10 March 2020ArticleAnalysis

The CICA college student essay contest: helping to shape the future of the captive insurance industry

A key part of CICA’s work focuses on nurturing and championing the next generation of industry leaders. It does this through a whole raft of opportunities: the Amplify Women program provides education, networking and support for women within the industry; the NEXTGen initiative for young and new professionals committee promotes networking and career development for those entering the industry; and CICA’s partnerships with undergraduate universities and the International Center for Captive Insurance Education offer young professionals valuable growth opportunities.

The Mentorship Program provides opportunities for CICA members of all levels of experience to build their career skills, and the annual conference provides important learning and networking opportunities for people not just from one domicile or sector, but from across the industry as a whole.

The conference is also the focus of a key opportunity for students with their eyes set on a career within the industry: the CICA Student Essay Competition.

The competition challenges teams of two college students to create an essay related to industry, which will be judged by a panel of CICA members. The three finalist teams are invited to the CICA conference, where the winner is announced. Their admission to the conference is free and they are given the opportunity to deliver a presentation of their work.

On top of this, three pairs leave with a cash prize ($2,500 for first prize, $1,500 for second, and $1,000 for third) and the winning essays are published in the captive trade press and on the CICA website.

The challenges set for the competition are topical and geared towards the issues the students will face in their future careers. The 2022 competition, for instance, invited students to develop strategies for one of two case studies to help an organization create captive insurance solutions to provide member value and address coverage gaps for current and emerging risks.

Sponsored by captive management firm Strategic Risk Solutions (SRS), the competition is designed to attract students who want to be challenged in their careers and to make a difference. The captive insurance industry provides precisely those opportunities, and the competition helps to highlight its appeal to these young people.

“The competition gives young professionals a broader knowledge of insurance solutions and a leg-up on managing an organization’s risks,” says CICA president Dan Towle. “Students tell us they enjoy learning about the complexities of captive insurance and how captives can provide solutions that might not otherwise be available.

“They find the diversity of topics and global reach appealing, and most have said they will definitely keep an eye on the captives market as they begin their careers and would consider careers in our sector,” Towle says.

Deepening the pool

A CICA board member who played a key role in helping to establish the competition is Michael Zuckerman, associate professor, risk, insurance and healthcare management at Temple University.

“When I joined the board, Dan Towle told me that CICA wanted to do the essay contest,” Zuckerman says. “I did some research examining different student writing contests to understand what worked, and what didn‘t work. Dan and I developed parameters for the essay contest outlining what it would look like and how it would operate.

“Dan was committed to opening up undergraduates to the world of captive insurance and encouraging universities to send their students and faculty to the CICA conference.

“The goal for the essay contest was to encourage schools with a team qualifying as a finalist to send them to the conference. Dan enhanced the essay contest by obtaining an industry sponsor, SRS, whose commitment to this initiative, and Dan’s vision, have driven the competition,” he explains.

SRS president and chief executive officer Brady Young says he is thrilled to be part of CICA’s outreach effort, which helps attract the best talent into the captive insurance industry.

“It spreads the word about how great the captive industry is in terms of being an interesting place to work and providing fantastic growth opportunities for bright motivated individuals,” Young says.

“We hope this will help generate long-term interest in working in our industry and help supplement the captive industry’s needs as the current generation of leaders retire.

“The timing for us to get involved was ideal as we were looking for ways to broaden our reach into universities across the US, especially in those states where SRS has offices and is looking to recruit trainees,” he explains.

Young adds that a further benefit of the competition is its power in communicating the captive insurance concept—and its benefits—to a broad section of university students majoring in risk management and insurance who will end up working as risk managers, underwriters, brokers and in other fields that work with or touch captives.

By contrast, he notes, he had not heard of captive insurance until he was 25 years old and already working as a risk management consultant.

“I have been very impressed with the students that have been selected as finalists,” he adds. “They are bright, articulate, confident and a very diverse group. The chance to be published is great, plus attending the conference in an awesome venue where they can network with the captive industry is invaluable to the students.”

Zuckerman echoes Young’s praise for the students involved.

“I have been enormously proud of the Temple University students who have participated in the essay contest and attended the CICA Conference,” he says. “They are very professional and network seamlessly—you would think that they were 30-year industry veterans.

Long-term effects
Previous winners of the competition highlight the benefits of not only the process itself, but its effect on their fledgling careers. Angel Song, who won in 2019 along with her essay partner Alana Vicale, is now an underwriter at Sompo International Global Risk Solutions.She discovered the competition in 2018, when she volunteered to participate in the CICA conference to present what she and her fellow students had learned about captives in Temple University’s risk management program.“It was a great networking opportunity, and I met many other students there,” Song recalls. “I heard about the essay contest, and Professor Zuckerman, who was one of my professors, recommended it to all the students. I asked my best friend Alana to participate with me because I could see it was a great opportunity to learn more about the unique captive insurance industry.”The pair wrote an essay about the opioid crisis in the US and the way captives or risk retention groups can incentivize good practice by doctors and deter overprescribing.“I’m very passionate about social issues, and it gave me a broader perspective about the medical industry,” she says. “It definitely made me more knowledgeable. I was really excited to win—I love the feeling of my hard work being recognized.”One of the highlights for Song and Vicale was being able to attend the CICA conference and present their findings in front of industry professionals; another was what they learned thorough collaborating on the essay.“It also nurtured my work ethic; it made me realise if you work hard and work the right way, you can achieve a lot of the things you want,” says Song.“I met so many people at the CICA conference, and built good relationships with them. Now, if I have some questions about anything to do with the industry or career development-related, I know I have someone I can ask.”Natalie Kojababian, an associate underwriter at Amwins Group, a global distributor of specialty insurance products and services, was a 2020 essay competition winner as well as a 2021 finalist.“In college I took various insurance and risk management classes as a part of my minor for my degree and quickly learned that there is more to the industry than just insurance carriers and claims adjusters,” Kojababian says.“In my enterprise risk management class, I was introduced to captives when studying Walt Disney company and other large companies that have formed captives to protect their businesses.”When CICA released its essay prompts, she was keen to take up the challenge. Like Song, Kojababian says that entering the contest gave her the opportunity to receive valuable mentorship from industry professionals.“It was a wonderful learning experience, and it allowed me to realize how engaged captives keep me and how this is something I would like to pursue in the future,” she says.Kojababian credits the experience of entering the competition with giving her a different perspective on her job.“For my 2020 essay competition topic, I chose to write about a cannabis association. Today, I see many instances where I have to underwrite risks which entail various exposures for cannabis in particular. It’s very enlightening to see how the wholesale side treats such risks completely differently from if it were handled by a captive or a risk retention group, and it’s not surprising to see that captives are the better option in many circumstances,” she says.“The essay competition allowed me and my competition partner to be creative in our solutions for the feasibility studies and topics we had to choose from and I feel that the creative aspect of solving a risk and being able to find a solution plays into my work life today on a daily basis.”