So You Want to Get Your CPCU? What to Know About the Designation Before You Start

The Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation is seen as the gold standard of insurance designations. But is it worth the time and effort?
By: | May 20, 2021

So you want to further your insurance education.

The drive to gain knowledge and understanding of the industry you work in is an inevitability, especially for the savvy professional looking to grow their career opportunities. But the task of more schooling can be daunting at first. There’s the question of what to learn, where to learn it, how much to budget for this opportunity — all with the fear: Is it really worth it?

For many in insurance, seeking out the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation is worth the time, money and effort they put into it.

With an array of subjects spanning risk management, underwriting and more, it’s become somewhat of the “gold standard” in insurance designations for many.

“People have said to me that it is like the ‘master’s degree’ in risk management and insurance,” said Chris Hampshire, VP of carrier practice sales at Gallagher Bassett, and the 2022 president-elect of the CPCU Society. “I always knew it was something that I wanted to take on.”

CPCU: The Master’s of Insurance?

A sentiment that designees almost universally share is that the CPCU designation is like having a master’s degree in the industry.

It’s no wonder, either. The program is designed to cover a number of key industry topics, from risk management, insurance law and risk financing all the way to concentrations in commercial or personal lines. Cyber risk management, data analytics, claims and underwriting, and  reinsurance round out areas of study.

“There’s choice designed within the CPCU program. Candidates have options to choose from in order to meet the areas of expertise that are most specific or most relevant to their goals,” said Adam Carmichael, president of the ProKnowledge group at The Institutes, which runs the CPCU program and of which this magazine is an affiliate.

The CPCU program can be taken online, completely virtually, and is broken down into small, digestible pieces.

“If you have 15 minutes today and 20 tomorrow, then you’ll be able to make progress each day,” Carmichael explained. “There’s a lot of flexibility due to the self-study structure of the designation.”

Chris Hampshire, VP of carrier practice sales, Gallagher Bassett

Each course is capped with a 65-minute exam with 50 multiple choice questions. But the multiple choice goes far beyond memory recall; application of the lessons learned is a fundamental component of the CPCU.

“It’s beyond rote memorization or even just theory,” said 2012 CPCU candidate Matthew Struck, co-founder of broker agency Treadstone Risk Management. “It’s practical utilization that you are then able to deploy in your day-to-day tasks.”

For Struck, the biggest gain the CPCU has given him as a broker is the ability to explain action items and policy details with clients on demand: “I got a clear understanding of how the industry operates. I can now better frame a submission before it goes to an underwriter so that it looks better, because I know what the underwriter will key in on,” he said.

Jermaine Washington, a 2021 CPCU candidate and underwriting assistant at TREAN Corporation, entered insurance at the age of 18. For him, earning the CPCU was vital to get up-to-speed with the goings-on in the industry.

“The CPCU has enormous magnitude as far as its reputation,” he said. “I’ve seen that it really does help you in as far as going into a challenging line of business or going into a challenging role. Being young and inexperienced can be tough, but the CPCU gave me a foundation and the fundamentals I needed to jumpstart my career.”

Washington, now 23, said the CPCU has helped him go “toe-to-toe” with others who have worked in the industry for many years and who already have that wealth of knowledge. He’s able to speak with his peers and upper management with confidence.

“This was like getting my equivalent master’s in insurance and underwriting,” Washington said.

Balancing Education, Home and Work

The level of education is invaluable. But while the CPCU can set up an individual with the foundation they need to understand and discuss  industry happenings, there’s still a level of ‘what if’ to contend with.

For instance, what if pursuing the CPCU disrupts home life and the “regular” 40-hour work week?

The good news: Many CPCU candidates agree there’s a level of flexibility when it comes to gaining this designation. Part of that comes back to the way the courses are set up: online, self-guided, tests taken quarterly and only if the candidate is ready to take them.

“I definitely had hesitations at first,” Gallagher Bassett’s Hampshire said. “Really all related to the amount of work that would be involved on the front end.” Hampshire said he’s the kind of person who likes to finish what he starts. For him, though, the value of the CPCU next to his name far outweighed the fear of not finishing.

In fact, Hampshire was able to complete his CPCU courses in just four months.

Though, that speedy route isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. The CPCU is designed to meet the needs of the student.

Nicoletta George, global underwriting manager for general liability, AXA XL, earned her CPCU in 2019, setting out on her journey in 2013 after completing her MBA.

“I enjoy learning,” she said, “and I saw the designation as an opportunity to supplement my knowledge and experience in order to further my career opportunities within the industry.”

Fresh out of a 17-month accelerated MBA program, George pursued her CPCU at her own pace out of a passion for learning. She said that she had to determine what was a reasonable timeframe for completing the courses, while simultaneously raising three children and working in a demanding, full-time job.

“I determined that I was only in competition with myself,” she said, and so she spaced her learning over the course of six years.

“I studied for each course to achieve my designation, but taking my time with the material allowed me to more fully grasp the concepts I was learning and apply them to actual business problems. Approaching the courses through this lens was a key differentiator in my journey.”

Contending with Cost

Another area that many balk at when starting a new educational milestone is the cost.

The CPCU does have its fees, from course material to the sitting exams. But because the CPCU is designed to be taken at the candidate’s pace, budgeting around each isn’t a tall task.

Nicoletta George, global underwriting manager for general liability, AXA XL

Also, as many CPCU candidates pointed out, some employers offer reimbursement.

“A lot of corporations support their employees working on the CPCU, even financially for some. Candidates should talk to their employers about the possibility,” said Hampshire. “Not all do, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Struck’s CPCU journey started with his employer. After working in life insurance, he decided it was time for a change, and a headhunter led him to a career in commercial P&C.

“I had my license, but I needed the knowledge base,” he said. At the recommendation of his new employer, he started his CPCU journey.

“I negotiated at least the first exam and the study materials be covered,” said Struck. Once he passed, Struck continued to advocate for his education.

“Some employers won’t, but you have to ask for it anyways. You have to be your own advocate and present a good case for what your employer can gain by funding you.”

So, What Are They Gaining?

Yes, the most important question to address: Is it really worth it?

“Consider the professional and educational value that can be gained by going after the industry’s most respected designation,” Washington said.

“Professionally, the CPCU helped my confidence levels in speaking about the industry. These courses have been evaluated by the American Council of Education. This is an educational accomplishment.”

The CPCU shows a level of dedication to employers. It demonstrates their employee has a desire to know the industry, inside and out. For some, a CPCU completion has led to raises as well as promotion.

“I achieved the CPCU in September 2019, and it played a significant role in my promotion from VP to SVP that went in effect April 2020,” said George. “While pursing my CPCU, I was asked to lead an extensive training for a small group of five excess casualty underwriting assistants who expressed interest in becoming underwriters.”

A training that proved a huge success for AXA XL and for George’s standing: “Three group members were subsequently promoted,” she said.

Hampshire further noted that the rewards of the CPCU far outlast personal goals. Becoming a CPCU candidate enables you to join the CPCU Society, which is yet another way to excel.

“It’s a great way to get involved in leadership roles outside of your organization and network with all these people with a deep understanding of the industry,” he said.

“If you want to be that person who is looked at as a thought leader, as a risk management consultant who’s not just transactional, you have to dig into problems. You have to think about the ramifications and understand the nuances of the business,” Struck added.

“The CPCU is going to be the foundation all of that is built off of.” &

To learn more about the CPCU program, visit The Institutes’ website for more details.

Autumn Demberger is the content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected].

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