What Is Insurance?
Recently bought a home or a car? It’s time to insure it. Same goes for our teeth, our eyes, and our overall health. These days, it seems, everything needs insurance, and insurance agents are everywhere. According to the The Department of Labor, the U.S. insurance industry alone employed 2.9 million people. And as recently as 2019, net premiums written by the U.S. insurance industry totaled $1.32 trillion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
But how do you become an insurance agent? From a broker to an actuary, there are any number of good-paying job titles related to the insurance industry. For those interested in working in careers like these, it’s hard to know where to begin. What kind of degree do you need to get started? And what kind of careers are made possible by a degree in actuarial science, risk management, or the insurance industry? The answers to these questions might surprise you, and it’s easier than you think to get your start.
In this ultimate guide to insurance, we’ll show you how.
Want to know a secret? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is possible to become an insurance sales agent, which is one of the most common career paths in the insurance industry, with nothing more than a high school diploma, certain certifications, and on-the-job training.
Recent estimates, though, say anywhere from 40 to 50% of those working as an insurance agent or in related positions within the industry pair state licensing and professional experience with at least a bachelor’s degree.
Those degrees are often in marketing, finance, or business administration. It is possible, though, to pursue a degree in insurance or an insurance-related industry such as actuarial science.
Many more students begin their journey to careers in insurance by majoring in insurance management or insurance and risk management.
Still others choose concentrations and minors in insurance or actuarial science, before earning professional designations in the insurance industry such as an accredited advisor in insurance or an associate in claims, among many other possible certifications.
As previously stated, though, no matter how an insurance industry professional gets their start, one of the most common positions within the industry is an insurance sales agent.
Keep reading to find out what insurance sales agents earn and the approximate number of jobs available, but for now, just know that in their work, insurance sales agents become experts in insurance policies, explaining features of those policies to clients, and customizing specific policies and programs to suit the needs of those clients, among many other tasks.
Strong interpersonal skills, computer experience, and attention to detail are defining characteristics of those suited for the work.
If you’re otherwise ready to get started in the exciting and lucrative insurance industry, you’ve come to right place. In our next section we’ll tell you what you need to know about just a few of the many other careers made possible by an insurance industry-related college degree.
Careers in Insurance
In addition to the careers listed below, jobs in insurance include loss control agents, underwriters, insurance appraisers, and many other customer service-related positions in the industry, such as insurance claims and processing clerks.
In this section we’ll tell you what you need to know to get started in five additional careers common in the industry, including job growth, earning potential, and a brief overview of tasks and responsibilities common for those working in these positions. A few of them just might surprise you.
|Job Title||Approx. # Years of Education||Average Annual Salary|
|Insurance Sales Agents||High School Diploma or Equivalent||$52,180|
Insurance Sales Agents
As previously mentioned, working as an insurance sales agent is one of the most common entry-level careers in the insurance industry, and it’s possible to qualify for this position with nothing more than a high school diploma, some certification, and on-the-job training. A bachelor’s degree, at least, in insurance or an insurance-related minor or emphasis will only improve employment opportunities while further differentiating an applicant from the rest of the competition.
In their work, insurance sales agents constantly seek to expand their customer base, which can sometimes include cold calling potential clients. For this reason, strong interpersonal skills and an outgoing personality are important traits of a successful insurance sales agent. Once a prospective client relationship is established, insurance sales agents carefully gather data to ensure whatever policy is chosen fits the needs of the customer.
To this end, they must be well-versed in, and able to clearly explain, the details and sometimes complicated aspects of an insurance policy to a client, as well as suggest any additions or changes to an existing policy, customize policies to the needs of the consumer, and manage policy renewals. Careful record keeping and thorough attention to detail are important traits of an insurance sales agent.
It’s also important to note there is more than just one kind of sales agent in the insurance industry, each with slightly different job descriptions. That list includes property and casualty insurance agents, life insurance agents, and health and long-term care insurance agents. But across all these different positions, insurance sales agents make about $52,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Also according to the BLS, there are about 500,000 positions across the U.S. and better still, that number is expected to expand at a rate of 5% in the decade spanning 2019 through 2029, which is a faster than the average rate of growth in most other professions.
Data from BLS also states that the vast majority, or 61% of all insurance agents, work at insurance agencies and brokerages. Following that number, 12% are self-employed, 9% work for direct insurance carriers, and 4% work for direct health and medical insurance carriers, according to the BLS.
In addition to licensing from the state in which they work, insurance sales agents also often seek certification from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or the The American College of Financial Services, among many other possibilities, but these designations are rarely required by an employer.
States with strong employment numbers in this line of work include California and Texas, according to the BLS.
Another common profession for those who study insurance or pursue an insurance industry-related degree is to become an actuary, and many advanced degrees are offered in actuarial science. This is great work for a numbers-minded person, because in the job, actuaries compile statistics, data, and other information to estimate the economic risk, cost, and consequences related to accidents, illness, or natural disasters.
Using this information, actuaries then design, test, and administer insurance policies, carefully balancing risk with profitability. In addition, actuaries may also plan investments, pensions, and other business strategies, producing charts, graphs, and other forms of reports for superiors and clients, which can sometimes include government agencies, company executives, and other shareholders.
There are a few different kinds of actuaries, including health and life insurance actuaries, property and casualty insurance actuaries, benefits and retirement actuaries, and enterprise risk actuaries.
Across all different kinds of actuaries, the average salary is about $110,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A bachelor’s degree in an insurance-related major is typically the minimum level of education required by most employers to become an actuary, and job opportunities are predicted by the BLS to grow at an astonishing rate of 18% in the years between 2019 through 2029, which is much faster than average. All this means it’s a good time to get into the profession.
Also according to the BLS, 71% of all actuaries work in the finance and insurance industries, while 13% work in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector. Following that, an additional 6% work in company and enterprise management, 4% are self-employed, and 3% work for the government.
As well as a bachelor’s degree, those interested in becoming an actuary seek professional certification from the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). Pension actuaries must be licensed by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries.
States with strong levels of employment for actuaries include New York and Illinois, according to the BLS.
What is advising and managing business or personal wealth, after all, but managing a kind of risk? For these reasons and more, an education in insurance and risk management is a great place to start for anyone interested in becoming a financial manager. Many advanced degrees are offered on these topics.
In their work, financial managers help prepare financial statements and forecasts along with business activity reports. They may also monitor financial details to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, while supervising employees involved in similar tasks.
Cost reduction and expense analysis are other common duties for a financial manager, while keeping track of market trends to identify possible business opportunities to maximize profits. They may also advise management on a broad range of financial decisions.
There are a few different job titles under the umbrella of financial management, all performing similar tasks and duties. Those jobs might include controller, credit manager, and risk manager, among many others. No matter what, a bachelor’s degree is most often the minimum degree requirement to work as a financial manager, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the average salary is around $134,000.
The job market for financial managers is also projected by the BLS to remain strong throughout the decade spanning 2019 through 2029, growing at a rate of 15% which is much faster than the average rate of growth in many other professions.
Also according to the BLS, 30% of all financial managers work in the finance and insurance industries, with an additional 14% working in professional, scientific, and technical services. Following that number, 11% work in company and enterprise management, 7% work for the government, and 6% work in the manufacturing industry.
Coupled with a bachelor’s degree, but rarely required as a condition of employment, financial managers also seek professional certification like the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) designation from The Association of Government Accountants (AGA), among many others.
Good states to find work for financial managers, according to the BLS, include California and Texas.
Many who pursue insurance or risk-management-related degrees also go on to find work as loan officers, reviewing, advising, and approving loan applications for a variety of purposes, including commercial loans, consumer loans, and mortgages. Related job titles might also be loan collections officer or a loan underwriter.
No matter what the position, though, most who work as loan officers gather information and provide customer support to those interested in a loan. They may also approach businesses and individuals about the possibility of a loan. For these reasons, loan officers must be well-versed in the loan application process, and able to explain every step of the way to a prospective client.
Attention to detail and the ability to gather and organize data quickly and efficiently are important traits for a loan officer, including the ability to understand credit ratings and proof of income. They also develop loan agreements and other forms of paperwork in compliance with applicable laws and regulations at the state and federal level, and they may even approve the loan application, or refer strong applicants to management for a final decision.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, loan officers earn about $64,000 a year, and the job outlook for loan officers is expected to remain strong, growing at a rate of 3% in the decade spanning 2019 through 2029, which is right in line with many other careers. A bachelor’s degree in an insurance, finance, or risk-management related major is most often the minimum education requirement for a loan officer.
To become a mortgage loan officer also requires a Mortgage Loan Originator (MLO) license, including pre-licensing courses, a national exam, and a background and credit check. These licenses must be renewed annually, and individual state requirements may vary.
Also according to the BLS, the vast majority or 83% of all loan officers work in credit intermediation and related activities, 5% work in company and enterprise management, and 4% work for automotive dealers. Strong interpersonal skills are important for a loan officer, with an attention to detail and the ability to make decisions quickly. Good states to live in for loan officers include California and Texas.
Similar to a financial manager, financial analysts evaluate risks associated with loans and other forms of financial decision making for both businesses and individuals. For these reasons, working as a financial analyst is a natural fit for anyone with an educational background in insurance and risk management.
Additional duties associated with the work for a financial analyst include recommending portfolios, which can be individual investments or groups of investments, depending on the needs of the client. These recommendations are often based on the financial history of the client, as well as the business or individual’s current economic situation. This requires a keen understanding of investment trends and the overall business outlook on all levels.
Further tasks and duties associated with working as a financial analyst include a comprehensive understanding of financial statements and how to read them. Those in this line of work may also meet with company executives. It also requires careful attention to detail preparing reports and presentations on every level of the process.
Financial analysts may have a few different job titles with different areas of specialty, including fund managers, portfolio managers, and securities analysts, among many others. Broadly speaking, these positions fall into one of two categories: buy-side or sell-side analysts, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree in finance, statistics, risk management, or insurance is the minimum educational requirement.
Especially if the bachelor’s degree is for a tangentially related major like insurance, an employer may prefer a master’s degree in finance or business.
Financial analysts should also seek certification and licensing through the The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification from the CFA Institute. Also according to the BLS, financial analysts earn about $84,000 a year and job opportunities are expected to grow a bit faster than average, or about 5% in the decade between 2019 and 2029.
Also according to the BLS, 18% of all financial analysts are employed in securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities, while 15% work in credit intermediation. In addition to those numbers, 12% of all financial analysts work in professional, scientific, and technical services, while 11% manage companies and enterprises. The remaining 6% work for insurance carriers. Good states for financial analysts include New York and California.
Now that you’re familiar with just a few of the many exciting and perhaps unexpected career options made possible by a degree in insurance, let’s now cover just a few of the many great degree paths to help you get your start in the insurance and risk-management industries.
Associate Degree in Insurance
The fact of the matter is a college degree in insurance specifically is not required to work in the insurance industry. Furthermore, many couple their degree in business or finance with professional certifications or work experience at an insurance agency to get their start.
No matter the degree, many begin their college career with an associate degree at a community or junior college, transferring credits to a 4-year university to complete their bachelor’s degree.
For those interested in getting their start in insurance as quickly as possible, however, there are a few associate degree options to choose from, primarily a professional certification called an Associate in Insurance Services (AIS) or an Associate in Applied Science in Risk Management and Insurance (AAS).
Those who pursue degrees of this sort are likely not interested in continuing their education beyond an associate degree, or perhaps have already earned their bachelor’s degree but are seeking additional certification for professional advancement. Either way, programs such as these offer topics like ethics in the insurance industry and delivering insurance services, in addition to prerequisites and core requirements.
Admission standards vary between programs such as these but most often a high school diploma or GED with transcripts showing a 2.0 GPA is the minimum requirement, and coursework can be completed entirely online, in-person, or in a hybrid environment. SAT or ACT scores may also be required.
There are many transferable associate degree options with similar admission requirements available for those interested in completing their education in the insurance industry with a bachelor’s degree or beyond, with titles like an Associate of Science in insurance and risk management (AS) or perhaps an insurance emphasis within an Associate of Science in business administration.
In addition to core requirements, topics covered in programs such as these could include insurance information management procedures, investments and economics, and insurance administration, among others. Across all their different forms, though, an associate degree program typically consists of about 90 credit hours which takes most students about two years to complete.
Bachelor’s Degree in Insurance
The next step up from an associate degree in insurance and risk management is a bachelor’s degree. There are many different types of bachelor’s degrees for students aiming to find work in insurance or insurance-related positions; some are specifically called an insurance and risk management degree while others may be an area of emphasis within a business administration program. One such example offered by some institutions is a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in management with a concentration in insurance services.
No matter what, a bachelor’s degree in insurance will prepare students to work in all levels of the industry, including commercial liability, health, and automobile, among many others, and many insurance programs are offered online, in-person, or through a combination of both. Topics covered may include insurance ethics, personal risk assessment, and legal issues related to insurance, among many others.
The long list of skills learned in programs such as these could also include insurance policy, underwriting, and tax issues, and students should have a solid grounding in business, as well as strong aptitudes in math, statistics, writing, and interpersonal communication. A high school diploma, GED, or equivalent with a GPA of at least 2.0 is the typical prerequisite for any bachelor’s degree program, though specific programs vary. SAT or ACT scores may also be required.
Many students save time and money earning transfer credits toward their bachelor’s degree at a community or junior college. Nevertheless, the average bachelor’s degree program of any sort consists of about 120 credit hours which most students complete in about four years.
Following graduation some seek additional professional certification from organizations like the American Institute for CPCU (AICPCU), Certified Insurance Counselors (CIC), or Certified Insurance Service Representative (CISR), among others. Many take steps to continue their education with an insurance industry-related master’s degree, bolstering income potential and employment opportunities.
Master’s Degree in Insurance
Moving on from a bachelor’s degree in insurance, a master’s in insurance, risk management, or insurance management is the next educational step for many in the business of consulting around risk and risk management. These degrees are an especially common choice for those with some experience already working in the industry.
Advanced degrees of this sort are rarely required by an employer, but often serve to boost income potential and job advancement opportunities. Some specific examples of master’s degrees in insurance-related topics include a Master of Science (MSc) in actuarial science, or simply a master’s in actuarial science. Across all the different kinds of programs, students perfect the science of risk management, or management in the insurance industry.
And no matter what, master’s programs will move from the practical to the theoretical, focusing on developing and understanding current models of calculating risk, among other principles. Master’s programs also qualify a graduate to teach.
Across all the different kinds of master’s degrees, most consist of approximately 40 credits, and many are offered online, in-person, or through a hybrid environment. Most are designed to accommodate the schedules of working professionals, and many require the development of a terminal thesis developed with a faculty advisor.
A bachelor’s degree in a related major is required for any master’s program, with a GPA of at least 3.0 but this can vary between programs. GMAT or GRE scores may also be required depending on the program, and so, too, may be letters of recommendation or a statement of personal intent.
Doctoral Degree in Insurance
Following a master’s degree, the pinnacle of educational opportunities in the field of insurance and risk management is a Ph.D. or doctorate in insurance, risk management, or actuarial science.
All these degrees will build on the theoretical groundwork laid down in a master’s degree program, and choosing between a Ph.D. or doctorate has most to do with the end goal of the student. Ph.D. programs emphasize new research in the field of study, and most often will require the development and defense of a thesis, while doctoral degrees offer a more practical bent for those interested in working in upper management, most often concluding with practicum or fieldwork rather than a thesis.
Both degrees qualify a graduate to teach at the college or university level, but employers rarely require a degree of this level as a condition of employment. They could, however, greatly improve the chances of advancement and earning potential, helping a graduate find work in the upper-levels of the industry or for the government.
Doctorate and Ph.D. programs typically consist of about 48 credits, and are offered in a variety of settings, including traditional classroom and online work, seminars, and workshops. This takes some students about two years to complete, though many take much longer, often teaching at the institution from which they’re earning their degree.
A master’s degree in a related topic is a prerequisite for any doctoral-level program, with a GPA of 3.5, though this can vary widely between programs. Letters of recommendation or a statement of personal intent may also be required.