The financial complexity and sophistication of the insurance industry make it an exciting place for accountants and financial professionals to work. “Insurance companies, by virtue of having thousands of small transactions, are numbers-oriented companies,” says Kathleen Enright, assistant vice president of financial reporting for a large insurance firm in Northbrook, Illinois, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Insurance Expert Panel. “It’s being able to aggregate those transactions and those results that requires so much skill.”
Finance professionals and accountants often start out at large insurance companies as entry-level accountants where they process customer transactions in operations, close the books in corporate accounting or work in financial reporting where data from all parts of the company come together.
Most outside hiring into professional-level accounting positions at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois, occurs at the finance-trainee level, says Michelle Baragona, a recruiter of nine years. “For the trainee level, we generally seek new grads or candidates who have been out of school five years or less, with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, plus at least 18 hours of accounting coursework and a GPA of at least 3.5,” she says. A CPA or continuing education is a plus.
Trainees then work as analysts or in supervisory roles after training, depending on their skill set and the company’s needs, Baragona says. As Enright explains, after starting in one area, moving around to other areas will give you a broad-based understanding of the company’s accounting, which can help advance your insurance career.
Baragona also recommends taking advantage of corporate support for certifications such as the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), or another professional designation from a trade group such as America’s Health Insurance Plans or LOMA International.
Large insurance companies also use accountants and finance professionals to complete financial reports required by state regulators, adds Bryan Cascarano, a senior recruiter for the Mergis Group’s Atlanta office.
“Across the industry as a whole, most of the jobs we’re seeing require a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field,” he says. “Many companies have raised the bar with additional requirements for their best-paying positions, such as a master’s degree, accounting certification or accounting software knowledge.”
As long as you’re seeking a finance or accountant position where you’re directed by another accountant, you can move into insurance without prior industry experience, says Shane Graham, partner and insurance practice leader for Kaye/Bassman International in Plano, Texas. As you move up the corporate chain of command, that changes. Companies seeking to fill management positions typically ask Graham to recruit candidates from other insurance companies or public accounting firms that handle insurance clients, because they want employees with the industry knowledge necessary to drive good financial decisions, he says.
No College Degree, No Problem
Those with a high school diploma and solid math and computer skills will also find opportunities within the finance and accounting departments of insurance firms. “We typically bring people in as finance assistants to work in the finance department, compliance, travel and expense, compensation, tax, planning and analysis, or general accounting,” Baragona says. “The job involves lots of data entry. For instance, in the travel-and-expense area, you’d help State Farm employees put through their travel and other expenses for reimbursements.”
Other jobs involve more contact with customers, such as opportunities in the company’s call centers for insurance and banking. While they often attract high school graduates, these positions are also appealing to college students, because the work is typically part-time, which allows them time to attend classes, Baragona says.
Small insurance companies, such as brokerages, offer another employment avenue for entry-level accountants. “Brokers are willing to take on a bookkeeper to do accounting functions within a small office,” Graham says. “Then, at the end of the year, they hire a CPA on a project basis to make sure everything is in line.”
With the insurance industry employing about 2.3 million people, there’s plenty of challenging work for accountants and finance professionals. And for college graduates, at least, the industry can be a steady source of employment, as long as you’re willing to make a commitment early in your career.
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