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Vice President, Loss Prevention and Client Education, Design Professional

It’s been said that great leaders have one thing in common -- they never stop learning. Same holds true for the best design professionals.

For architects, engineers and other design professionals, continuing education is a mandatory requirement to maintain their license, with most states requiring 15 hours or more annually. Continuing education for design professionals, however, is more than just a state requirement, it’s a driver of success and perhaps, even survival.

The design and engineering industries are constantly changing. New developments in technology, changes in building codes and new delivery methods are just a few. And, from where I sit in the insurance industry, because of this constant change, the A/E industry’s professional liability risks are always in the state of flux too.

That’s why it’s critical for design professionals, through loss prevention education, to keep ahead of the change, especially the everchanging risks that can jeopardize their reputations, their bottom lines, their livelihoods.

Some 50 years ago, the A/E industry struggled to find adequate professional liability coverage capacity. Given the nature of design work and the severity of potential claims, insurance carriers were hesitant to extend significant professional liability capacity. That’s why A/E industry leaders came together and formed the Design Professional Insurance Company (DPIC), AXA XL Design Professional team’s predecessor.

DPIC’s founders realized that finding ways to eliminate or minimize potential exposures that could lead to costly claims would be the most effective way to manage risk and control insurance costs and losses.


Taking an innovative approach

Innovation is often associated with new technology, but considerable innovation takes place without any new tech involvement. Innovation meets a need in a new way and it is often driven by individuals taking new or different approaches to tackling problems.

Early on, we discovered that engaging the right experts, including a dedicated broker community willing to learn and share loss prevention knowledge, could lead to some very innovative approaches in loss prevention education that could evolve quickly but, to this day, are tough to replicate.

While one firm may have suffered a loss, sharing what they learned has undoubtedly prevented uncountable other losses and continued to move industry loss prevention forward.

Here are three gamechangers that are having a major impact on keeping design professionals well-versed in ways to minimize losses:

1. Open discussion and shared revelations
While many might like to share openly in today’s social media-driven world, most businesses shy away from sharing too much, especially with their competitors. Not so though for some of the nation’s largest architectural and engineering firms, especially if their mistakes can help others and advance the industry as a whole.

Large architectural and engineering firms face special risks, and they recognized that they could learn from each other. To do so, in 1989, 17 A/E firms formed the Design Professional Risk Control Group (DPRCG), an exclusive risk management group created for high-quality, large firms who are committed to sharing best practices. Some of the most recognized names in the design industry are DPRCG members. Today, DPRCG, governed by its membership, consists of 190 members.

Each year at its annual Convocation, two DPRCG members volunteer to share a claims scenario. I’ll never forget my first Convocation where one of the members stood up in front of an audience of 200 or more, including competitors, and said: “I’m about to tell you the biggest mistake I’ve made in my professional career.”

Using the Harvard Business Review case study model during the session, these DPRCG members discuss a loss that happened to their firms, highlighting what they learned and how they would do things differently in hindsight. While one firm may have suffered a loss, sharing what they learned has undoubtedly prevented uncountable other losses and continued to move industry loss prevention forward.

2. Collective claims hindsight
Claims are full of lessons. A careful look at and analysis of our DPRCG claims, along with others collected in our claim files over the last five decades, has proven to be a great source of learning and has helped us guide the evolution of our loss prevention education programs.

When we began this analysis initiative, our claims team manually dug through files to compile a list of root causes of the claims they were seeing. This was the genesis of our Risk Drivers, an ongoing, real-time analysis of the most common root causes of design professional liability claims. When we first compiled our Risk Drivers, there were four. Currently, we see six non-technical risk drivers that most often lead to claims against design professionals.

Since the inception of the Risk Drivers, the list has illustrated that risk is dynamic, and changes over time. One constant on the list has been communication, which tends to be a challenge for many design firms.

3. Equipped for constant change
With all of this insight, we’re able to develop appropriate loss prevention curriculum, once taught in classroom-style settings and now available online through the EDGE, our Learning Management System. There are currently more than 60,000 users in the system, employees of our client firms, who have 24/7 access. Now able to leverage the various tech platforms that are out there, we’re able to create and launch relevant loss prevention education quicker than ever before to keep pace with quickly changing risks.

The adoption of our LMS has also had a major impact on how our Contract Guide has progressed. In the 1970s, when DPIC launched its Contract Guide, it addressed about 15 contract topics in its 70 pages. Over the years, through various revisions, our team kept untangling the web of contracts for our clients. At the height of its hard copy book format, the guide consisted of 700 pages and addressed more than 100 topics before moving to its distribution on 3.5-inch computer discs, then to CDs.

Our LMS eliminated the need to print the contract guide in any manner and allows us to regularly update it, including twice in the last year when our clients were contending with the global pandemic and its associated risks. Over time, the flexibility on the LMS has allowed us to adapt our workshops to the needs of our clients – making them shorter in duration but giving them more access across their operations.

Always more to come
The global pandemic reminded us that we need to adapt quickly to connect with our clients, offering lessons that are relevant for the times. During remote working, many of us grew more comfortable with attending webinars to connect and learn from each other. In fact, we received many requests from clients and brokers asking us to hold webinars to help them easily complete their required continuing education and earn their premium credit. Their interest is reflected in their attendance. We produced 76 loss prevention webinars/programs that have been presented this year so far with more than 10,200 design professionals attending. Last year, we had 5,000 attendees at our webinars. So, this year, we saw attendance double, and the year is not over yet. This strong participation resulted in more than 22,000 certificates of completion, or Learning Units awarded, through September.

Continuous education, particularly loss prevention education, plays a valuable role in helping design professionals minimize and control their professional liability risks. Design professionals risk their reputations, their firms’ profitability and much more if they do not evolve or keep learning.

Through a variety of innovative approaches, our dedicated loss prevention resources have changed with our clients’ needs. We keep learning too and are well positioned better to keep developing the most relevant loss prevention education for the next generation of design professionals.

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