2/2/2009

Making the Most of Your CE Dollars & Hours

By Donna J. Popow

Your business card may look like a Scrabble™ game because of all the letters after your name, but there are two important letters that don’t appear there—CE. Our industry and the environment in which we work are constantly changing, which is why many states require continuing education (CE) for their claims adjusters. Some employees view CE as a burden, as something they must do to keep their jobs. Others recognize the value of professional development and embrace the opportunity to enhance their skills. Regardless of whether you loathe or love CE, you need to develop a CE plan to make the most of your investment.

CE requirements vary by state, as indicated by the State Insurance CE Requirements chart (figure 1). States along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts require that adjusters who handle flood insurance claims comply with the minimum training requirements established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Flood Insurance Program.

Conflict of interest is one of the most common ethical dilemmas adjusters face. According to Dan Kerr’s “Insurance Claims Adjuster—Adjuster Ethics,” a hotel manager in Beaumont, Texas was arrested for offering his adjuster $20,000 cash in exchange for a $125,000 insurance claim check on a loss of only $18,000 after Hurricane Humberto in 2007. In this situation, the claims adjuster did not accept the bribe and reported the incident to police; however, not all such situations are resolved this way. The New York State Insurance Department issued a news release on May 11, 2004, announcing the arrest of three claims adjusters who were indicted on insurance fraud and related charges. The individuals were unlawfully receiving illicit payments in exchange for enhancing vehicle damages and repair estimates totaling nearly $24,000. These situations are not uncommon, so it is no surprise that many states require CE courses in ethics.

Government officials also are realizing the benefits of continuing education. On September 25, 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation addressing the new California Insurance Code section that establishes continuing education requirements for licensed adjusters. Effective January 1, 2009, the new law reads as follows:

14090.1. (a) An individual who holds an insurance adjuster license and who is not exempt under subdivision (b) of this section shall satisfactorily complete a minimum of 24 hours, including ethics, of continuing education courses pertinent to the duties and responsibilities of an insurance adjuster license reported to the insurance commissioner on a biennial basis in conjunction with his or her license renewal cycle. (b) This section does not apply to either of the following: (1) A licensee not licensed for one full year prior to the end of the applicable continuing education biennium. (2) A licensee holding a nonresident insurance adjuster license who has met the continuing education requirements of his or her designated resident state.

Continuing education provides advantages to both the claims adjuster and the consumer. CE designations often lead to career advancement, as many employers consider these designations when deciding to hire or promote individuals. CE also allows adjusters to be exposed to new ideas and helps to prevent burnout.

Consumers benefit from CE by receiving better service from knowledgeable claims adjusters who are up-to-date with current industry trends and case law. CE certifications allow consumers to validate the expertise of their adjusters.

Continuing education is an essential building block—the cornerstone—of professionalism. To remain an expert in your field, you must maintain the skill sets necessary to meet the changing needs of the industry. According to H.G. Kaufman in his book entitled Obsolescence and Professional Career Development, “Obsolescence is the degree to which professionals lack up-to-date knowledge or skills necessary to maintain effective performance in either their current or future work roles.” Because it is difficult to stay current on every aspect of your job at once, you run the risk that professional obsolescence may affect you at some point in your career. You owe it to your customers to maintain high levels of professional competence. Through careful planning, you will make the most of every CE dollar and every CE hour and keep professional obsolescence at bay.

In addition to our professional obligation to remain knowledgeable so we can better serve our customers, we also have an ethical responsibility. A claims adjuster must have a variety of skills and be knowledgeable in many subject areas to be able to provide the best possible service to the insured. Both the Society of Registered Professional Adjusters (RPA) Code of Ethics and the CPCU Code of Professional Ethics require that we maintain and improve our professional knowledge, skills, and competence continually. CE is one way to fulfill that obligation.

Remember that some view CE as a burden, while others see it as an opportunity for growth. If you put off CE until the last possible minute, you are short-changing yourself. Sure, you are getting CE out of the way, but what are you getting out of CE?

Take the time to examine your areas of competence and develop a plan for formal and informal professional education. Sit down with your supervisor or a mentor and take a hard, critical, and honest look at your skills, your company’s needs, and your career goals. Make sure that you do the following:
  • Begin by viewing CE as your own personal research and development
  • Focus on what will benefit your career
  • Link your learning objectives to your business objectives
  • Conduct a self-assessment of the skills your clients or customers will need you to have in the next three years
Use this information to develop your plan and then commit to that plan. If you do not plan your continuing education carefully, you will lose valuable time and money on top of not gaining the essential knowledge you need to stay competitive.

Document your plan in writing and keep it with your business plan or in your personal file. Focus the investment of your CE dollars and hours on those skills you will need to move forward with your career goals. Each time you participate in CE, put a copy of the course curriculum in the file. Review the file at the end of the year and ask yourself if you’ve met your CE objectives. Also, ask yourself if you need to reassess your objectives based on changes in your life or changes in the marketplace.

Before signing up for a single CE course, you should determine your learning style. A learning style indicates the preferences you have for perceiving, conceptualizing, organizing, and recalling information. You can find tests online to help you determine your style, including this one at http://agelesslearner.com/assess/learningstyle.html. Once you have some insight into your learning style, use this information to make better choices when it comes to investing your CE dollars and hours.

Another aspect of adult learning is that we learn best when we can place information into a framework, preferably one connected to personal experience. When you place information into a familiar context (e.g., your work), that information takes on a greater degree of relevance and you can retain it more readily. Depending upon your CE objectives, you may want to seek out courses and workshops that teach material from a claims perspective.

There are, of course, costs associated with continuing education—but don’t let those costs deter you. Many companies provide financial support and incentives for continuing education. By carefully planning your CE goals and aligning them with your company’s needs, you will be making a sound investment. When CE supports business objectives, companies are more likely to provide financial support in return.

Make the most of your CE dollars and hours by taking courses that support your objectives and match your style. Don’t just get CE out of the way—get something out of it. Remember, in today’s turbulent economy, continuing education is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
Donna Popow (popow@cpcuiia.org) is senior director of knowledge resources and ethics counsel for the American Institute for CPCU/Insurance Institute of America (the Institutes). She has responsibility for all aspects of claims education including the Associate in Claims designation program and the Introduction to Claims certificate program.



Donna J. Popow, JD, CPCU, AIC, is president of Donna J. Popow LLC, and has more than 25 years of experience in the property and casualty insurance industry. She has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached at (215) 630-0829.

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