This Risk Management Professor Is Fed Up With Emus and Geckos

Butler University's Zach Finn has little patience for those who underappreciate insurance as a career.
By: | August 21, 2019

Zach Finn is practically begging the risk management and insurance professions to take themselves seriously. If only they would listen.

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The director of the risk management program at Butler University is very alive to the brilliance of insurance, and yes, its moral standing.

“We help to prevent bad things happening to good people, and we get to help put people’s lives together when things do go bad,” said Finn.

“This is a noble profession, where you can make good money and feel good about doing it,” he added.

That being said, Finn can barely conceal his fury at what a poor job the industry does in educating consumers and the public on its value.

“My biggest responsibility and opportunity is convincing the world that insurance and risk management should be taught in every business school, same as accounting, finance, marketing, etc.,” he said.

And he’s just about had it with Geico’s gecko and Liberty Mutual’s emu, seeing them as poor substitutes for a real education and dialogue about what insurance does so well.

(Just for the record, the author of this piece loves the Liberty Mutual ad campaign featuring an emu.)

“Stop using characters and gimmicks to sell our products,” he said.

“Stop wasting money sponsoring Major League Baseball, race cars, golf events or putting your logos in asinine places,” he said.

“Talent, customers and clients will come running once the industry does more to invest in the educational infrastructure needed for everyone to properly understand our products and services,” he said.

Sadly, a look at the numbers shows just how far behind the eight-ball the industry is. Its talent risk is daunting. Lots of stakeholders are seeking to address it.

“There are a paltry 5,000 or so risk management and insurance graduates annually, in any given year, for 250,000-plus job openings,” Finn said.

“I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as an existential supply chain risk for a multi-trillion-dollar industry that is supposed to be the stewards of managing risk for the economy,” he said.

Finn’s career path began with his graduation in May of 2000 with an insurance and risk management degree from Indiana State University.

“My first love was finance,” he said.

“If you consider finance to be the money-making offensive line of business, then risk management is the defensive line.”

Upon graduation, Finn was asked if he wanted to be a broker, an underwriter or a risk manager. The choice, for Finn, was an easy one.

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“I have always ascribed to the idea that the best offense is a good defense, so this career instantly appealed to me,” he said.

Finn’s first big break was as an intern and later a risk analyst for NCR Corporation.

Interning in the summer of 1999, Finn had a front-row seat watching an ATM manufacturer try to manage risk for Y2K.

Would the date conversion at midnight on Jan. 1, 2000 cause ATMs everywhere to start spewing cash?

“Would this event be insured? Did the company want it to be insured, and if so, how?”

“I was front and center for one of the (non) events of our time. It was fascinating and I was hooked,” Finn said.

Jeff Hoke was the risk manager who hired Finn at NCR. Hoke is now the risk manager for Honda North America. Finn calls him one of the best risk managers to “ever wear the mantle.”

Other influences included Dr. Mary Ann Boose, one of Finn’s instructors at Indiana State.

Read More: 10 Reasons Why Insurance and Risk Management Is a Great Career

“Dr. Boose got me to stop wasting my potential and be my best self,” Finn said.

Of Hoke, Finn said that he “helped to professionalize me and awakened my passion and drive to be a great risk manager.”

Finn also points to Dennis Zwink, a former risk manager for Hill-Rom Inc., now retired.

“Dennis Zwink showed me how to do captive feasibility studies, manage a large captive and how to run an excellent and efficient risk management department, with meticulous records,” Finn said.

At Butler, Finn has been making his own noise. Not only is he the head of the Davey Risk Management & Insurance program, he is also the faculty advisor for the school’s highly-rated chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, the professional risk management, actuarial and insurance fraternity.

In addition, Finn serves as the chief operating officer for the MJ Student-Run Insurance Company Ltd., a student-run captive at Butler, domiciled in Bermuda, that insures, among other things, the university’s telescope, its fine arts collection and its bomb-sniffing dog, Marcus.

Finn is passionate. He is outspoken.

And when he says things like, “Put the insurance-selling emu out to pasture, roll up your sleeves, and actually explain our industry, or donate to a university risk management and insurance program and let us do it, we got this!” — we know it comes from a good place.

As for the future of insurance, like many, Finn sees it transforming in front of our eyes and under our feet.

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In the next 10 to 15 years, “the industry will look nothing like it does today, in my opinion,” Finn said.

“There are innovations happening with insurance-linked securities and blockchain relative to the distribution system for reinsurance that I think are going to disrupt that segment of the industry very soon, and very significantly,” he said.

“I would be nervous if I were a reinsurance or Lloyd’s broker who is not aware and ahead of what is coming or possible,” he said. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]