2/26/2013

Inside Look at the Claims College

Dean Larry Goanos shares his plans for the school of professional lines.

By Bevrlee J. Lips

CLM's Claims College Dean Larry Goanos shares his plans for the school of professional lines.

How did you get involved with the Claims College?

I’d like to say that as a child, while others were playing sports or watching TV, I was meticulously plotting my ascent to the role of dean of the School of Professional Lines at the CLM Claims College. Alas, the real answer is not nearly as interesting. I was introduced to CLM Executive Director Adam Potter by a mutual friend in the insurance industry and, at some point, Adam determined that I might make a good dean. He has, in my opinion, done an astounding job with the CLM thus far; the organization’s growth is incredible. I think more than 700 insurance companies are members, and just about every lawyer and claims professional I know has joined.

Why does the School of Professional Lines belong with the other schools—Claims Management, Workers’ Comp, and Transportation?

Professional lines is a growing and important niche in the insurance industry. I’ve been involved with professional lines insurance for over 20 years, and one thing I learned very early on is that professional lines insurance is very important on a personal level to senior management of any company because our products protect these executives—and their personal assets—so they take a great interest in the coverage. Not to denigrate other insurance products, but my guess is that the CEO of a major corporation won’t necessarily meet with the boiler and machinery insurance underwriter but will almost always agree to meet with the directors and officers liability insurance underwriter, if requested.

Professional lines insurance products can be very complex and unique. In-depth specialized training, such as we’ll be providing at the Claims College, is critical to industry participants, and as we’re learning from talking to prospective students, it’s in great demand.

How has your career prepared you for this role?

When I think of an academic dean, the first role model who comes to mind, naturally, is the universally respected Dean Wormer of “Animal House” fame. But seriously, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the professional lines insurance industry from almost every angle. As an outside coverage attorney, underwriting manager at major carriers, broker/claims advocate and, now, consultant, I’ve come to appreciate the challenges of each of those roles, and one thing I’ve known for a long time is that not enough attention is paid by the industry to a very important function: claims handling. One of the challenges of claims handling is that you can settle a potential million-dollar claim for $10,000 and your boss might still tap you on the shoulder and say, “Why did we pay that $10,000? Couldn’t we have settled it for less?”

If you look at the world of underwriting, there are a myriad of professional organizations and underwriting-specific designations available but not nearly as many opportunities of a similar nature on the claims side of the business. As someone who has held many industry roles—all touching upon claims handling in one way or another—I feel that I’m well qualified to help guide others, especially in conjunction with the very talented executive committee that I’m privileged to work with, including Donna Biondich, Sally Combs, Ken Garcia, Ron Goldstein, Kim Noble, David Perry, and Tony Stompanato. We have a really smart and talented group running the school, and I have no doubt that anyone who participates in it will have an enriching experience. And, as a side benefit (and a considerable one at that), it provides great networking opportunities.

I wrote a book in 2008 about the professional lines industry, entitled “Claims Made and Reported: A Journey Through D&O, E&O, and Other Professional Lines of Insurance,” and I learned quite a bit about the industry while conducting my research—thanks largely to the kindness of more than 400 industry participants. I hope to impart at least a small bit of that wisdom to the students of the Claims College.

Broadly speaking, what courses or topics do you want covered in your school?

We have a fairly ambitious plan to teach students about everything from crafting the perfect coverage letter to planning claims resolution and negotiating a final result (along with everything in between). It’s a very thorough curriculum, basically a soup-to-nuts of claims handling, and one of the best features is that we won’t have a bunch of dry academics standing in front of classes reciting lessons from a textbook. Rather, we’ll have real-world practitioners who can not only explain all of these concepts but also provide actual examples from situations that occurred in their careers. And we’ll divide people into groups to engage in case studies, as well. I can’t imagine anyone within our target student range (up to eight years of professional lines insurance experience or up to five years for law firm attorneys) coming away feeling like the Claims College has been anything other than a great learning and networking experience.

How does the Claims College differ from other events that cover professional lines insurance issues?

Other seminars and conferences, from what I’ve seen, cover a discrete number of claims-related topics in a rather superficial way. They’ll give you the latest information in many instances, but they don’t dig down deeply into the material to explain the how, what, and why. The Claims College will truly be a learning experience, unlike the “sit in an auditorium for 90 minutes to get CE credits” experience that a lot of people endure with some seminars and conferences. And again, the networking benefits will be significant. Plus, my goal is to make our courses and the entire School of Professional Lines somewhat fun—a word not usually associated with other insurance learning endeavors.

What do you think your “pupils” will ultimately take away from attending your school?

I think there will be many benefits. First and foremost, I think they’ll gain a greater understanding of the claims process on many levels. I expect a number of “Aha!” moments, when people say, “Oh, so that’s the best way to do that,” or “Wow, I can actually use this at my job to improve my performance and my company’s results.”

I do a lot of training of insurance professionals in my consulting practice. One of the things I say often is that there are many concepts that seem like common sense, but until someone says them aloud and you think about them, you don’t really know why you’re doing them, why they constitute a “best practice,” or how you might be able to improve them. Some of that will come through in the Claims College classes, no doubt. And, as I said earlier, I don’t think you can discount the great benefit of meeting many of your colleagues in the industry, not only other claims professionals but brokers, risk managers, attorneys, and others who will be participating. Enlarging your circle of relationships is always a good thing.

Ultimately, we hope to have a curriculum consisting of three levels of academic achievement. In 2013, we’ll start presenting the first level. My hope and belief is that, after people complete Level One, they’ll be anxious to return to the Claims College for their next learning experience, which, I’m sure, will continue to enhance their skill set and their professional performance. And, unlike Dean Wormer, I promise not to put anyone on double-secret probation!  



Bevrlee J. Lips was managing editor of Claims Management magazine (now CLM Magazine) from January 2012 until March 2017.

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