Like so many teenagers, they didn’t know much about insurance.
When Gabby Banks, Henry Cram, Taylor Trafton, Filmon Futsum and Casey Alexander set foot on their respective college campuses, underwriting and claims were another language. But professors guided them to risk management and insurance courses, which led to internships — and for most of them, jobs in the insurance industry after college.
As these risk management and insurance (RMI) students prepare to graduate and enter the workforce, Insurance Journal picked their brains about why they chose to study insurance — and how the industry can better attract their Generation Z peers.
These young adults’ perspectives on the insurance space highlight the importance of offering career growth opportunities, emphasizing diversity efforts and connecting with potential employees long before they have a concrete career path in mind.
“It’s really, really important for people in the industry and media and the like to talk to the actual students themselves,” said Robert Hartwig, an industry veteran who currently is director of the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business’ Center for Risk and Uncertainty Management. “The people who, on a day-to-day basis, are thinking about what they want to do with the rest of their lives … This, in many ways, is one of the most important decisions they will ever make in their lives.”
She wanted to learn something she knew nothing about. Insurance fit the bill.
After Gabby Banks began studying finance at East Carolina University in 2018, she met with Brenda Wells, a distinguished risk management and insurance program director and professor at the ECU College of Business. The conversation they shared struck a chord. Hearing about opportunities in the risk management and insurance industries resonated with Banks.
“And I decided that’s where I needed to be,” Banks recalled.
Her years in ECU’s RMI program were formative — empowering her to grow as a communicator and become a young ambassador who strives to bring awareness of the industry’s opportunities to her peers. Banks took a claims internship the summer after she enrolled in the ECU RMI program, and she’ll begin working as a risk analyst for Credit Suisse following graduation.
“I just want to branch out and explore different parts of the industry,” she said. “Since my degree is in risk management and insurance, I explored the insurance side a little bit — so I want to look into my risk management side and see what that side of the house looks like.”
Her experiences highlight something the insurance industry must understand: Insurance organizations aren’t competing only against themselves, but also against other industries entirely. As more and more baby boomers retire, the insurance industry isn’t the only one experiencing a demographic cliff.
Hartwig said many other industries are also in this boat.
“They’re all looking for people,” he explained. “They’re all talking about their own talent crises. So, part of the crisis is the multitude of crises. And I don’t think that the industry is generally aware of the fact that while they think about their own crisis … the reality of it is, other corporations, other industries are looking for the exact same talent. And the same talent that would be a good fit for an insurer or for a broker or for an agency might also be a great fit for a bank, for a government agency or for a manufacturer.”
When reflecting on Gen Z’s career priorities, Banks said her generation is “very money-oriented” and needs to see growth potential in possible careers. She believes insurance companies would benefit from highlighting clear opportunities for advancement.
Banks also spoke of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. When asked, she said inclusive environments are guiding her peers’ career paths. Feeling included and respected is extremely important.
“I believe putting your younger professionals at the forefront would be something that the insurance industry can do,” Banks said. “When I was first getting into it, I heard that it was maybe an older, white-male-dominated industry. Coming into it and seeing that there are so many younger professionals, younger women, people of color in the industry — it’s been amazing to see.”
Banks suggests that highlighting younger professionals from the get-go could be helpful in recruiting efforts. “I’ve seen these people at conferences and career fairs, but maybe [including those individuals] in marketing materials — that would be awesome.”
She wasn’t sure which path she’d follow.
Growing up, Henry Cram’s older sisters always knew their direction. Cram’s hadn’t “clicked” by the time she enrolled in the University of South Carolina’s nursing program. Her major flipped a couple of times — first to undecided, then to finance — before learning of the opportunities the insurance industry offers.
Speaking with two female industry professionals opened her eyes and shattered stereotypes.
“It opened up the door,” Cram recalled, “and I figured, ‘Well, there must be a spot for everyone within the industry.’ And I thought that was a really interesting component.”
A claims department internship with Liberty Mutual last summer further familiarized her with insurance policies and the claims process. She also job shadowed employees with other positions at the company — a conscious decision that helped her refine her direction and move forward confidently.
After graduation, she will enter Liberty’s underwriting training program.
Like many students included in this story, Cram’s experiences show how a young adult who knows little about the inner workings of the insurance industry can be enticed by industry professionals who take the time to explain the opportunities available to them.
Beyond that, she exemplifies the potential power an internship can have on landing lasting talent. Hartwig believes offering internships is “one of the number one predictors” of attracting and retaining talent.
“That means by the time they’re actually making the decision about a job, they’ve heard about you (and) they may have actually worked for you if they were one of your interns,” Hartwig said. “And generally speaking, most successful internships are able to be converted into a position, meaning a new individual, new key talent coming in the door.
“And in my experience, now about seven years here at the University of South Carolina, is that successful internship opportunities are the top predictor of whether an individual will join your organization.”
When asked what she believes the industry can do to entice more young people, Cram pointed to highlighting career stability in interactions — and expanding risk management programs to more schools to bring more awareness to the industry’s offerings. She wondered if there could be ways to incentivize finance teachers to incorporate more insurance information in their curriculums.
“It’s interesting, because I’ve been talking to my peers, and I’ll try to lure them into insurance, and just discussing with people, I’ve realized that a lot of people have said, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that that was part of insurance. I didn’t know you could do that,’” Cram said.
She decided to study RMI because she knew of the insurance industry talent crisis — and because of an academic program that offers students studying certain majors with in-state tuition at out-of-state colleges.
When Taylor Trafton enrolled at the University of South Carolina as a business major, finding an area of specialization that would guide her career became a priority. A family friend who works as a broker pointed her to insurance. He highlighted growth opportunities in the industry that were opening due to the retirement cliff.
Still, Trafton was wary. As a freshman, she questioned: Is this really the path I want to pursue?
Like so many others, what eventually solidified her decision to continue studying RMI was learning of all the opportunities in the insurance and reinsurance spaces. That flexibility was empowering.
“And I think having that background of knowing in insurance — you can go anywhere with it,” Trafton said.
“You can get a job … there’s a ton of companies looking to hire young people. And they’ll train you, too. You don’t need to have all the information.”
She tapped into the breadth of the industry’s offerings by holding internships that centered on marketing, web development and content creation for various insurance organizations. Ultimately, though, Trafton’s career will begin outside the insurance industry.
She is set to soon begin work as a global risk analyst at Bank of America. “I was exploring insurance jobs, obviously, but the job that I decided that I wanted to go with had a lot of opportunities for growth and a lot of opportunities,” Trafton reflected. “So, I’ll be in a two-year rotational program that goes around the risk management department. And I think that was important to me because I wasn’t sure exactly what avenue I wanted to go through. So being able to rotate through different departments kind of lets me see what I like, what I don’t like.”
Still, Trafton believes highlighting the potential for exploration and growth in the insurance industry is important when insurance organizations connect with Gen Z. Think specialty risks, like sports insurance — as well as niche areas like marine underwriting. The uniqueness of these areas is enticing, she said.
Emphasizing all the potential opportunities available is key.
“Making sure that the students are aware of the very wide, wide range of opportunities that are available to them if they stick with the organization and they work hard in this organization is absolutely critical,” Hartwig said. “I have students every year who have misgivings about joining a particular organization because the company is not sufficiently forthright on these areas.”
Trafton also urged employers to highlight their diversity. While many conjure images of a male-dominated workforce, she sees value in spotlighting the whole picture. “There are so many amazing women that work in it,” Trafton said. “So, I feel like that’s important for me to highlight, too, for younger girls that are thinking about it. There’s a spot for you, too.”
First-generation college student Filmon Futsum thought he’d become a physician’s assistant. That quickly changed, though, and a meeting with Wells opened his eyes to the recession-proof nature of the insurance industry and opportunities for advancement. Two years later, he joined the ECU RMI program.
Soon, he’ll begin working as an underwriting trainee for Markel.
“I would say the one thing that stuck out to me was that insurance is a part of everybody’s daily lives,” Futsum said when recalling what attracted him to the insurance business. “You’re going to need it every step of the way of your life. So, it just stuck out to me that it’s going to be there for everybody at some point in time.”
He views the industry’s talent crisis as an opportunity for members of his generation to “join in an entry-level position, and really just put your foot forward and work really hard,” he said — and potentially reach a management position in less than five years. That appealed to him.
Futsum double majored in RMI and human resources, and for a period, he considered pursuing a career in the latter. He also thought about working in insurance claims. After completing an internship at his future employer, though, he received the clarity that will guide his path forward.
“Going in, I thought maybe claims was something I was interested in,” Futsum recalled, “but after sitting with different underwriters and seeing the process that they go through in their day-to-day lives — that was something that stuck out to me and what ultimately changed my mind and what I wanted to do after college.”
ECU’s Wells strives to instill professionalism and a deep sense of self-awareness in her students. Many of them — Futsum included — go on to work in the insurance industry, and when they do, they have a thorough understanding of the business and why their roles are important– and valuable.
“Our students realize that there are opportunities — lucrative opportunities — to be at a six-figure salary, five years out of school,” Wells explained. “To help people in their time of need. And our students look forward to that — but that’s because we’re training them that they’re playing something bigger than just somebody at a desk with a calculator and a computer. You’re playing a much bigger role in how this industry works.”
Through high school, Casey Alexander’s familiarity with insurance was limited to big-brand TV commercials and hearing his parents talk about claims. He enrolled at ECU and set his sights on a finance degree. When he graduates in May, he’ll take home that one — and another in risk management and insurance.
RMI classes and conferences broadened his understanding of the insurance career landscape. He’s now set to join Markel’s underwriting training program where he will work mainly with the company’s small business product.
“Commercial lines isn’t something people really know about right away,” he explained. “You kind of think of health or personal (lines) and because that’s what you see on TV, or that’s what your parents are dealing with — or you were dealing with — from a younger age. And just learning more about the different niche markets was an area that made me feel more attracted to the industry.”
‘And just learning more about the different niche markets was an area that made me feel more attracted to the industry.’
He picked that path specifically because of the training program and career accelerant it provides. A positive review from a friend who interned with Markel factored into the decision-making process, and the position fell in line with his location goals, too.
Like others interviewed for this story, he believes the industry is appealing to his generation from the standpoints of stability and passion-exploration. When asked what he believes the insurance industry can highlight to attract more talent, he spoke of the importance of highlighting non-finance-background opportunities, including the need for marketing and information technology professionals.
“I think people don’t realize how you can basically pair anything that you like to do with insurance, or with risk management,” he said. “And (this) is another way to draw talent in.”
He also spoke of the importance of tailoring benefits programs to young prospects. A single, 22-year-old college grad won’t be as interested in a benefits package with full life and health, he said.
Offering ancillary benefits that might appeal more to the younger generation can help employers stand out, according to Wells. “I think you really need to think about the stage of life that these students are at when you’re trying to hire them and think about what needs, what their needs are,” she said, adding that some companies have begun offering pet insurance and student loan repayment benefits as perks.
“All benefits are not created equal, and all benefits do not fit all demographics.”
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