In 1996, Jeanne Prill flunked her first exam for the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®) designation. But today, 20 years later, the Commercial Lines (CL) Marketing Specialist at Tompkins Insurance Agencies, Inc. is recognized as one of the best and most effective instructors teaching Institutes’ courses.

We had a quick conversation with Jeanne, winner of the Jack F. Derrickson Award for Outstanding Course Leadership in 2016, about how she got to where she is today and the best advice she has for individuals pursuing designations.
The Institutes (TI): How did you first get into the insurance industry?
Jeanne Prill (JP): My first job was as a personal lines customer service representative at MetLife Home and Auto. The company was really supportive of professional designations, so I started pursuing the CPCU because my colleagues   were pursuing it. I flunked the first CPCU exam I took. I realized my study process was totally wrong , so I changed my approach. I took the test again, and I passed. That motivated me to take two more courses that same calendar year, and I passed those exams. However, like many people, after that I got distracted. I was busy with other life events and stopped pursuing my designation.
TI: What made you finally finish it?
JP: In 2002, I became an instructor at Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New York (IIABNY). When IIABNY endorsed the Accredited Adviser in Insurance (AAI®) designation in 2007, they asked me to be an instructor becaus e I’d been successful at leading courses for the Accredited Customer Service Representative (ACSR®) designation. To prepare for teaching the AAI classes, I ordered the books, studied on my own, took the tests and earned the designation. With my study skills sharpened, I realized now would be a great time to go back and finish my CPCU. I completed the CPCU designation in 2011.
Once I had my CPCU, I learned from The Institutes about their College Degree Programs, where universities accept designations as credits toward a degree. Thanks to my CPCU, I earned a Bachelor of Science in business with a concentration in risk management and insurance from Excelsior College in Albany, New York. Just as AAI had prepared me for earning my CPCU, my CPCU prepared me for earning a full four-year degree.
TI: What’s an average day like for you?
JP: I work in a large independent agency in commercial lines. I support our outside sales team, and I can’t stress enough how much my professional designations have helped me understand the risks our clients face. When our sales team comes to me with really complex exposures, I know exactly what kind of insurance the client needs and can identify potential gaps in coverage.
One of the sales team members actually gave me the nicest compliment the other day. He said, “I’m better at my job because of you.” It was flattering, but it’s more than that–it shows we’re better as a team and an organization because I’ve worked so hard on my insurance education.
As far as training goes, I’m not as active as I was five years ago. Formal classroom training is probably 30 percent of my job now. But when it comes to one-on-one training, answering questions and helping with technical info, that’s the stuff I do all day long.
TI: What part of your career are you proudest of?
JP: It’s this–being selected for the Jack F. Derrickson Award. I love how the award acknowledges consistent performance. I didn’t have only one good year; I delivered results year after year. I’m really proud of that longevity. It would have been an honor to receive this award at the culmination of my career, but I’m only halfway through my career! To be recognized like that is really amazing.
TI: Do you consider yourself a lifelong learner?
JP: Absolutely. I’ve been in this industry for 25 years, and I’ve had an insurance textbook on my desk the entire time. I am currently working on my ARM designation. Part of being an effective instructor is knowing what it’s like to be a student.
TI: What’s your ideal classroom setup?
JP: It’s actually really low-tech. I hate PowerPoint presentations. They can create a passive environment where students just stare at the screen. Instead, I write on whiteboards and flipcharts and tell students, “If I write it, you write it.” That creates a pace that gives students time to write, too. I’m very old school about my interactions with students. All I really need is a pack of markers.
TI: Do you have any advice for individuals looking to get into the insurance industry?
JP: Exposures are changing–auto insurance companies will soon have to insure cars with no driver. But the fundamentals of risk don’t change. Pursuing an insurance education and understanding the fundamentals of how insurance works are going to help people starting their career today the same way they helped me 25 years ago. The fundamentals apply even when the exposures change.
*Edited for length and clarity
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