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Glenn Hopkinson, Head of Claims (Canada), AXA XL


SVP, Head of Claims - Canada, AXA XL

With a 25-year career in insurance that’s spanned entry-level positions to senior management, Glen Hopkinson is reflective of a career in the Canadian insurance market that has been much more rewarding than even he expected. In this Let’s Talk Q&A, he talks about his own career path, and how insurance offers young people much opportunity for a rewarding and impactful career.

What is the staffing situation like in the Canadian insurance industry?
In the Canadian insurance market, we've historically faced challenges in attracting young people to the industry. It’s unusual to learn that someone purposefully set out on a path toward an insurance career. Many, including myself, have simply fallen into it. I went to university without a planned career path. After I received my degree, I gravitated toward the Insurance industry because my Father had enjoyed a successful career in it. I was able to secure an entry-level claims position, and the rest is history.

Now 25 years later, I can look back and realize what a rewarding career it has been. With hard work, some guidance from valued mentors, and a little bit of luck I have moved from an entry level position to a senior leadership role within the organization. Despite the fact that my story and level of success is far from unique, it remains a challenge to recruit young professionals to this remarkable industry.

It seems it’s a multi-layer issue, attracting people to the industry, then educating and training them.
No doubt. For the young people who come to work for our company; more often than not they have some gravitational pull toward the industry, whether it be a connection through a family member or friend.

And it is a job that you come to love, is it not?
Absolutely! The industry pulls you in and does not let go. When you start to appreciate that no two days are ever the same, that the job will never become stale or repetitive, you start to gain a passion for it. Even for someone like me with my years of experience, I can be sitting at my desk speaking with a Risk Manager for a global program or key broker today, and tomorrow I could be traveling to a remote claim scene wearing muddy work boots and a hard hat.

Talk about the variety a little bit.
In my role I’ve worked on some pretty significant catastrophic claims. One claim that will stay with me through the rest of my life occurred eight years ago. In Lac-Mégantic, Quebec a 73-car freight train carrying crude oil derailed, caught fire, and exploded in the downtown area. Tragically, many lives were lost, and more than half of the downtown core was destroyed. As heart wrenching as that situation was, I was proud to be able to play an integral part in supporting the recovery and rebuilding efforts of that community.

There are so many claims that stand out to me; from resolving catastrophic injuries to Olympic level athletes to assisting a global luxury brand manage their risk needs while expanding operations in Canada. Who knew I would need to become an expert in cosmetics?

Above all, you need to be there to provide that service. That is one of the most rewarding things about the job – resolving issues as best you can for people and for companies. You cannot restore everything to where it was previously, but you can give people some comfort and peace of mind when they need it.

Is that why you think insurance is a good career for young people?
No question, because I have lived it. I was that young person launching their career not knowing what the next day would hold, let alone the next decade. What is great about this industry is that there are so many different avenues you can pursue once you get your foot in the door – underwriting, claims, middle office, actuarial, finance, client distribution, marketing, sales etc. There are plenty of amazing roles and opportunities to explore.

What is great about this industry is that there are so many different avenues you can pursue once you get your foot in the door

What’s missing in the pitch to attract young talent?
First, continue efforts to make this a destination industry. Once they are in the door, lock it behind them!! Kidding, the key is to help them grow and show them the broad range of opportunities we just talked about. It is an industry that is beneficial to the breadth of a career. It’s buildable. And it is rewarding. For those who join me in a career in claims they will find it is so incredibly satisfying to provide superior customer service in a time of need. They will come to appreciate that when we are dealing with customers, they are in a time of need. Our customers will be dealing with a significant property loss, an injury, or they may be named in a lawsuit. It is our job to help them navigate these uncharted waters and when we do so successfully, it is very rewarding.

So what are the qualifications that would be expected of young people launching a career in insurance?
We here at AXA XL and the industry in general encourages and promotes continuing education. The typical job descriptions and roles in insurance often look for post-secondary education, whether it be a college or university degree. That is a nice foundation.

Once young people enter the industry there are insurance and risk specific designations they can work toward. These courses can be geared toward a broader industry perspective or very role specific. Obviously continuing education benefits everyone, including the employer. Most employers will cover the cost of industry relevant courses. Internally, most employers will provide robust on the job training for specific roles. In addition, we are seeing more of a push for cross training for potential other opportunities within companies.

Any advice for someone starting out? You know, fresh out of college, like you were?
Whether you are pulled toward the industry, if you fall into the industry, or you made a conscious decision to enter the industry, my advice would be to educate yourself. Gain that knowledge and establish a firm foundation to build upon. It will also give you a more rounded perspective of the industry and what is out there for you. Embrace the fact that this is a people industry. You will have the opportunity to meet people working for other insurers while taking the industry specific courses. Take the opportunity to network and establish contacts.

Although it doesn’t seem like it, the industry is small, and contacts made early will last throughout your career. I would also encourage someone starting out to stay curious; embrace the fact that every day will be different for you. Seek out new challenges and opportunities. Look for occasions to collaborate with colleagues to solve nagging issues that simplify the ease of doing business and socialize with others when the opportunity presents itself. The ability to grow the career you want is right there, waiting for you to take it.


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