Become an Agent of Change


The insurance industry is not what it used to be. Banks, securities firms, as well as the government now offer what was once the sole province of traditional insurance companies. The field will continue to evolve into new arenas as the industry takes better advantage of technology, addresses cyber-risk, and offers new financial/insurance products for tomorrow’s retirees. Those willing to embrace change, build relationships, and are adaptable to a competitive environment are well positioned for a successful career in insurance.


Amir Abdullah characterizes himself as a life-long learner. The Chicago-native, while a solid student in high school, strug- gled with math. However, when he attended Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME), he chose to stick with math as a major, believing it to be the perfect fit with evolving technology and the different skills required. “It was less about the content but more about the ancillary skills I was developing in the process of doing problems,” he explains. He graduated from Bowdoin in 2010 with a double major in math and economics and a minor in teaching.page1image5568

After graduating, Abdullah had an open mind about which field to enter as well as several criteria for the type of job he wanted. Flexibility was at the top of the list. Abdullah want to be able to move around and within an organization. “I wanted to see how the different pieces of the business connected. I really like to see the bird’s eye view and understand how things are related,” he says.

Flexibility also played a secondary role. Abdullah was particularly interested in whether his future employer allowed staff the flexibility to pursue service opportunities they felt passionate about.

Unum (Chattanooga, TN) and its sister company, Colonial Life (Columbia, SC) met the mark on both characteristics. The Unum Group consists of the Unum U.S. and Colonial Life businesses. Unum U.S. is a leading provider of employee benefits, which includes disability, life, and voluntary insurance. Colonial Life provides voluntary worksite benefits, which includes disability, life, accident, and critical illness coverage across the US. The Unum Group employs approximately 10,000 employees worldwide.

Unum’s Professional Development Program offers the chance to explore different parts of the organization. Abdullah notes that Unum’s program offered another key difference compared to other similar type programs. “What I was running into was a lot of six-month rotational programs. I wasn’t convinced that was long enough to build meaningful relationships, understand what a department did, or add value back to the organization,” he says. “Here, there was an emphasis on longer rotations of 12 to 18 months. There was a consistent emphasis on leadership development and not management development. It was clear it was a longer term investment on the company’s part.”

Abdullah started in underwriting at Unum straight out of college. “I thought I did a pretty good job. By the 18th-month mark, I felt I knew pretty much what was going on.” He was picked up by the claims organization, where he could see how the company administered and managed risk. “At the end of my claims rotation, I felt I could have been a better underwriter because I had gotten another slice of the organization and how things were connected.” He moved into a leadership role after completing the program.

As director of sales compensation design and sales planning for Colonial Life, Abdullah’s group supports the sales organization, requiring expertise in working out different situations related to compensation. This includes educating the sales team on available compensation plans and incentives and looking for ways to make the company’s compensation systems more efficient.

Balancing short-term goals with the long-term vision of the organization is a continuing challenge. “The market is evolving and changing very quickly,” Abdullah says. “We provide financial protection for America’s workers. There is a lot of technology coming into our space. Trying to keep up with it and meet the day to day demands is a challenge for not only our department, but the organization.”

Insurance is evolving and with those changes comes continued flexibility. “What is so neat about this organization is the flexibility and opportunity do a variety of roles or leverage a variety of skills,” he says. “Don’t set your goals based on what others are doing. Evaluate your own data points and make the best decision for you. Success is an individual thing.”

Readers can look for careers opportunities at http://www.unum. com/careers and http://coloniallife. com/career-seek- ers.aspx.

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