By Amy C. Waninger
About the series: See It to Be It is an interview series highlighting professional role models in a variety of industries. The goal of this series is to draw attention to the vast array of possibilities available to emerging and aspiring professionals, with particular attention paid to support systems available for people of color within the industry.
This interview features Traci Adedeji.
Traci is an ever-evolving business professional, working hard every day to be the best Traci that she can be. She has over 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, and also runs her own successful direct sales business. Traci lives by the idea that every experience, positive or negative, makes us who we are; it is up to us to find and learn from the lesson.
LC: Traci, your job title is “Technical Program Lead.” For someone who is not in the project management space may not understand what that means. Can you tell me a little about your job?
TA: When we have to implement changes in a computer system, I’m involved in defining the business requirements and working with the technical folks to make sure our systems can accommodate what is needed from an underwriting and processing perspective.
LC: To make this a little more complicated, you work in a subsection of the insurance industry called “residual markets.” Can you explain that term?
TA: Every state has a mechanism to handle what’s called “residual market business” for automobile insurance, because in just about every state, you have to have automobile insurance to be able to drive. So what happens is that, for example, if Allstate writes, say, 40 percent of all of the standard automobile business in a state, the state will say, “well, you also have to write 40 percent of the residual market business in the state.” The residual market serves people who are unable to get insurance through the standard market for a variety of reasons. For example, someone may have too many accidents to be covered by a traditional insurer. So what Allstate might say is, “We know we have to write this business, but we really don’t want to program our systems or hire people to handle this business, because it’s handled differently than our standard business and not as profitable.” So they hire a company like the one I work for to handle those policies on their behalf. There are some variations on how the different residual market mechanisms work, but that’s probably the clearest example.
LC: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in the insurance industry and what about it appealed to you? Because I’m guessing — based on all the people I’ve talked to in the insurance industry — that when you were five years old and grandma said “Traci, what do you want to be when you grow up?” You probably didn’t say, “I want to be an insurance program lead.”
TA: You are absolutely correct. Although I do love insurance, I think that we have to get to a point where little little brown boys and girls say, “We want to work in insurance.” I’m 54 years old, and when I was 16 years old, I was a teen mom. And when I was 17 years old, I had another baby. So here I am, two children, college dropout. And my parents said, “You’ve got to get a job, you got to do something to take care of these babies.” So I got a job working at an insurance agency as a file clerk. One day everybody was busy, and the phone rang, so I answered the phone. It was a very simple call, but I was able to answer because I’d been listening to the customer service representatives. So I just answered the call. I got promoted to customer service rep and just worked my way up. I went from working on the agency side of the business to the company side of the business as an assistant underwriter. Then I got promoted to underwriter and to underwriting manager in different companies.
LC: What has been the biggest surprise to you about the insurance industry that you maybe wouldn’t have thought of or maybe a misconception that you had before you were in the industry?
TA: I think the thing that solidified my interest in insurance and was “Aha! Moment” was when I started studying insurance. I actually started studying for my CPCU designation, which is a professional designation in the industry, in 1992. I came to have an appreciation for how important insurance is, but also for how diverse the industry is. Pretty much any discipline that you would be interested in studying, there is a job for you in the insurance industry. That is, I think, the coolest thing about insurance.
LC: If somebody is not in the insurance industry today or they are looking for a way to learn more, where would you recommend that they go?
TA: I would recommend that they get in touch with the local chapter of The CPCU Society. I would also recommend that they get in touch with professional insurance agents and brokers because they have different professional organizations depending upon where they are in their career. For a high school or college student who is interested in the industry, I would recommend they look at internships with insurance companies. I do also know that those of us who are invested enough in the industry and in our careers to be part of the professional organizations have a tendency to be pretty generous people. So it would be pretty easy to get a one-on-one informal or even formal mentoring relationship with someone who is in the industry.