Lora Reinholz has gotten to know professionals in every nook and cranny of the insurance world during her more than 10 years working in the business. The instructor of practice in finance finds one commonality among the underwriters, actuaries, agents and financial advisers who make up the industry: they didn’t grow up dreaming of it.
“Insurance is one of those industries where not a lot of people think about going in there proactively,” Reinholz says. “They kind of get nudged into the profession for different reasons.”
To give students that nudge earlier on, Reinholz started the College of Business Administration’s first-ever insurance course: Principles of Risk and Insurance. Twice a week during the first semester, she and co-teacher Mark Afable met with the initial group of students on the second floor of O’Brien Hall.
A former state insurance commissioner, Afable oversaw the more than 300 insurance companies that call Wisconsin home, from giants like Northwestern Mutual and American Family Insurance to small town mutuals.
“The opportunities in this field are tremendous,” Afable says. “Insurance is something that every consumer needs, particularly individual consumers.”
“The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this course is how much opportunity there is around Wisconsin for people who want to do this kind of work,” says Garrett Butler, a junior who is also a financial rep intern at Northwestern Mutual. “It’s like Wisconsin is the home of insurance.”
Working in insurance may not be everybody’s childhood dream, but its size and growth prospects are making it a more lucrative option. The American insurance market was valued at more than $80 billion in 2022, per global accounting firm Deloitte, and is expected to grow to roughly $130 billion by 2027.
Industry demographics also make it easier for talented students to move up quickly. Richard Poirier, who was most recently the president and CEO of Church Mutual Insurance Company, a leading insurer of religious organizations, estimates that 40 percent of his 1,300-strong workforce will be retirement eligible in the next five years. Interns Poirier hired seven years ago are now at the manager level, earning salaries well into the six figures.
Poirier spoke to the class in October, instructing them on the finer points of working in the industry and taking questions from the group. He also shared with them that a job in insurance can lead to a fulfilling career, not just a lucrative one.
“I get feedback from people I trained years ago who are now in senior management, and the feedback is that they have a job with purpose because they’re helping people and that they’re interacting with people; not just sitting at a laptop punching out numbers,” Poirier says.
Each week, Afable and Reinholz invite a new guest speaker. The second week of the course, students listened to Christy Kaufman, the chief risk officer at online real estate marketplace Zillow. C-suite level executives from Catholic Financial Life, Network Health and Ernst & Young, among others, have also visited the class.
The class also took a cross-campus trip to the Haggerty Art Museum for their class on managing risks and insuring art, which involved a look inside the museum’s vault.
With each experience, Reinholz sees more of her students changing their preconceived notions about insurance.
“Students have been incredibly receptive,” Reinholz says. “I love their level of participation and interest in the class. It helps that some of our students have an insurance background, either through internships or through family members, which gives them at least some idea of how much potential exists here.”
Those who are not in Afable and Reinholz’s class still have plenty of opportunities to get involved with insurance. Northwestern Mutual representatives visit O’Brien Hall to talk with students in the building’s lobby at least twice per year on top of their consistent presence at the university career fair each semester. Other insurance companies in the area are Business Career Center partners and advertise their job openings in the Handshake portal.
Over time, the college hopes to host more insurance personnel at the Accelerating Ingenuity in Markets Academy, a Tuesday night speaker series that draws dozens of students from a variety of different Marquette Business majors.
Bigger things are on the horizon, says Acting Keyes Dean of Business Administration Tim Hanley.
“Marquette Business is uniquely positioned to be a talent pipeline to the insurance industry,” Hanley says. “We can build offerings that match what employers need due to our combination of longstanding industry relationships, faculty expertise and student success resources. I envision insurance being a growth opportunity for the college over the next five to 10 years.”
“Wisconsin has historically been a great place for companies to find the talent they need in order to conduct business, and in order to maintain that talent advantage, we need to prepare students for insurance careers in the new AI-driven world that will combine traditional insurance knowledge with modern technological skills,” Afable says.
Both Afable and Poirier emphasized that insurance companies are not solely looking for business students. Valuable employees come from the humanities, the social sciences and beyond. Poirier himself studied psychology and English during his time as an undergraduate at Marquette. People of varying interests have always found a home in insurance, as long as they are inquisitive and interested in helping others, he emphasizes.
“We recruit from all disciplines,” Poirier says. “We want, more than anything else, servant leaders — people who embody that Jesuit ideal of giving back and who get excited about helping others. Obviously, the ethics component you learn at Marquette is a powerful driver of good insurance employees no matter what you’re studying.”
Far from the sleepy industry some students might imagine it to be before taking Afable and Reinholz’s class, insurance is a multifaceted, dynamic market that offers something to just about everyone.
“If you really don’t know what you what you want to do and you’re pretty smart and love to talk to people, insurance was made for you,” Butler says.