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Re-energizing the CE experience

The PIA of Georgia teams up with The National Alliance to make continuing education work

By Thomas A. McCoy, CLU

Mandatory continuing education for insurance agency personnel, however laudable its goals, has had its share of critics. Agency owners who register their people for off-site classes are sacrificing time and money—two commodities that are in short supply. First they have to pay the fees for their people to attend. Then they have to get along without these people in the office during class times. And, perhaps worst, the CSRs and producers may return from the classes to say that the content was boring and irrelevant.

In an era of soft markets and rising travel costs, is there a way to offer continuing education so that both those who are paying for the classes and those who are attending feel rewarded and energized? In Georgia, judging from the attendance and enthusiasm of those participating in the 11th annual Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) of Georgia Education Expo, the answer is yes. However, it requires some creative cooperation among industry organizations.

The first day of the two-day Expo, held last fall in Atlanta, had the atmosphere of a regular state agents convention instead of a simple classroom experience. A total of 505 registered agency personnel were in attendance. It’s the largest CE event in the state, and typical of the numbers which the Expo has drawn in recent years.

Booths of a few company sponsors lined the halls adjacent to the CE session rooms—frequented by waves of attendees during breaks, milling around like high school students at lockers. In the middle of the day the agency personnel/students were treated to the equivalent of a high school pep rally—an elaborate awards luncheon where The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research confers its CIC, CISR and CRM designations. Among the speakers were Dr. William T. Hold, president of The National Alliance, and Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

“Dr. Hold tells us it’s their largest conferment ceremony in the nation,” says Jerry Duke, executive vice president of the PIA of Georgia.

The large number of attendees enables the association to keep down the cost of the program. First-time attendees pay $99 for the two-day Expo; returning attendees pay $79. Non-PIA members pay $149 the first time, but $79 thereafter. About 60% of the attendees are non-PIA members.

“If we were putting on the Expo for 100 people, we couldn’t do it at these prices,” Duke says. The financial support from company vendor partners, plus the participation of The National Alliance, boosts attendance and makes it possible to attract high quality speakers for the education sessions.

“Every year we choose the speakers from the faculty of The National Alliance,” says Duke. The Alliance has some 145,000 students participating in its CIC, CISR and CRM education programs, so it’s a big pool to draw from.

“The CE material in the speakers’ presentations is taken from what they use in their CIC, CISR and CRM programs,” Duke continues. The quality of these classroom speakers plus the exposure to the awards ceremony causes many everyday students to come back looking for more, he adds. “After the Expo each year there’s always a jump in participation in the CIC, CISR and CRM designation programs in our state.”

Licensed agency personnel can wrap up their CE requirement for the year by attending the Expo. Attendees get 10 hours of CE credits for attending the morning and afternoon sessions on the first Expo day; they get another 6 hours credit for a similar format education day that is held a week later. (Georgia requires agency personnel who have been licensed for less than 20 years to have 15 hours of CE each year; for those licensed over 20 years, it requires 10 hours.)

At the September Expo classes the speakers included Jerry Hargrove—a lawyer and former president of PIA National—and Terry Tadlock, a former agency principal and president of Florida Insurance Educators, Inc. In both of their classes the emphasis was on case studies—coverage situations, claims situations—both commercial lines and personal lines. Jerry Duke moderates an afternoon class on ethics.

“Georgia was the first state to require a class on ethics as part of its continuing education curriculum,” he points out.

Duke has run the association for 14 years and the Expo for 11 years, but he plans to leave next year to run for Georgia Insurance Commissioner. The commissioner’s post will be vacated by John Oxendine, who will be running for governor of Georgia.

During his tenure at the association, Duke has seen the playing field change dramatically for those individuals in agency support positions. “When I came here 14 years ago, everything that the account manager, CSR, or other support staff person did was done differently than it is today,” Duke says. “There was no Internet. There was no automatic download. Very few people had direct online access to their carriers. Today, these support jobs have become much more important to the agency. The account manager’s job is exactly that—managing the account.”

Duke believes that agency principals are getting this message. “They’re offering more education assistance to their staff members. They see it as an enhancement to keep good people. Turnover kills them.”

Not only is there greater recognition of the importance of agency service jobs, but those jobs have become more diverse, Duke points out. “In larger firms, with 75 to 100 employees or more, there may be an account manager who has two CSRs and two support staff who, in turn, have another cadre of support staff. So there’s a chain that those people see as a career path. That’s helped the larger agencies retain employees.

“And they can have this career path without becoming a producer, which is important because not every hardworking service person has the mindset to be a producer. This is an advantage that larger agencies have over smaller ones, Duke says. “At the smaller firms, it’s either: be a CSR or be a producer.”

Reflecting on his 14-year tenure at the PIA of Georgia, Duke observes, “The social aspect of the industry has changed dramatically. We used to hold receptions and social get-togethers. Attendance started dwindling between 6 and 10 years ago. It wasn’t because of the function we were holding. It was because of the time that these events took—keeping individuals away from their families. People today want to get the quality education and programs they are interested in and be able to return home without delay.”

It’s this efficiency, born out of a respect for agency time and money that has helped the PIA of Georgia Education Expo to thrive.



“After the Expo each year there’s always a jump in participation in the CIC, CISR and CRM designation programs in our state.”

—Jerry Duke



John W. Oxendine, Georgia Insurance Commissioner (left), and Dr. William T. Hold, President of The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, spoke at the conferment ceremony luncheon during the Expo where CIC, CISR and CRM designations were awarded.












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