The Learning Experience
Insurance Experts' Forum, August 17, 2010
The past 18 months have been a learning experience for us all. (A gross understatement for some.) When it was personal, some of it was hard learning—tough love. At other times, it was observational learning … as in, “Glad I didn’t do that.”
We saw that dramatic change can happen. Giants can fall, personal wealth can disappear, unemployment happens, and survival can become a priority. We have been reminded that economic cycles are still a reality. And looking back now, some of the indicators are so obvious—inflated oil/gas prices, the real-estate bubble, sub-prime mortgages, default swaps, and so on. For some, it confirmed their “I told you” warnings. For others, there has been a loss of innocence.
So, what have we learned? I’m sure the list will vary by individual, but for me: Ethics are important. They always have been. We are in an industry where confidence, stability and trust are critical. Personally, I am angry that a few people and companies have tarnished everyone’s reputation. We must do better; our promises must be sincere.
• Understand risk better. Charts, graphs, and analytics are not always enough. Ratings agencies are not sufficient. We still need to factor in human behavior (good and bad), use common sense, and realize there are still more unknowns. Consider the bigger picture; a more holistic view. Include the short and long term, the local and international, and other possible scenarios.
• Our customers have changed. Some have less to spend; lots have higher expectations and more choices. Many are skeptical and all have better access to information. More customers are nearing retirement, and the younger generations are technologically savvier. In some areas, minorities are becoming majorities. We need to constantly evaluate their needs and wants.
• Balance is important. Investments should be stable and diversified and returns not taken for granted. Being in a single marketplace is more risky than having several growth opportunities. Life is short and should be about more than the office.
• We have learned to manage better. Overall, managers are more thoughtful about making decisions. They are requiring real cost-benefit analysis. They weigh consequences, trade-offs and doing without. Many organizations have learned they can live fine on less.
• Be prepared. Never underestimate Mother Nature! The Gulf Coast storms, Haitian earthquake, Iceland’s volcano, and Nashville’s flood are just a few examples. We provide a valuable service to our clients in helping them protect their assets. Helping our family and neighbors is our personal contribution.
• Don’t panic. Be patient. Hard to believe in the darkest of times, but cycles have ups and downs. Brace yourself during the fall and prepare for when things get better. It looks like the economy is recovering: get ready.
• Be grateful that it was not worse. Appreciate each day. Love your family, appreciate your friends, and value your customers. We are all in this together.
Ron Zimmer is a senior consultant for The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.
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