INSTRUCTION ON INTERNSHIPS
Gamma Iota Sigma students reflect on previous learning experiences
By Christopher W. Cook
This past September, Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS)—the insurance industry’s collegiate talent pipeline working to promote and sustain student interest in the insurance and risk management industry—held its annual conference. The event, like most this year, went virtual, but still provided students with a plethora of opportunities to meet with participating vendors about internships, job opportunities and to ask questions about careers in the industry. Nearly 700 GIS students representing over 115 universities across the country registered to participate in the event. That’s right; there are a bunch of college students actively learning about insurance and risk management and seeking experience and opportunities.
Two GIS students who have taken advantage of these opportunities have completed multiple internship experiences. Delaney Peters, a junior studying actuarial science at Olivet College, serves as her GIS chapter’s chief financial officer and vice president of actuarial science. She began participating in internships after graduating from high school in 2018.
“My first was with the agency where my family gets our insurance,” she says. “They had been talking about having an intern, so I went in and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to school for insurance.’ I got in just by knowing the right people.
“In the summer of 2019, through connections at my first internship in Kalkaska, Michigan, I interned at another agency in Traverse City. Networking definitely helped me.”
Peters’s networking chain continued in 2020 after her boss from the internship in Traverse City connected her with her boss at Auto-Owners Insurance in Lansing.
“At Auto-Owners, I worked with loss control,” Peters says. “I like helping people and I feel that I’m making a difference, so I’m leaning toward loss control and risk management as a career path.”
Jeremy Wittenbaum, a sophomore studying insurance at The Ohio State University, serves as the vice president of his GIS chapter. He took the “family route” to discover his internships.
“My internship has been at S P Agency, Inc., in Cincinnati over the past four summers,” he says. “It’s a partnership where all four partners look out for me and assist my growth. I’ve grown up around insurance. My father is the agency’s commercial lines manager, and my uncle’s the personal lines manager.
“I’m a people person, so I went to the personal side of things. This past summer I learned far more about insurance than I had before. I was a personal lines customer service representative, so I got to work with the underwriters and see how they assess risk with current and prospective clients.
“I learned the basic process of quoting personal and commercial insurance, and I learned how to deal with customers. They’re pretty nitpicky about what kinds of coverages they want—price is the biggest factor. I did a lot of quoting.”
Perhaps your agency is considering bringing an intern on board for the summer. Do you know what you would have them do on a day-to-day basis?
“At the agency, I’d check my email to see if there was anything assigned to me; then I got a report for renewals to make sure I had the updated policy in our system, so if the client called and asked any questions, I’d have the answers instead of hunting for them,” Peters says. “Then I would ask around the office to see if there was anything they needed me to do. I’d do some shredding, filing or cleaning around the office. Some days we were super busy answering phones and collecting payments, but on an average day I’d sit and wait and ask for work.
“At Auto-Owners I’d check my email and instant messaging from the team to see if there were any new tasks,” she continues. “I’d check my notebook to see what the tasks were for the day; I’d do any educational classes I needed to catch up on and also work on projects. That would keep me busy the whole day.
“My team at Auto-Owners gave me an outline of goals that I needed to accomplish by the end of my internship. I had deadlines; I liked that because it held me accountable. I also was assigned a mentor, one of my co-workers whom I would report to at the end of every day to describe what I was doing. Sometimes we would have a meeting at the end of the week.”
Peters says that a downside of this year’s internship at Auto-Owners was that everything was done virtually, and she never met her team in person.
“2020, what can you do?” she laughs. “At the earlier agencies, I became very close with my co-workers; I got to know them, we ate lunch together, and it was nice because I had that connection. They took me in, but they didn’t know what to do with me day to day.
“I’d come into work and they were like, ‘You’re going to do this, that and this other thing,’ and I’d be finished by noon. If I didn’t have a list of goals that they wanted me to accomplish, I’d spend most of my time doing daily office tasks. I would’ve liked to have had more responsibilities, and I did toward the end of my internship, but through a majority of it, it was like ‘it’s Tuesday; what do we do?’”
Wittenbaum had a similar experience working at the family agency.
“I’d go in around 8:30 or 9:00 and would check my email to see if I had anything from the bosses, and then check our client system for renewals or changes that had been processed overnight,” he says. “My boss would send me a list of what I needed to do for the day, which was usually quoting or making policy changes that clients sent in. Also, I manage the agency’s social media accounts such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram and made a weekly post to each. Besides that, I was an office assistant. I would see if the printer needed more paper, put the files and dailies away, and check around to see if anyone needed help.
“Some days were very busy. Monday was always the busiest because we’d be piled up from over the weekend, but when we got to Thursday or Friday, sometimes I’d have only two or three hours’ worth of work to do and the rest of the day I’d be waiting.
“I didn’t have my own office; I was in my uncle’s office at a mini table with a computer so I interacted with him for most of the day,” Wittenbaum adds with a laugh. “When I needed help on a quote, I went to the other personal lines agent whom I call the ‘Quoting Queen’ because she can do them at lightning speed; she’s really good at it. She took me under her wing and taught me a lot about the different companies and the different systems.”
Serving in an office assistant-type role didn’t dissuade either Peters or Wittenbaum from pursuing a career path in insurance, as both have found that they gained more knowledge with each internship opportunity.
“When I went in for my first intern-ship four years ago, I was the ‘file daily’ office assistant,” Wittenbaum says. “It seemed boring at first, but I didn’t know anything yet. Our office has a middle file room, and I was stuck there the whole day.
“One of the first things I did was read the book Insurance for Dummies. That gave me insight into the basic terms. When I saw ‘coverage A through F on a home,’ I had no idea what it meant. That book really helped me get a jump start.
“This past summer was when I told myself, ‘This is the job that I want to dowhen I’m older.’ It’s all about helping people and making sure that they don’t incur a huge loss and lose a lot of money and their assets. Helping people is what I really enjoy doing.”
“With every internship I get more experience, and I always feel one step closer to finding my niche in the insurance industry,” says Peters. “At the beginning, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but at Bay View, they knew I had experience so they gave me a little bit more responsibility. At Auto-Owners, they gave me independence.
“The internship with Auto-Owners is when I knew I wanted to stay in insurance, but I want to be in that loss control/risk management role. Auto-Owners has so many resources, and I used them frequently to help mitigate risk. During my next adventure in the summer, I think I’ll finally find my landing spot and know where I want to be after I graduate.”
What can an agency do to provide amore constructive internship experience?
“Give us a daily task sheet of what we need to do for the day because when I went in, it was kind of wishy-washy,” Wittenbaum says. “There were no set goals for the day; it was just what came in through my client-base account, email, and what my boss sent over to me.”
“A schedule is important, and so is highlighting goals,” adds Peters. “Maybe there’s a small project you’ve been putting on the back burner for a while that you really want to get to but you just don’t have time; interns are great for that.”
Introducing interns to the multiple facets of the agency operation and its various business relationships is also recommended.
“If it’s a personal and commercial lines agency, I would have the intern learn both sides,” Wittenbaum says. “If there’s a good balance between the two down the road on your insurance path, that’d be more beneficial than just mastering one and knowing nothing about the other.”
“Independent agencies bring in a lot of marketing reps from the insurance companies they represent, and I would strongly encourage having your interns interact with those people to learn about the different kinds of insurance that are available,” Peters says. “Maybe an intern doesn’t want to work in an agency, and this will give them a taste of what corporate life is like. That’d be a great opportunity.
“Have the intern shadow people for the day; put their duties to the side so they can see what others do every day, how they make real connections and how they talk to their clients. Being able to connect with your clients is a huge asset, and everybody should figure out what skill works best for them.”
Providing a mentor is also key.
“Having one person an intern can go to, who can serve as a mentor, is crucial to impart intel about the insurance world,” Wittenbaum says.
Peters agrees. “If you have someone you can go to but you’re constantly bugging them, you might feel like you’re an annoyance,” she says. “I think it’s really important to have somebody who’s okay with you always coming to them.”
Through Gamma Iota Sigma and universities and colleges across the country, students who are learning about insurance and risk management are looking for an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the industry. Does your local school have a GIS chapter or a risk management program? Consider providing one of its students a summer internship in your agency.
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