Angela Tennis is the Director of Insurance Services for the Pennsylvania Municipal League. She is responsible for the administration of two self-insurance trusts: the workers’ compensation and the property and casualty program.
Angela explains self-insurance as a way for large employers to retain the risk instead of paying an insurance company a premium. If the employer has good claims experience and a safety program, retaining the risk makes good business sense. Employers are required to have certain insurance; for example, state law requires workers’ compensation, but the insurance trust is in lieu of an insurance carrier. To be self-insured in the workers’ compensation trust that she manages, employers must have enough assets in order for municipalities, boroughs, cities, and townships to share the risk; money not used for claims or expenses is returned to the members through a risk-stabilization fund, commonly known as dividends.
Self-insurance trusts build cash reserves through investment income and good claims experience. The trust charges an administration fee to manage it and controls costs to ensure profitability. An actuary estimates the amount of claims based on prior experience.
Angela manages the day to day administration of the two self-insurance trusts. She reviews every open claim and is involved in assigning legal counsel and working with partners such as consultants, asset managers, actuaries, and brokers to place coverage. Her role involves a lot of interaction; for example, she attends conferences all over the country to meet with other Municipal Leagues and to attend training. She also travels frequently in Pennsylvania visiting current members of the trust and prospective members. She represents the trust at different industry events, including all levels of local government.
Angela stated that the most influential person in her career was actually a bad boss, saying that there is always something you can learn from someone. She said, “If you haven’t had a bad boss, you cannot appreciate a good boss.” What Angela took away from her experience with a bad boss was the difference between a manager and a leader, explaining that a leader encourages, motivates, and provides coaching to build skills. Angela commented that several courses she took during her Executive MBA program have directly impacted her leadership style.
A Day in the Life Of
A typical day for Angela involves a lot of email, since that is her primary form of communication. She sets up Google Alerts for issues that impact her work, including any news about municipal legislation and member municipalities. Angela recently tasked herself with becoming a proficient in law enforcement liability, so she spends about ninety minutes a day on social-fed media to learn about this topic and other relevant topics in order to stay up-to-date on information she needs to know for her job.
Angela described Mondays as her busiest days due to meetings; she attends a directors’ meeting to discuss the customer relationship management system and a staff meeting to discuss various projects. She holds a daily staff meeting to review what happened the day before and what’s on the agenda for the day ahead. Each meeting is an opportunity to address and solve problems. Angela generally has at least two conference calls each day; additionally, she reviews coverage forms and answers questions about various insurance coverage.
Angela discussed the importance of a positive work environment and described how her office takes a regular water break that provides an opportunity for people to connect and also get up and move around. Lately, she has been trying to have more meetings while walking, something she read Steve Jobs did frequently. These tactics build camaraderie, which is critical to inspiring high performance.
What Did You Want to Be Growing Up?
As a young girl, Angela’s grandmother wanted her to be an airline stewardess so she could fly for free. Her mom wanted her to be a bookkeeper. Angela explains that while her brother was going to attend college, no one ever thought she would. Nonetheless, she attended Pennsylvania State University and pursued an accounting degree; however, shortly after starting her accounting coursework, Angela discovered that she was dyslexic. She changed her major to economics and minored in business but was able to use all of her credits to graduate at the same time.
Angela stated that not many people choose insurance as a career, but she thinks the next generation will have so many opportunities that aren’t available now. Angela started in the insurance industry thirty years ago as a claims adjuster and has also worked in sales, customer service, and agency management; she has worked for a consortium of colleges and universities as well as small, medium, and global insurance brokers. She also helped set-up an insurance company and sold the assets when it wasn’t a successful investment for its owners. Prior to joining the Pennsylvania Municipal League she served as the Chief of the Self-Insurance Division for the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. She also is a certified instructor for insurance continuing education and has worked as a consultant.
Angela said, “Get your undergraduate and master’s degrees right away while you are still broke and eating ramen noodles. Learn how to pay for your school and think about the salary you’ll need to make after graduation to pay for your loans, because it’s becoming untenable. Apply for all the scholarships you can because the most attractive packages are for freshmen, not for transfer students. You won’t get what you would have received as a freshman.”
She also offers, “Learn about dropping classes before it wrecks your college GPA. If you end your first year with a low GPA, it’s almost impossible to recover, because it’s a weighted average.
Last, Angela encourages you to consider insurance as a career saying, “There is a multitude of opportunities in the insurance industry, as long as people and assets exist, there will always be a need for insurance. The concept of insurance dates back to early human society. Chinese merchants traveling treacherous rapids would distribute their loads across many vessels to limit the loss due to any one boat capsizing. Great in math? Be an actuary. Like working with safety? Become a risk manager or loss-control professional. Love marketing and social media? We have that to. IT?–you bet!”