Employee Spotlight: Bernie Kurtzweil
A unique challenge has recently arisen in the insurance industry surrounding the mass retirement of older professionals and the complexities of transferring their industry knowledge to the new generation entering the field. With over thirty years in the industry, Bernie Kurtzweil is using his wisdom to accelerate the knowledge and experience of the young team at Continental Underwriters, Inc.
As Director of Underwriting, Bernie is our team’s go-to resource for bringing together practical solutions to complex problems. While he’s been in the insurance industry for over three decades, his history in the forestry products business goes back even further. His first job was as a logger in his family’s logging operation in Northern Wisconsin, and the fact that his career has now brought him full circle back to the wood products business is not lost on him.
After graduating from college, Bernie joined Wausau Insurance Companies at the entry-level, not sure where the insurance industry would take him. It wasn’t long before he began moving up in the organization through underwriting and home office roles. His next stop was with Media Professional (Media Pro), which helped him hone policy language skills, take on leadership responsibilities, build legal acumen and understand the insurance regulatory framework. He continued growing in his career skills during his time at Westport Insurance Corporation, Employers Re, Swiss Re, and within the W.R. Berkley group of companies. This path ultimately allowed him to dig deep into the complexities of the niche insurance markets. And lucky for us, all of this experience ultimately led him back to the wood products industry and into his current role at Continental Underwriters, Inc., where he shares these core skill sets with the rest of our team.
The Necessity for Empathy
Because of the variety of roles Bernie held before joining Continental Underwriters, Inc., he has an incredible sense of being able to see things from different perspectives. His favorite piece of industry advice is to keep in mind that insurance is one of those things that nobody looks forward to buying. It is a product that no one thinks they need, until, of course, they do. So, in order to be sensitive to the mindset of the buyer, he encourages our team to put ourselves in the insured’s shoes. This means seeing things from the mindset of different businesses, personalities, and even geographical territories. When looking to build positive experiences with clients, context always matters.
Making Coverage Understandable
When someone buys insurance, they’re buying a promise. Sure, it’s just a piece of ‘paper,’ but the words on that page exist so that in the event a client needs it, they can call upon that promise for insurance protection. This is why it is so important for insurance policy language to be clear, concise, and effective in providing protection for the buyer.
Helping people understand the benefits of insurance and how it fits into their business is one of those intangible skills that we apply at Continental Underwriters, Inc. every single day. It’s about educating and bringing clarity to what you’re offering and what the insured is getting. This requires doing up-front work by carefully putting the policy’s language together given an understanding of what and how a client does their business. This helps build the foundation upon facts, expectations, and mutual understanding. When and if a claim happens, the conversations should be smoother and as negotiations take place, emotions should have less impact.
Skills of the Road
During his decades of experience in the industry, Bernie gained a set of skills that he now likes to recommend to anyone and everyone working in the insurance business. They are: be honest, do the right thing, know your limits, communicate as clearly as possible, stay calm and be a good listener. That last one is especially important because in many cases, a person can get so settled into their technical role that they end up forgetting how to best understand their clients’ needs. So not only is it critical to learn these skills, but it’s also necessary to put them into habitual practice every day.
If you are new to insurance, you should be striving towards doing all of the above, but when in doubt, ask questions with a solid point of view in mind. Always keep an eye on relevant context – current events, industry news, published claims decisions, and more. If you have been in the business for years (or decades, even!), share your experiences with those younger colleagues. At Continental Underwriters, Inc., we prioritize listening and educating one another to combine our learnings and become the best team that we can possibly be. This creates a network of people and resources that you can draw on quickly if needed. And most of all, shift your mindset to look at every problem as an opportunity for a solution.