DESIGNATIONS AND DEGREES—
UNLIT SIGNS OR BEACONS
Considerations before obtaining a
designation or certification
By Dr. William T. Hold, CIC, CPCU, CLU
Almost one hundred years ago—in 1927 to be exact—professor Solomon Huebner at the University of Pennsylvania saw the need to raise the status of individuals engaged in the sale of life insurance. In an effort to accomplish this goal, he created the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation.
In essence, he wanted to transform life insurance sales into a profession. To do this he organized a body of knowledge and a series of examinations and created a sign, the CLU designation, as an indication of achievement. He structured a program in hopes of mirroring the recognition then given to established professions such as law and medicine.
The passing of almost a century has not lessened the interest or zest for recognition. In fact, the inter-est, or in many cases, the demand for signs of achievement in business and life in general has intensified. One unfortunate result is that, all too often, participation is confused with achievement.
Today, no matter your profession or business, you will be barraged by a dazzling array of degrees, designations, badges, and certificates indicating that the people you are dealing with are essentially competent and ethical—that they have engaged in some element of training in their field and actually passed some type of examination or testing process. In some cases, they have engaged in a continuing education effort to maintain their skills and recognition.
In addition, the diploma or certificate will almost always state that the individual named has been chartered, recognized, approved, or certified by some organization or body of individuals. In many cases, especially with college or university degrees, there will be a reference to the rights and privileges that the degree holder is entitled to receive. These rights and privileges are seldom defined or explained.
The insurance community is no stranger to the use of designations, certificates, and related evidence of achievement. There have for years been concerns and questions about the number of insurance and risk management designations, i.e., too many, they have lost their meaning or value, and in some cases, they have lost credibility. Some of the same thoughts have been expressed about college and university degrees.
It is not uncommon for individuals who have multiple designations to face comments by others that they have “more letters after your name than in your name” or that they have been “educated beyond your intellect,” or that their business card should say “continued on reverse side.”
The best designation program or university is the one with the best graduates in their field.
There is little question concerning the emphasis we have in our country, the insurance community, and in education with the ideals or concepts of professionalism and excellence. However, those concepts are like bells without people to ring them or homes without people to live in them. They are empty shells that have no meaning without human action and interpretation.
Let’s suppose we take a green leaf from a tree—a leaf that has no meaning by itself and no words to describe it. And we put that green leaf on the lapels or clothing or after the names of 500 of the best, most knowledgeable insurance producers, risk managers, or service personnel in Dallas, Texas. What do you think would happen? Clients, insurance underwriters, marketing representatives and vendors would in a short period of time say, “If you want to deal with a real professional, look for that green leaf. They did great work for me. Let me give you the name of my person with the green leaf.”
Designations are only signs. The persons who holds the designation provide the meaning and the light. The designees not only light the sign, but their success will make it a beacon for others to follow. The most important differentiator for designations and degrees are the individuals who achieve and maintain them. The best designation program or university is the one with the best graduates in their field.
Those wishing to obtain or achieve a designation or certification should consider the following issues or questions. It is important to note that individuals can have various personal or other considerations too numerous to include here.
- Current designees. The recognition, reputation, and success of individuals who have achieved and hold the designation. Would you want to work with them or have them as a mentor? Have they earned your respect?
- Course content. Is the information presented in the course of study relevant to your current work and future career? Is the material practical? Can you put to use what you learn today when you are working tomorrow? When were the course materials last revised?
- Requirements for achieving the designation. Are examinations required? How many? Are the exams multiple choice or short essay? Can you retake the exams? What is the pass/fail ratio for the exams? Is there an essay or related paper required? If the exams are online, what is the proctoring requirement? How long will it take you to complete the course of study? Are the required courses readily available?
- Requirements for keeping the designation. Is there a meaningful and monitored continuing education requirement? What is the requirement, and will the material presented be valuable in your work? What are the consequences of not meeting the continuing education requirement for both licensure and maintaining the designation? What are the consequences of engaging in unlawful or unethical activities? Can you actually lose the designation?
- What is the fee for each course? Are there additional fees for program admission, examinations, reexamination, exam reviews, expedited exam grading, additional study or exam review materials, or receiving continuing education credit?
- Educational orphans. Does the program you are considering offer a next step or level in your career or will you be an “educational orphan”? Are there other available programs related to your career or will you have to move your “educational home”?
- The designation granting organization. What is the avowed purpose of the organization granting the designation? Do they conduct additional designation or recognition programs? Are they a not-for-profit educational organization? How long have they been in existence? Have they ever discontinued a program? Are the other programs they offer well respected in the insurance community?
A crucial but often forgotten part of designation programs is the name of the designee, your name. The designation or diploma you receive will have your name and the initials marking your achievement boldly displayed.
Those initials will become part of your name, your “brand,” your beacon. Some have asked “what’s in a name?” Only the most important part of “owning your potential”—you!
William T. “Doc” Hold, Ph.D., CIC, CPCU, CLU, is executive chairman of The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, which he co-founded in 1969 as The Society of CIC. Under his leadership, The National Alliance has grown to become one of the most prestigious insurance education organizations in the world. In this column Doc shares his personal insights and opinions, which are not necessarily those of The National Alliance or its board members.