Peter Miller has a sense of humor about his industry—and the role he plays in it.
"You won't believe this," he said, "but many people don't think of insurance as being all that exciting."
As president and CEO of The Institutes—the 107-year-old, Malvern-based nonprofit that serves as the leading provider of professional education for insurance professionals—Miller's charge, broadly speaking, is to promote his industry and make those who work in it better. But more specifically, at least these days, Miller is working to tackle the somewhat daunting task of successfully drawing skeptical millennials into a field that will see roughly half of its workforce retire within the next decade.
It's a challenge Miller is more than happy to take on, if for no other reason than because after 24 years with The Institutes, he really is a true believer in his industry — and the crucial role it plays for individuals, businesses and entire economies.
"We like to say that insurance runs the modern economy," he said. "No single person could ever take on the risk of running a business without insurance, so in that way insurance really underwrites and helps bolster the entire economy. ... Our industry is really built on a promise—the idea that we as consumers pay our premiums and, in return, the insurance companies promise to pay us back when we need it."
In a recent interview, Miller talked about his quarter century of service with his organization, the ever-changing dynamics of the industry, and why he believes millennials actually should consider a career in insurance—no matter their preconceptions.
Technology is a tool, but people matter:
I always wanted to eventually get into an organization where the sole purpose was helping people and helping an industry—and that's what we do here. I've been here for 24 years now and I've just picked up progressively more responsibility. I had a lot of people be very patient with me along the way—people who overlooked some of the mistakes I made and were very willing to let me grow.
For example, before I started here, I did have some experience with insurance and had some decent knowledge of the industry. But looking back, I really was more of a tech person. This is going to sound crass, but I used to think that technology could solve most any problem. But I've learned in my time here that it's the people that matter. Technology is a tool, and it may be challenging, but it's not difficult. People are challenging and difficult but also fascinating—and they're what matters. You have to be a caring organization and my job is to be a caring leader.
'Intentional' about culture:
We're intentional about how we want our culture to be. We look at it and say, 'Here's what our culture is going to be, here are the characteristics we're going to exhibit,' and then we actively manage that culture. We have five employee core values that are part of everyone's performance appraisal. So we've worked very hard on that. But at the same time, yes, culture can be a bit squishy. You can see artifacts of it, but can't actually see the culture itself. It's like the wind. You can see the trees blowing in the wind, and so you know the wind is there, but you just can't see it.
What I've learned is, if you want to get buy-in, it can't be a top-down thing. If you say, 'Here's the culture' and make a bunch of fancy signs and hang them up around the office, that just isn't going to happen. It's hard to do, but it's something where everybody has to be in agreement.
The millennial challenge:
The thing with the insurance industry is, it really is a dynamic industry. It's really exciting. It's taken me to six continents and 50 countries, but it's just not seen that way by younger people. That's a big problem we're working on. If you attach what young people want in a career to what our industry does, I think there's actually a good match. I just think the industry has not done a great job selling itself to younger people. The reality is that this industry is undergoing a major transformation around technology, around data analytics, about being more global. It's an exciting industry that, at its core, helps people. And there's a lot of room to grow. About half the people working in the industry today are going to retire in the next 10 years, and our big challenge is to keep up with that.