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Igniting Next Gen: Careers in Claims Administration - Making A Difference

By Alliant Specialty

Karen Caterino welcomes Irina Simpson, Senior Vice President and Chief Claims Officer with PMA Management Corp., to take an inside look at the role of a Chief Claims Officer. Irina walks through her career journey and how risk and insurance careers can provide stability through socio-economic changes. She discusses internship opportunities and details on her firm’s extensive training program, work/life balance as well as how a career in claims management has a positive impact on people and businesses.

Intro (00:00):
You are listening to a special episode of In The Public Eye Podcast, Igniting NextGen for Careers in Risk Management, where we explore all the exciting career opportunities and possibilities within the insurance industry. Here is your host, Karen Caterino.

Karen Caterino (00:18):
Hello, welcome to Alliant's Igniting Next Gen podcast. I'm your host, Karen Caterino, and our guest today is Irina Simpson, Senior Vice President and Chief Claims Officer with PMA Management Corporation. Welcome to the show, Irina.

Irina Simpson (00:32):
Thanks so much, Karen. I'm really excited about this opportunity and it's so great to be here with you.

Karen Caterino (00:37):
Well, we're glad you're here. We'd like to hear about your background and your career path that has led you to become PMA's Chief Claims Officer. Why don't you share a little bit about yourself?

Irina Simpson (00:47):
Sure, I think like many folks in our industry, I didn't go to college learning to pursue a career in claims or insurance. I was actually thinking of going to law school and then as I started getting closer to the graduation time, I realized I needed to help my parents pay off some loans and help in our financial situation. So I knew I had to get a job, and ultimately I ended up being selected by a large national carrier for their entry level claims program. And I really didn't know what to expect. I always envisioned the world of claims as a cold calling type of thing, as I think a lot of folks still do now. So I got into the program back then. They sent us away for 30 days to study and to learn the foundation of claims and the basics and the background.

And then we came back and we started doing the actual work. And that's when I really was so surprised. I think that the world of commercial claim handling is just so different than what anybody would've expected. It's so dynamic. Every day is so different, it's really never boring and that there's just so much to learn constantly. So I found myself loving what I was doing and started progressing through the career track. Over time, ultimately ended up landing in a TPA world, a third party administrator, and progressed there through various career tracks. And then I got a call from PMA Management Corp, and there was a great opportunity for me to run business operations, product design, data analytics and field claims operations. So that was about seven years ago; I joined PMA and then a few years down the road they named me the Chief Claims Officer. And that's really been one of the best things that could have happened to me at that time. I got to run a large organization. There's so many excellent, talented people. There's so much innovation that's taken place, both big and small. The opportunities that are created, the ability to build teams and to interact with people and to solve problems. It's a really nice position.

Karen Caterino (02:36):
Well, it sounds like those are a few qualities that you do like most about your job. What are some other things, maybe some skill sets and things that you feel are necessary for a role like yours?

Irina Simpson (02:45):
I think this position and any positions in our industry really, folks need to be great problem solvers. They also need to be students of the industry, and I say this because when I talk to a lot of the folks coming out of college and coming into our entry level programs, they are often talking the same as me. I didn't know what to expect. I did my research, I talked to my professors, and this is nothing like what I thought it was going to be. And so being a student of the industry is so very important. I think one of the greatest things about risk and insurance is the fact that it survives all of the socioeconomic changes. It survives anything that may be happening out there in the world. It's a great unique hidden gem of an industry.

And because of this, when these things happen, you always have to be up with the times, right? So you have to be learning, you have to be curious, you have to be willing to invest in yourself to get some more education throughout. You have to be a great communicator. You're dealing with folks at every level of our customers’ organizations. This could be CFOs, treasurers, this could be heads of HR. And you have to be able to be on par with them being able to articulate complex concepts in a great manner and inspire confidence in the fact that you can manage very large financial exposures for them.

Karen Caterino (03:58):
You know, I think what Gen Z is looking for in terms of their career pathways, are some of the things you've mentioned in terms of career stability, the ability to be able to earn a pretty good living doing what you're doing as well as the flexibility, the work life balance, which I think working within a TPA also offers them, right?

Irina Simpson (04:18):
Yes, absolutely. I think it's one of those jobs where you could build a career track. I know growth and progression is very important to this generation, and it was very important to me when I was starting out. And the opportunities are just so vast. The industry is not just about calling somebody or like I said, the cold calling or anything like this. There is the claims career track, there is a technical career track, there is a leadership track. There are all other types of things like analytics and risk control and safety, you could be getting into project management. The world is yours when you get into the industry like this, but I think especially in a third party administration, I find claims is a foundation of everything. You have to learn claims and then that propels you forward in every career. But it does allow you the flexibility. It does allow you the stability. Our company has been around for over a hundred years, and that's not a common thing nowadays. And as I said, with the economy and the society and what goes on, we survive through all of that because you always need insurance and there's always risk in the world.

Karen Caterino (05:17):
That's very true. I also think what Gen Z really looks for and values is relationships. And the benefit of that in our business is that you do build that network and that relationship amongst a variety of career pathways that if one doesn't necessarily work for you, you can leverage that network and continue on in some other type of role using the background information you gained and knowledge in the role that you were in. So it's another advantage for Gen Z to consider too.

Irina Simpson (05:46):
Absolutely, the ability to build relationships, work with different generations of people, get so much knowledge and the transfer of knowledge and wealth of that information that you could be getting from folks that have joined, 30, 40 years ago to now. There's just so much there.

Karen Caterino (06:02):
And many of them are going to be retiring, so even more opportunity, right? So, you've talked a lot about what you like. What would you say are some of the challenges that you've experienced just starting out either in your claims management role or even your former roles? What were some of the things that were challenging to you?

Irina Simpson (06:20):
I think the challenges come back to not knowing what to expect. And even as I talk now to all of our college grads, and I even surveyed them a little bit before having this conversation, and they all came back saying the same thing, no matter how much you think you've prepared, no matter how much research you've done, you can't really explain this until you're in it. And when you don't know what to expect, it requires you to be nimble and agile and open-minded. It allows you to come into something and really commit yourself to that and invest in yourself. And then of course, having a company that's willing to invest right back into you. And that happens through the continued education. It happens through different training programs, being given opportunities, being recognized if you truly have talent and skill and progressing you through a career track. But it starts with just opening up your mind and saying, you know what, I'm going to give this a try and I really am going to invest in this.

Karen Caterino (07:10):
It's great that at least you and your company acknowledge that. I think having a 21-year-old daughter myself, considering a career in insurance, she's one that wants to go into a job knowing what she needs to do. And I try and coach and advise her, that's what a company invests in you to help you get there. But being a perfectionist, she just wants to go in and know it, and I'm gonna feel bad if I don't. So we appreciate hearing what you're saying, and I think Gen Z does as well, that you don't have to go into a job knowing a hundred percent of what the job's going to entail, that you will learn it.

Irina Simpson (07:44):
Yeah, I think if you have a technical background and you went through school for a very specific narrow degree, you probably would have a good understanding, maybe a computer programming or something like that. But in this industry, I always say when there's a question about what's a typical day look like, there is no typical day because everything is so nimble and it evolves and it changes, and it's really, you follow what's happening out there and that's why you can't really predict it.

Karen Caterino (08:14):
You touched on a typical day. What is a typical day for somebody that works in your field?

Irina Simpson (08:18):
There isn't one, that's the funny part about this job and i think this field in claims and what we do. So third party administration is a client driven business and our day follows along the steps of what our customers are going through and how can we best really help support them through this. At the core of what a third party administrator does is really partnering with the very large companies to help them protect their most valuable assets. And those assets could be their employees. Those assets could be their property, their brand, their reputation, the fleet that they have and anything like that, the products that they make. So being able to respond swiftly and with a great degree of confidence and knowledge to different situations that take place. To give you an example, if you deal with, for example, a large municipality, your day could be dealing with a civil unrest or a police officer being injured in a line of duty.

If you're dealing with a healthcare facility, you may be dealing with the COVID pandemic and how it's affecting their healthcare workers. If you're working with a large trucking company, let's say in the Midwest there's a snowstorm, that could be a pile up in the middle of a highway, and you're in the middle of this. So you really are following your customers’ problems and issues and become an extension of their brand and reputation and extension of their risk management department. And the best claims professionals that we try to grow and develop are those that really can become specialized consultative experts to their customers and be able to support them because these are unforeseen difficult events that they go through.

Karen Caterino (09:48):
And what you've just highlighted, I think it is another attribute that Gen Z really likes, is making a difference. And clearly what you just described is somebody being able to jump in, at a moment's notice, and assist during a difficult event, a client with something. So, you know, I think that's really important to Gen Z too, that they feel their job matters.

Irina Simpson (10:11):
This is I think one of those unexpected things that a lot of our folks find about this role and our industry, because you don't think of insurance, you don't think of risk management as, I am making a difference. I'm helping somebody in a time of need. But really when you step back and you look at what is it that we do that's at the core of what we do is identifying how somebody got hurt. Somebody is having a tough time, they're not experts in what to do, maybe their car got damaged, maybe they were mistreated at the place of work. Maybe they ate something in a school cafeteria that was not savory. All types of things that you don't realize that all of them lead us right back to the claims and insurance. It's every part of our life. And to have the opportunity to be on the front lines of this as a claims professional, to really jump in and make that difference, I think folks find it extremely rewarding.

Karen Caterino (11:03):
Yeah, I definitely would agree. Well, how can students or people early on in their career pursue opportunities to work in claims management firms like yours?

Irina Simpson (11:12):
Great question. We offer a great training program, and that's probably one of the best ways to enter this industry. You really want to be looking at the company that can help you gain the right skills and knowledge that you need because it's not a job that you step into and do day one. It requires skill and development and growth throughout the career trajectory. So having a training program that's really built out and well designed. I can tell you ours run about twice a year and the best way to find them is by going to our website at and looking at right around graduation dates. So a January program would be posted right around September timeframe, sometime in the fall, and then a June starting program would be posted sometime around March, April. And then of course, there's also internships that give you a sense of what's going on.

Can I try my foot at this? Can I see if I'm any good at this? And get a preview of what's going on. But once you get into the training program, there's a lot of differences about how these programs are run and you want to find the right one for you as you’re coming out of school and what really speaks to you. Our program is about four phases long, and it's a combination of instructor led virtual training, a little bit of self-study. There's some cultivation activities that really take you from the bottom up of the foundation and basics of what this industry is, what it is a day in the life, what are some of the things that can happen. And then it provides you a simulated environment, an opportunity to apply what you're learning in a progressive manner. So you're not walking in and being handed over a bunch of work and saying, you’re going to sink or swim. It's a really nurturing type of environment with two mentors being assigned and a supervisor being dedicated to each individual coming in to make sure they're truly well positioned for success in this position.

Karen Caterino (12:56):
Well, that's fantastic. Are the programs that you offer, are they nationwide based or are there certain offices or locations that they would need to be working out of?

Irina Simpson (13:06):
They're all national and we really just believe that the best talent will be where they will be, especially post pandemic, folks are moving all over the place. So we look for the best possible person, not necessarily the local one. We've done them all over the country with all various types of universities and colleges and we've run this for over five years now. We bring 30 to 40 folks in every year. And I’ve spent so much time with them. I love the interaction, I love the ideas that they bring, the diversity of thought that they have, how innovative they can be and the solutions they bring to the table. And I think having an opportunity to have your voice heard is so important and it's important to us as an employer to bring people in that are willing to be outspoken and excited and passionate and truly want to have this be their career.

Karen Caterino (13:55):
Do many of those that intern with you wind up coming to work with PMA?

Irina Simpson (13:59):
Yes, a fair amount. Internship programs, we try to offer them really to be more of an educational type of component where you get to just observe and see what's going on. What is this job really about? So you may not necessarily get to do the actual job because that requires training and development, but you get to spend time shadowing people watching how this is done, learning about the organization, learning about different departments that exist. So if you decide, maybe it's not claims that you want to enter into, but it's data analytics or risk control opportunities, to really understand and learn all of that, really is a part of the internship program.

Karen Caterino (14:35):
Do you feel a college degree is a requirement?

Irina Simpson (14:38):
I think it's an interesting topic and we talk about it all the time and we've looked at things and have done them different ways. I don't know if I would say that it's a permanent requirement. I think right now our program does rely on a college background for the graduation. But we do offer other entry level positions for entry level type of claims roles that don't require a degree. And you can then enter and try to pursue different types of designations, associates and claims associates in risk management. We will support you through all of that, so there are other opportunities there. The other really great avenue we've found is that folks that have gotten out of school, worked somewhere for a couple of years and maybe it wasn't for them and they wanted a new career. They now understand what corporate world is all about, but want to have a true track long term. They also end up being really successful and we do look at those as well.

Karen Caterino (15:31):
That's great. So, in closing, what would you say is your best advice for students considering a career, working with a company like yours or another TPA and maybe share some of the training opportunities as you have for the entry level positions, but in addition, are there certifications or licensing that's required too?

Irina Simpson (15:49):
So my best advice would be do your research. Figure out what the best organization is for you. Make sure that there's a good training program that's truly going to allow you to progress and develop, that's going to open the doors for you. That's going to provide a nurturing environment where you feel like you have support, where you have the mentors, where you have the proper leadership in place, folks that are truly committed to your success, not just I'll bring you into the door. I think that the skills that are needed, obviously, the communication and the great writing and the speaking and all of those things, invest in those, find opportunities to network, find opportunities to put yourself out there to grow. It's difficult and we always say you have to go to grow and that's one of those things where you just have to put yourself out there and try to develop the training opportunities; they exist out there. Like I said, our training program, I think when I talk to our college grads and I have so many testimonials from them that have gone through this program and have graduated now, some of them have been here for five, six years. Some of them are managers, supervisors, moved into other departments. They always look back and they tell me, I didn't anticipate this, but I love being here. I love finding a new home. I love how supportive of an environment this has been. I love being able to have my voice heard. And this could be part of being in a smaller company, having the opportunity to have access to leadership teams, to be a part of different projects, to want to be in a diverse community. I think all of that is very important. And so I'd say the best thing you can do is give it a try, reach out. I'm always glad to answer any questions folks. Find us on LinkedIn. Go sign up for newsletters and things like that and just have the courage to give it a good try.

Karen Caterino (17:34):
Well, thank you, Irena. It's been a pleasure talking with you. And thank you so much for taking the time to be on our show and share your experiences.

Irina Simpson (17:41):
Thank you very much, Karen. What a great opportunity. I really appreciate it.


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