Insurance Immersion: A Day At Acadia Insurance

July 24, 2017

On Tuesday, Marcus and I had the pleasure of visiting Acadia Insurance Company at their headquarters in Westbrook, Maine. It would prove to be a very busy and resourceful day, as we had the chance to sit with twelve different members of the Acadia team to learn more about their respective roles and backgrounds. Each individual provided us with a wealth of information and served as a great resource into gaining a better understanding of insurance company operations as a whole.

We were welcomed to Acadia by Kim Farquhar, who had organized this great day for us. We had the chance to sit with Kim to learn more about the company and her role as marketing director. Kim started her career at Acadia in personal lines underwriting, moving to commercial lines shortly after Acadia sold their personal lines division. Interestingly enough, Kim’s first exposure to insurance was during high school in Project INVEST at Sacopee Valley, where she went through the program with Chalmers’ Randy Wentworth and Mary Pingree. It was great to learn about Kim’s role as marketing director, where she enjoys a wide variety of tasks, such as building relationships with Acadia’s agency partners, serving as a liaison between the agencies and their Acadia underwriters, and research and development of competitive insurance products.

We then had the chance to speak with Jennifer Towne, who also works in marketing, but on the home office side of the company. Jennifer ultimately manages the Acadia brand and the voice of the company, while supplying the front line with all of the necessary marketing materials to do their jobs effectively. It was interesting to learn of Jennifer’s background in insurance, as she employed her minor in Spanish to land an internship at Travelers where she assisted in marketing efforts directed in engaging the Hispanic community.  After several years in the industry, Jennifer received her MBA in marketing and finance and has since enjoyed working in a field that requires a variety of skill sets and challenges.  Both Kim and Jennifer reiterated the volatile nature of their roles, as both insurance and marketing are constantly subject to great change. Keeping up with trends poses a big challenge for marketing professionals in this industry, but also keeps the job interesting and highly engaging.

Next in our interviews was Director of Underwriting, Doug Freeman, and then various members of his senior underwriting team. Doug provided us with a broad but very insightful overview of the underwriting role, which can be hard to detail in such a short period of time. He explained that underwriting performance is largely based on the ability to write new business and successfully obtain renewals and that underwriters often face a challenge in finding a balance between retention and rate increases during the renewal process. Doug also gave us a structural overview of the underwriting department and explained how Acadia uses different underwriting teams for different scopes of business.

We then spoke to three senior underwriters who each lead their own team. Brent Wittman, who leads a middle market underwriting team, and Bruce Fitzpatrick, who leads a small business underwriting team sat with us to discuss the differences between the functions of their respective teams. We learned that while both teams use the same information to evaluate risks, it often takes much longer for the middle market team to retrieve the data they might need to present a quote. Because the small business team has a well-defined set of criteria for who they can write, they are able to produce upwards of five quotes a day, while the middle market team may spend days or even weeks quoting a larger company.

The third senior underwriter we spoke with was Lisa Provost, who leads Acadia’s specialty underwriting team. This team writes business for Acadia’s specialty insurance programs, such as the Timber Harvesters program and Chalmers Camp Insurance. Lisa took us through several of their specialty insurance portfolios, and it was interesting to learn about the benefit and value that each program provides to clients. We also learned more about the Chalmers Camp Insurance exclusive, and how successful that has been, and can continue to be. All four underwriters that we spoke to stressed the importance of forming strong relationships with agency partners, as this collaboration is critical in providing great service and coverage to the insureds. It was also interesting to learn of Acadia’s Synergy program, which is a periodic meeting held between the underwriters, agents, and the insured. This gathering allows the insured to put a face to their underwriters, and have a discussion with both them and the agent providing the service. These meetings set Acadia apart from competitors, and while the client certainly appreciates this resourceful opportunity, the agent and underwriter benefit greatly as well.

Next on the agenda was an interview with Julie Clement from the Human Resource department. We spent most of our time with Julie learning about Acadia’s insurance recruitment program, as well as the amazing educational and developmental opportunities Acadia offers to young professionals interested in an insurance career. The company offers an extensive training program, and those involved are often promoted and hired as full-time employees of the company at the end of the courses. As a student, I enjoyed learning of such an amazing opportunity, and we always appreciate companies that place importance on the inclusion and development of young professionals.  Julie even took the time to pick our brains on the recruitment process, hoping that our experience as students would provide her insight into ways that companies such as Acadia can improve their talent recruiting process. We enjoyed the opportunity to not only learn from Julie but to offer our own knowledge in return, creating a very beneficial conversation in the process.

Our next interview was with Barbara Taylor, who is the director of claims at Acadia. In my opinion, claims is a very interesting and exciting area of insurance, and I always enjoy hearing stories and experiences from a claims specialist. Barbara has worked in claims for her entire career, and her experience and passion for her role was well noted and appreciated. Barbara expressed that those working in claims must have a thick skin, and be able to deal with individuals who are rightfully angry, and those who are not so honest and well meaning. Barbara enjoys working in claims for several reasons, with one being the investigative and problem-solving aspect of successfully processing a claim, noting that the role has similar responsibilities to that of a police officer or detective. She also loves helping insureds who have genuinely incurred a loss and defending those who are truly not at fault. Barbara recommends a career in claims to anyone who enjoys listening to and helping others, learning and investigating, and can deal with a role that is at times frustrating, but ultimately rewarding. Our conversation with Barbara was captivating and extremely insightful. Her willingness to answer our questions honestly and knowledgeably provided a great overview of the claims role, and her advice was exceptionally valuable.

After a nice lunch with several members of the Acadia team, we continued our interviews. We had the chance to speak to Matt McManus, who directs the Loss Control department at Acadia. Loss Control is something that neither Marcus nor I had ever been exposed to, so our time with Matt would prove to be a great learning experience. We learned that loss control representatives play a greatly important role in the insurance process, as they are the ones who survey and assess an insured’s exposure to risk of loss. Loss control works closely with underwriters to obtain information from clients during the both the prospective and renewal processes, and receiving insurance coverage is often times subject to meeting the terms established by a loss control representative. Working in loss control requires good communication skills and strong technical capabilities, and it is no surprise that many loss control representatives at Acadia come from underwriting and engineering backgrounds. Matt also provided us with examples of some of the more analytical work that comes with his role and made it clear that there are many different aspects of loss control. It was very interesting to learn more about this role, and Matt welcomed any opportunity to learn more from him and his team in the future.

Our next interview would be with Jonathan Becker, who serves as the Regional Vice President and Profit Manager. Jonathan was very welcoming and enthusiastic and provided us with a wealth of knowledge on the history, structure, and operations of Acadia Insurance Company. Jonathan opened the floor to any questions and even took the time to show us some of his current projects. Jonathan took us through some of his spread sheets, where he was working on analyzing Acadia’s market share in different lines of business. He also presented his current budgeting project and gave us a detailed explanation and analysis of his current methods and forecasts. As finance majors, both Marcus and I appreciated this opportunity, and it was very interesting to obtain a first-hand look at Acadia’s budgeting process. Jonathan also expressed his passion and desire to expand the insurance industry to young professionals and stated that the industry is currently not doing enough to interest students in insurance careers. As noted earlier, it was great to realize the commitment and focus of this company into attracting and helping younger people establish careers in such an important industry.

After our time with Jonathan, we headed to speak with Karl Legasse, who works in Acadia’s IT department. Karl works on a team that is responsible for web and portal development, and his ultimate goal is to eliminate any easy or common questions that agents and clients may have while using Acadia web portals. Karl took us through both the agent and client portals that are used to conduct business through Acadia, pointing out the areas that his team has been able to consolidate and simplify through further development. Karl and his IT team have systematically simplified and reduced the time required to request quotes through their portals and noted that clients now omit less information, as the application process is much easier and comprehensible. It was interesting to see the behind the scenes work that is required in order to improve the efficiency and capability of conducting business online. Karl also provided us with further insight on his IT teams, and well as the roles of other IT teams in the company. Information Technology is crucial in establishing efficient and profitable operations, and our time with Karl gave us a better understanding of IT in an insurance company.

Our final interview of the day was with Ryan Caponni, who is one of only four property and casualty actuaries in the State of Maine. Actuarial science is a very interesting field and plays an extremely important role in the insurance industry. Ryan shed great light on the actuary role and took the time to share his own experience. As an actuary in the insurance world, Ryan must utilize a wide range of disciplines, including statistics, finance, and advanced mathematics to analyze and assign financial value to risks. Ryan provided insight into how his role affects the pricing of insurance policies and the greater financial operation of an insurance firm as a whole. We enjoyed our conversation with Ryan, as he was very passionate about his job, and was able to create an interactive discussion based on financial and economic terminology that would get us further involved. We learned that becoming an actuary is extremely difficult, and to become certified, one must pass ten exams that require hundreds of study hours each. However, Ryan stressed that the job is very interesting and well compensated and that the opportunities as an actuary are truly endless. The actuary role is central not only to insurance, but in other fields as well, and having such a crucial role in a company can be very rewarding and motivating. This was our first conversation with an actuary, and Ryan’s love and appreciation for his job helped us gain a much better understanding of a career we ultimately knew little about.

It should be no secret that our day at Acadia was busy, engaging, and resourceful to the highest degree. It was truly a pleasure to be exposed to so many wonderful people and professionals, and their willingness to welcome, teach and share their experiences provided a world a benefit to two young developing business students. It was inspiring to see how committed and passionate these individuals were about their careers, and their desire to expand the field to the next generation was reassuring, exciting, and greatly appreciated. The forward thinking nature and friendly culture of the Acadia organization is admirable, and it was great to see a Maine based company and its members realizing so much success and satisfaction. We would like the thank Kim Farquhar for organizing this opportunity for us, and all of the members of the Acadia team who gifted us with their insight and welcoming nature. It was great to experience such detailed exposure to the company side of the insurance industry, and I look forward to our future company visits and interactions.

 

Hannes Schneider Chalmer Insurance Group Intern

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