The IASA 2007 annual conference theme, "learning today, leading tomorrow," may sound a bit clichéd-until you consider insurance carriers that have incorporated a similar theme into their corporate cultures-cultures that espouse insurance industry-specific professional development.Take Indianapolis-based WellPoint, a health benefits company that serves about 28 million medical members and 80 million specialty members in the United States. With more than 38,000 employees, the organization owns Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield plans in 13 states. Apparently, WellPoint believes that a large predictor of customer satisfaction and associated growth is reflected in its ranks, as measured by employee satisfaction. Rumor has it that when WellPoint's Georgia division discovered that its employee satisfaction level dropped below its national company average a few years ago, the division created an Associate Career Development program, which included a job-specific competency model and all associated learning opportunities, both online and in person. In the year following the program's inception, turnover reportedly dropped more than 11%.

Minneapolis-based Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, which has nearly 2,000 employees and recorded nearly $14 billion in gross premiums in 2005, promotes employee development on its Web site: "Our philosophy is that we continue to grow because we make it possible for our employees to do the same. It's the reason that we are so committed to investing both time and money into the development of our team. After all, our people make us the best at next. So we make it our business to give them every opportunity to achieve their goals." Their efforts include mentoring, Q&A sessions, technical training, industry-specific training and diversity training.

Conversely, those carriers that allocate training and development budgets only to the sales side, i.e., tied to a predicted return on sales, lose.

They lose because they have adopted a myopic view of the cost center. Blind to the big picture, they don't see that the cost center-the back office where risk is managed through expert underwriting and claims processing-is where long-term, positive impact on revenue takes place. If they don't see human resources as a strategic investment, they won't support strategic workforce planning. And they won't see that their knowledge workers' growth positively affects the bottom line.

If carries won't allocate dollars for proper training in regulatory reporting, they'll lose when the cost center takes on a life of its own once the company is found to be in non-compliance. And even away from insurance industry-specific development efforts, they'll lose, because across all job functions, including the IT area, morale will plummet as talented employees abandon ship to join insurers that do support their growth. Forced to operate with a competency deficit, the result will be a loss of critical momentum.

We know that competency-and its associated job satisfaction and employee retention-is critical in a soft market, but insurers large and small that support learning and leadership in any market already have the advantage.

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