In the C-Suite with Teresa M. King
The Motorists Insurance Group’s Vice President and Chief Claims Officer shares her leadership philosophy, how she manages different generations in the workforce, and emerging technologies in claims.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Indianapolis, Ind. I have two sisters and a brother. My dad was a railroad worker for 42 years. He was a very hard worker and dedicated to his job, and I learned much of my work ethic from him. My mom stayed at home, taking pride in caring for our family and the community through volunteer work. It was a classic, middle-class upbringing with a close-knit family where you worked hard for what you had. I have to say, I cannot recall ever wanting for anything.
When you were growing up, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be a teacher and, in fact, I was a teacher for a year. I graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and took my first job teaching in an Indianapolis inner-city school. At the end of the year, the school district closed schools and laid off about 500 teachers, so I spent the entire summer looking for work. At the time, I couldn’t relocate so I applied for a job in claims at Motorists Mutual Insurance. I had no idea what that meant or exactly what the job entailed, but I figured I could learn, and 33 years later, I’m still here.
How did you find that claims job?
It was a small-world kind of connection. Motorists Insurance was building a new claims office in Indianapolis, and my sister-in-law at the time was a hostess at a restaurant in a hotel. The claims branch manager was living in the hotel while the building was being completed, and he was relocating his family. She got to know him since he ate in the hotel every night. She told him I was looking for a job, and he gave her an application. I applied, was hired, and my life-long career in claims began.
What kind of claims did you handle?
I was a multiline inside claims representative. I went to Columbus for six weeks of training to learn auto and homeowners’ policies, investigations, and negotiations. Then I began handling auto, small property, and injury claims.
At what point did you decide to make it your career?
Once I got into the role, I really liked it. What intrigued me was that it was rewarding and fast-paced. I’m naturally a learner, and the job required that I keep learning, which I loved. I also liked the variety of the positions within claims. I was afforded the opportunity to move from inside to outside adjusting, where I learned auto, property estimating, personal, and commercial lines. Once I went into management, it just fit because it appealed to the teacher in me. I was able to use my teaching, coaching, and mentoring skills to educate and develop associates.
If you were giving advice to a new manager, what would you tell them?
Be open, honest, and very specific. Be direct and caring. People sometimes think that if you are in management, you can no longer be friendly. That was one of my first fears when I took a frontline supervisor role. I was young and became the supervisor of my colleagues, and we all had a good, friendly relationship before I became their supervisor. I learned that there is no reason to be unfriendly as long as you are open, honest, and fair.
When you started, were there fewer women than men in the industry?
In the outside adjusting roles, there were far more men, but for the inside roles, there were many women. When I first went into body shops to estimate auto repairs, the technicians would drop their tools and look at me doubtfully. It was a challenge, but I didn’t let it bother me. I wrote my estimates and let my skills outweigh their doubts.
Do you have any tips for helping people manage a large team?
It’s all about how well you communicate. I like to spend time getting out to our locations when I can. I also hold frequent leadership meetings through all available channels to make sure we are all engaged and communicating consistently. It’s important to have a mission and vision with shared values and beliefs and to communicate that knowledge throughout all levels of the organization. I prefer a more horizontal leadership network with engagement at all levels. At Motorists, leadership is not a position, it’s an attitude practiced by all.
Have you experienced any challenges in attracting new talent to the claims organization?
There is so much discussion about this topic in the industry, but I’m on the fence about it. I recognize that there is going to be a large talent gap when the baby boomers leave the industry, and we have to do something to fill that gap. However, I believe there is a huge talent pool out there in college graduates. As an industry, we haven’t done a very good job of attracting new talent into our industry—especially into claims. The educational system is focused more on actuarial science and risk management, and sales and marketing is more attractive. I’d like to see college courses for students that target a career path in claims. We need to enhance the appeal of claims as a professional career. To me, it’s one of the most important roles in the industry. It’s the primary function that backs the promise sold in the policy.
How would you encourage college graduates to pursue a career in claims?
It’s a great career that is rewarding, and it offers stability and opportunities for diversity in areas in which you can grow continuously. You can focus on auto, property, injury, litigation, fraud, subrogation—the areas of expertise within the claims side of the industry are almost endless. That attracted me when I started in claims; there was a variety of opportunities and challenges to explore.
Is there a type of technology that fascinates you?
There are lots of technologies that I think are interesting, but the aerial imagery and drone technologies are really fascinating. It’s great for catastrophes. You can do flyovers and get into buildings that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to inspect. We can get detailed images and videos of the damages. The quality of the imaging is amazing. We used aerial images for a catastrophe loss earlier this year, and it improved our responsiveness and accuracy. About a month ago, we had a drone demonstration at our building. They circled the building, and you could see the faces of everyone standing outside.
Is it increasingly harder to make diverse work opportunities available to new professionals as everything becomes more specialized?
There are pros and cons to specializing and generalizing. We have areas where we are specialized, but we also utilize multiline adjusters. I think it is important to look at people with certain personalities, skills, and talents and allow them to move into other areas and grow. It is critical to keep associates engaged in their roles and continuously learning.
Any thoughts about working with the younger generation?
No matter what generation, it’s important to understand what motivates an individual person. Is it being mobile? Working from home? Being autonomous? Having a flexible work schedule? We need to accommodate different work styles and be open and flexible as we integrate new ideas.
I’d even take that one step further and bring the consumer into it. We need to better understand what the customer wants. The industry needs to be much more flexible to provide the ultimate experience for the consumer.
Do you think it’s harder to be in claims today than it was decades ago?
Yes, I do. I spoke recently at a retiree brunch, and I covered the technology and consumer changes over the last several decades. When I started in claims, there was very little technology. If you called and no one answered, you had to try again later or mail a contact letter. Losses were reported through the mail. People weren’t in a hurry. Now, the insured is reporting a loss from their smartphone while still at the accident scene. Our challenge is to be as responsive as possible to everything that is moving at a lightning pace with consumers who deserve outstanding service.
I’m very proud of how we are able to do that at Motorists, but staying ahead of that curve to meet our customers’ needs and expectations at all times is what keeps me up at night. We have to be the most responsive and trusted carrier for our customers. After all, that is the mission of any claims organization. So, yes, I think it’s much harder to be a claims professional now compared to years ago.
Is there anything that most people don’t know about you?
Some people may not know that I was heavily into drama and singing when I was younger. I was always in musicals and plays in high school and college, and I just loved it. During college, I worked as an actress in a dinner theater. Perhaps something very few people know is that I used to sing at weddings!
Do you have children?
Yes. I have two daughters, 24 and 19. They are beautiful girls. My oldest, Danni, is out on her own now and works as an instructional designer for a local college. My younger daughter, Michaela, is in cosmetology school. I am very proud of them both!