opportunities exist within this industry that oftentimes align more closely with their career, financial and, most importantly, their life goals,” Loftin said in a written statement.

Finn estimates the college will need to raise another $250,000 to sustain the operation.

Until then, Finn said, he plans to give students a chance to think through and plan every aspect of the agency’s development.

They’ll examine its viability, asking questions about whether it makes sense to sell insurance to the outside world, such as rental insurance for students in nearby apartments.

Here’s another one: Why insure the dog?

“The dog has a replacement value,” Finn said, “and a value to our brand.”

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