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 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 Dr. Mark Tarmann, Jr., an insurance claims professional with a Ph.D. in Business Administration with an emphasis on Project Management.
LC: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in the insurance industry and what about it appealed to you?
MT: Growing up, I dreamed of being a veterinarian. I pursued it through high school with the intent to go into UC Davis, as it was the number one agricultural school with a veterinary. Quickly, found out that I was way behind the curve of other students. Being that I grew up in a suburban area, I wasn’t on a farm 24/seven. I wasn’t part of 4-H clubs. Other students could name specific breeds, and I just saw cows. I quickly realized that was not going to be my path.
I switched to a Communications major so I could finish my degree. When I graduated, I got into the financial market. I was working for a Sacramento-based IRS tax firm. I didn’t see that job going anywhere. A year later, I left to join a friend in New Jersey and took a Customer Service Representative role at a bank, helping customer open loans, close accounts.
And then I was approached by an insurance company I had never heard of, but everyone in the area said it was highly regarded. So I ended up taking a chance going into this unknown profession. So I guess what attracted me to insurance is that I just fell into it.
It was sort of like the Wizard of Oz. I knew it existed, but didn’t know what was going on behind the curtain. This was the opportunity to see behind that curtain and the inner workings. Most young people don’t even consider insurance, because there’s no all-star game that highlights all the great players in the industry. Not yet, anyway.
LC: Can you tell me about your journey within the insurance industry and the roles you’ve held?
MT: I think of insurance like a tree. At the bottom, are the roots, which is primarily customer service positions. These include brokers, agents, the voices at the other end of the line if you call about a problem with your insurance policy. And that’s where I started in the industry, because I really wanted to understand it from the ground up. I worked my way up and spent five years in personal lines, which is the auto, home insurance, and noncommercial exposure side of the insurance. After a while, I began to recognize that there were different paths through the industry. Underwriting, for example, is the group that looks at the risks and determines whether we’re going to insure them.
But I love the claims side. This is the post-loss, Johnny-on-the-spot that’s activated to help the insured in a crisis. And then there’s other avenues as well.
It was the claims aspect that provided me the most immediate entry. I wanted to work on auto physical damage. Somebody gets involved in an accident, the vehicle gets damaged, let’s fix the vehicle, get them back on the road. I figured, I knew what a car is, I should be able to do that job. I ended up in the bodily injury protection portion. This is when it’s not the car that gets hurt, but it’s the individual driver or passenger. This area of claims not only demands that you understand how to handle a loss, but also requires an empathetic side that goes along with the human component.
LC: What kind of training did you get for your claims position?
MT: The way it usually works in insurance is that you’re thrown into the trenches after some minimal training, because the best teacher in claims is the calls themselves. My very first call as a personal injury protection adjuster was a mortality claim, so no tougher spot to be in as far as an empathetic side than a loss of somebody in a motor vehicle. So, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool and I came out of it thinking, “This is really what I want to do.” Take insurance out of the equation. It was the same reason I wanted to be a veterinarian. It was coming to the aid of someone who was suffering.
LC: What has been the most surprising thing about the insurance industry that you didn’t expect before you got there?
MT: The maze that is the insurance industry. So as I told you earlier, I wanted to see behind the curtain and what I found was more curtains! The insurance industry is a blanket term for this giant maze that professionals navigate in different way. Every day is different. Every call is different. I would say that entry-level positions such as call center representatives may at first seem mundane and repetitive, but understand that that’s where you start. That is the beginning of this wonderful journey that I’ve come to love that is called insurance.
LC: If somebody is not familiar with the insurance industry, where would you recommend that they go to learn more?
MT: Gamma Iota Sigma is a fraternal organization dedicated to college students that have some interest in the risk management field. They have chapters on campuses around the country.
For both students and professionals, The Institutes CPCU Society has a plethora of information available. Many people think the CPCU Society is only open to professionals with the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation, but that’s actually not true.
However, the best source, and this is my own bias speaking, would be the Insurance Nerds. I hooked up with them a few years back when they were just in their infancy. This group felt that something needed to change in the industry to make sure that it was a sustained with the new generations of professionals. Their site is a great resource for anyone who wants to understand the industry in simple language.
The following organizations provide resources and support for diverse talent in the insurance industry: