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Expert Advice: Career Opportunities in Insurance

May 7, 2014
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Insurance plays a supporting role in most people’s lives, only becoming central in times of crisis. For some, however, it’s a career. Insurers typically provide stable employment with competitive pay and benefits. Often, the skills they require can easily translate to other fields or even independent work. And because there are so many different roles to play in the insurance industry, many people can find a niche, regardless of their interests. If you’re interested in insurance, here are four careers to consider:

Insurance agents

Average salary: $63,400

Although it’s now easy to buy insurance independently, online – and many do – there are still advantages to having an expert to help decide the appropriate coverage level and find the best discounts. If you’re interested in being that expert, you might become an insurance agent. You’ll assist customers in picking and applying for policies, and you’ll often be their first point of contact for claims.

Insurance agents have a few options. They may be a captive agent, representing a certain company, which pays them a salary or commission. They may also be an independent agent and be paid commission by one of their affiliated insurance companies when they sell a policy. Similarly, insurance brokers educate and sign customers up for policies, but they’re not affiliated with any carriers, and thus, charge a small fee.

Captive agents generally go through a training program provided by their company, while independents may work with an existing agent to get their start. They may hold a degree in insurance studies, business or finance, with significant public speaking experience. All states also require agents to maintain a license, which involves continuing education throughout their careers, and independent agents especially can seek additional professional certifications and affiliations to help attract clients. Organizations like the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America offer ways for customers and agents to connect, as well as business resources and networking opportunities.

If you’re highly social, enjoy problem solving and aren’t put off by a lot of rules and regulations – and paperwork – you could be happy as an insurance agent.


Average salary: $70,110

Those interested in the real-world applications of statistics might consider becoming an underwriter. Essentially, underwriters analyze and manage risk. Those who work for insurance companies generally review individual applications and policies and assess suitability for coverage.

According to Martin Halek, a senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, an underwriter in the insurance sector could eventually manage a team of other underwriters, and then move on to an upper level management role. He or she could also use those skills elsewhere.

He adds, “Our students learn about different types of risks that organizations face, as well as how to identify, analyze and manage these risks, using an array of traditional and innovative tools.”

These organizations may also be financial and investing institutions, who employ underwriters to analyze applicants for loans and other products.

A student interested in underwriting might start with an undergraduate program in risk management and insurance, like that offered at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Students can also pursue a more generalized course in business, finance or another related field. An undergraduate degree qualifies an underwriter for an entry-level position, but they may have to undergo a few years of supervision before they can work independently, and many companies stress continuing education, especially in technology and legal issues.

Underwriters should have a thorough understanding of risk as it applies to their industry, as well as their specific corporate regulations.

In addition, Halek emphasizes, they need “quantitative abilities, critical thinking and clear communication skills.”


Average salary: $107,740

Statistics fans might be well-suited for several different insurance careers. Like underwriters, actuaries analyze and manage risk. If they choose to work for insurance companies, they determine premiums based on the amount of risk posed by the insured. They also develop insurance policies and determine companies’ general financial health.

Many actuaries do enter the insurance field, but it’s not the only option. A variety of industries need to manage risk. Actuaries might also work as consultants or staff in finance and investing, energy and transportation, among others. And on top of being a highly paid field to begin with, actuarial expertise is often valued for management positions.

Interested? A strong math background is essential, but it’s not the only factor.

According to Krzysztof Ostaszewski, actuarial program director at Illinois State University, “This is a mathematical profession, but in the business world. It takes both mathematical skills and business skills to succeed.”

Future actuaries often study math, but maintain a balance with business and communications courses. They must also take a demanding series of exams, two of which they need to pass before most employers will hire them.

There are major benefits to becoming an actuary, but Ostaszewski encourages students not to underestimate the obstacles: “Being an actuary is the best job in America, but professional actuarial exams are the most difficult in the world. In the galaxy. In the universe.”

Insurance adjusters

Average salary: $62,340

If you’ve ever filed an insurance claim, the representative who examined the damage to your property was your adjuster. Adjusters review all the evidence related to a claim – from the physical damage to witness statements – and your policy to determine how much your insurer should pay you.

Many adjusters work for insurance companies in some capacity, whether directly, or as an independent contractor. Others work as public adjusters, that is, adjusters employed by those making insurance claims. According to David Barrack, executive director of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, public adjusters act as claimant advocates for home and business owners, especially in complex situations, and can serve as a middle man between customers and their insurers.

“Public adjusters can make sure you get everything due to you under your policy, give you someone on your side during times of stress and provide expertise,” he says.

He also notes that adjusters may be able to identify hidden damage that home or business owners may not recognize and that company adjusters may not be incentivized to spot.

No matter what type of adjuster you are, you’ll likely receive on-the-job training. You can also pursue a degree in insurance studies, though it’s not strictly necessary. Most states – 45, as well as the District of Columbia – do require adjusters to be licensed, which usually entails classroom hours, an exam and a fee. Public adjusters may gain additional credibility by seeking certification from organizations like NAPIA, and access continuing education.

However, the main difference between adjusters is who they work for.

Barrack says, “Many have been adjusters for the insurance company and felt they could better serve the insured by working as a public adjuster.”

He adds, “If I were going to hire a public adjuster, I’d want someone who’s detail-oriented and empathetic. It’s not rocket science, but you will be dealing with people in stressful situations.”

The bottom line

Agents, underwriters, actuaries and adjusters play large roles in the insurance industry, but there are many other available opportunities. Just like other major corporations, insurance companies need office staff, including administrative assistants and HR professionals. They also need expertise in marketing, in addition to – of course – customer service representatives. No matter what your skills, you can be a good fit in the insurance industry.

Insurance adjuster examining car damage image via Shutterstock.