In the C-Suite with Paul Berne
Lancer Insurance Company’s Senior Vice President and Chief Claims Officer talks social media and community leadership.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and went to college at Syracuse University. Originally I thought I might go into sports broadcasting but I found writing to be more interesting, so I thought I’d go the route of advertising/public relations. I also studied speech communication, which turned out to be a good choice since the claims industry at the time was very focused on adding new staff with good interpersonal communication skills.
What was your first claims job?
I really had no idea what claims was about; I just happened to fall into a role as an adjuster trainee for Progressive. I started that job in 1980, back in the day when there was a vast education provided to new adjusters, and Progressive’s training program was no different.
Did that first job come with a new car?
My starting job did not, but a few years later I did get a lovely Dodge Omni when I took a management position. Some of your readers may remember the odor caused by the pull-off sheets from the Polaroid cameras we carried back then. Well, my backseat was filled with those sheets and, as a result, the car was not a very attractive place to be.
What advice would you give to new claims professionals?
My strongest advice would be to embrace the concept of professionalism in your job. Recognize that claims truly is a profession that requires an incredible amount of skill and training, and continual education is really important. Be curious constantly. When you see articles that relate to claims issues, read them. When you’re in the doctor’s office and have the choice between magazines, pick the one that can provide you with some technical information that you can apply to your job. Take every opportunity to demonstrate that you care for your position. Jump at every opportunity for education that you find. The Lancer motto is “The Difference Is Our Attitude.” We encourage our staff to embrace this in many ways, including making every effort to constantly increase their knowledge of claims issues whenever the opportunity arises.
I’m one of the deans of the School of Transportation for CLM’s Claims College, so I hope it’s clear that I value continuing education. I strongly encourage both technical staff and managers to take the time to look at the curriculum for the various schools in the Claims College and get involved themselves or encourage participation among their staff. Every day I can see the results of what those courses provide for participants.
Should new claims professionals specialize?
I think people are naturally inclined to lean towards the areas that interest them, but strive to have a broad knowledge base. Specialization at some point can be a good thing, but learn as much as possible about the industry as a whole. Claims work is incredibly technical, so specializing really helps you excel, but understanding how that specialized work fits into the whole industry can be very important.
What challenges face the industry?
I think the biggest challenge is the lightning speed with which we have to process information. Years ago, it took days for news to get out, sometimes even for new losses to be reported. Now it’s instantaneous. Additionally, virtually anything claims professionals say or write that is sent outside of their companies is subject to being distributed widely via social media. We have to be aware of that potential and carefully consider what we say or write.
Is there anything people may not know about you?
Years ago, I was asked to serve as the executive director for our all-volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which falls under the larger umbrella of FEMA. In this program, community residents undergo very thorough training so that they can serve as a backup for safety forces in the event of a significant emergency. We’ve grown from 10 members to about 70 now. I spend a lot of my spare time taking courses in emergency management, and much of what I’ve learned along the way applies to my claims work. Consider joining; lots of claims professionals might find it to be a really enjoyable volunteer activity.