The question comes.
It has happened to me.
It has happened to you.
A dinner party. A cocktail hour. An apero. A seat on a plane or train next to a small-talking fellow-traveler. They each lead to the same question.
". . . and what do you do?"
There it is.
The question. It is hanging out there, waiting for a response.
"Insurance." I say.
The oxygen in the room vanishes. The lights seem to dim. Some will excuse themselves and run for another drink. Others will retreat, glancing around nervously, looking for someone to save them.
That three syllable word smothers small talk. It is the wet blanket over the initial spark of conversation.
Why? Why do we allow the word "insurance" to kill so many conversations?
It is our own fault.
We think too small.
We define ourselves in soporific terms as underwriters and actuaries and accountants and claims adjusters. We wear these stupor-inducing terms like badges of banality. Are we really just purveyors of contracts? Merchants in ink and labyrinthine paperwork? Tradesmen in loss triangles and agreements, exclusions, endorsements?
If our talk over cocktails fails to capture the imagination, if we project a barren image in a parched land, it is our own fault. Maybe, just maybe, we need to recast our image of ourselves. We are more than word tinkers, math geeks, clause technicians and courtroom vagabonds. We are the Clark Kents of the business world. Quiet, unassuming, even bookish, but prepared to leap into action when trouble rears its head.
There is much talk these days in government, business, and intellectual circles of "resilience." Most of that talk centers around environmental changes and construction projects, urban planning, flood zones, infrastructure, cyber-attack preparedness, and catastrophe readiness. New life has been breathed into the concept of "resilience", but make no mistake, it is not a new concept, certainly not in the financial world.
Financial resilience is an aged creature, born long ago. It was first made famous in a coffee house in London – a coffeehouse where men wrote their names under a ship's name, casting their lots with those they trusted to spread the risk of sailing ships lost at sea. Insurance itself is the original tool of resilience – financial resilience.
Insurers make risk-taking possible. We assure civil justice by providing protection for the insured and security for the injured. We are the tool that keeps economies in motion despite twists of fate and whims of caprice. We smooth the financial road, softening the lurch
from boom to bust back to boom. We promote safety and protect commerce. We offer an outstretched hand when catastrophe strikes, and we give shelter in the storm.
We do need to repaint our self-portrait.
I am a casualty claims man. I deal in bodily harm and property damage. Car crashes, train wrecks, collapses, explosions, riots, mayhem, injury, disease, death. Every. Single. Day.
But . . .
I am also the one who assures comfort and assures resources for the injured. I keep an employer out of bankruptcy. I make sure an insured's story is told and a tradesman's workplace is safe. I help repair, restore, replace. I work to set straight a path made crooked by fate and chance. I separate fairness and need from graft and skullduggery. I work that stability might rise out of chaos, that discord moves to accord.
This is insurance.
We are the tenacious. We rebuild. We repair. We endure. Together.
We are more than stock prices and dividends and earnings (though those are obviously important). We bring more than premium charges and reservations of rights. We are more than makers of widgets and gadgets.
We bring peace.
We bring comfort.
We are financial resilience.
We are social resilience.
We hold open the door to creativity and we are the discipline that directs passion.
We are the path through the tragic and the signpost to the road out again.
We help society to dare, to risk, to innovate.
So the next time you crack open a Bud Light or tilt a glass of house red, what will you say when they ask "... and what do you do?"
I plan on this: "I am a peace-maker, a comfort-giver, a bringer-of-justice. I defend the accused, give rest to the weary, and aid the troubled. I help civilization be civilized, so we can be here today to enjoy a glass of red wine and good company. Me? I am in insurance."
Maybe I'll try it silently in my head a few times first. I'll ask my wife if I can practice with her.