Women in Insurance: Q&A with Carly Burnham, InsNerds.com

Digital Transformation - March 11 2020

In this interview series, we profile women who are shaping the future of insurance. By highlighting their achievements and sharing their insights, we aim to have an open dialogue about what carriers, brokers and InsurTechs can do to promote greater gender parity and diversity in the world of insurance and increase the number of women in leadership positions. To kick off this new series, we sat down with Carly Burnham, Co-Founder and CEO of InsNerds.com to talk about building a career in insurance and the importance of finding your own “Why.”

Carly, tell us about your path to insurance. What attracted you to the profession?

Like many, I fell into insurance. In college, I got a part time job at an insurance agency in my hometown. Working in the agency, I learned a lot about coverage and customer service, and I witnessed the impact that having the right coverage had on our clients. It was inspiring to educate customers about their needs and help them understand what they were buying. I have brought this perspective and desire to educate others into all of my roles.

What do you find most fulfilling about the work you do?

Insurance Nerds was created as a blog to help young professionals learn more about opportunities and career skills within insurance. We have had the opportunity to publish a number of books and expect to publish 3 more this year. We are proud to be a source of information and resources to help professionals advance and continue the pro-social work of our business.

The insurance industry is in the midst of massive change. What do you think the insurance business will look like in five years?

I believe that in five years, insurance will look fundamentally the same. I hope that as we focus on improving our use of tech and data to better rate and understand our customers, we don’t lose the human touch that has been the backbone of our industry since the beginning. We ought to be building systems and processes that allow us to connect with and serve the consumer, as agents have done locally since the beginning, and I hope that we do this by asking our customers what they want and looking for ways to build products that matter to them.

If you had to pick one technology trend that will fundamentally transform insurance over the next 5-10 years, what would it be?

My first thought is autonomous vehicles. Whether we move to fully autonomous vehicles in that timeframe or not, the impacts of improved safety of vehicles and increased costs to repair vehicles will have great impacts on the auto insurance line. Additionally, we have historically underwritten the driver most closely, and we ought to be moving towards closer underwriting of the vehicle and vehicle maintenance; this will change the way that we talk about auto risk and may endanger premium in that line.

The insurance industry faces a recruitment challenge with millennials choosing professions they deem to be more progressive, challenging and fun. What can insurers do to entice new talent?

I think there are a lot of opportunities for our ecosystem to entice talent. As a matter of fact, I co-authored a whole book on the topic, Insuring Tomorrow. We ought to be broadcasting more loudly the pro-social nature of our work. Additionally, we have earned the reputation of the being pale, male, and stale through the image that we portray and the leaders that we promote. That being said, many of our companies have histories of being progressive and even rebellious. Sharing the histories, missions, and values of our companies would help many people connect to our brands.

According to a 2017 study, just 12 percent of insurance companies’ top corporate officers are women. Why do you think there are so few women in senior leadership roles in the insurance industry?

While this is an important problem, it is not one that is specific to the insurance industry. We can take all the lessons that other businesses are using to improve this problem. Companies need to encourage mentorship and sponsorship of women. We need practices that promote work/life balance and diverse leadership styles. We need to encourage women to take more risks with their careers, but this is also not an insurance-specific problem, and the burden is not just on individual women. If you haven’t seen Reshma Saujani’s TED talk, “Teach Girls Bravery, not Perfection,” I’d recommend it. I think we could apply this directly to our industry.

What can insurance companies do to ensure that women not only stay in the profession but advance in their careers?

Insurance companies should encourage senior leaders to sponsor and mentor women, and they should encourage more women to apply for stretch roles. Performance assessments should be candid, and professional development conversations should be serious and managed well. Managers who are good coaches should be rewarded, and it should be a focus of their roles. A concrete way to ensure this happens is to measure the diversity of the team members who are promoted from an individual manager’s team.

As someone passionate about strong communication, improving knowledge transfer and culture, what recommendations would you have for developing a strong network of productive, lasting connections?

I attempt to reach out to those in my network once a quarter, and I make sure to attend events that are meaningful to those closest to me. One area that I can and am actively trying to improve is in diversifying my network. I thank Amy Waninger for writing Network Beyond Bias and creating a structure that I can use to measure the diversity of my network.

What positive changes have you seen since you began in your career?

I think the fact that we are talking about the issue of the lack of diversity in our companies is a huge improvement. You can’t solve a problem that you don’t see, and I have a number of male mentors who are actively working to improve the issue.

What advice would you give the next generation of women considering a career in insurance?

If you choose to build a career in insurance, find your own “Why.”  My first role at a carrier was in a direct sales role. I was selling personal lines and life insurance to individual consumers over the phone in 26 different states. This role was well outside my comfort zone; I never saw myself as a sales person or even a people person prior to that experience. When I imagined my life as an adult, I always thought I’d work behind the scenes, editing, writing, or something like that. Luckily, the agency that I had worked at prior to this sales role had given me a very positive perspective on the products that I was selling. I knew the importance of the conversations that I was having with all of these consumers. Many days, I had to give myself a pep talk and remind myself that even though the role was uncomfortable, the consumers I talked to and educated were benefitting from my work. That “Why” sustains me when I am having a tough day. Yours might be different, but if you can dig deep on tough days and connect to your own reasons for being here, you will be more resilient.


Carly Burnham began her insurance career in 2004 as an office assistant at an agency in her hometown of Duluth, MN. Working in the agency is how she fell in love with the industry. When Carly moved to Des Moines in 2010, she decided to commit to the industry, and she completed her CPCU in one year. She completed her MBA at Iowa State University in 2014. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of InsNerds.com. She has held roles in sales, underwriting, and product. Follow Carly on Twitter.  


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