Last month we profiled the new Executive Director of the Insurance Library Association of Boston, Glenn Cryan, so we thought it only fitting that this month we profile, Jean Lucey, the now -retired Executive Director who retired from the Library in 2012 after 32 years. Earlier this month, the Library held a reception in her honor during which her new portrait was unveiled. The picture will now hang amongst the other former Executive Directors at the State Street Building. The photo of both Ms. Lucey and her portrait was taken during that celebration.
How did you get your start in insurance?
I was married in 1969, and my husband and I lived in upstate New York where we worked in a school district. In 1973, we moved back to Albany, where we had met during our college years, for him to accept a job offer there. A relative owned an insurance agency in the area, and having worked summers during high school and college in the claims department of The Hartford (so I guess that was my true start in the industry), I knew that insurance could be interesting (especially some of the claims!). I went to work at the agency and, while there, I earned my New York broker’s license and developed my own book of business.
How long were you with the Insurance Library Association of Boston?
In 1979, we moved to Boston (again because of a job opportunity for my husband). The bank we approached for a loan on our South End brownstone intimated that a bit more income might be a good thing, so I began looking for a part-time job. An ad in the Boston Globe for a part-time insurance librarian seemed almost too good to be true (I have a Master’s in Library Science degree), but it was a real ad for a real job at the Insurance Library, where I signed on in August of 1979. I became the full-time Director in 1980, and remained in that position until November of 2012.
You are also affiliated with the CPCU Society correct? Could you tell us what you do there?
At present, my only official role with the CPCU Society is that of a member, having earned the designation in 1986. Until last month, I was a long-time member of the Coverage, Litigators, Educators & Witnesses Interest Group Committee, and I served as Editor and, later, co-Editor of that group’s newsletter for several years. I also served for a number of years as a Director of the Boston Chapter CPCU. The Insurance Library enjoys the endorsement of the Chapter for classes, and the Library functioned for many years as the Chapter’s headquarters since the CPCU directors and officers change annually, and the Library’s presence is a constant.
What are the biggest changes that you have witnessed during your career in insurance?
Changes abounded, but in my view the ones that stand out are:
- The huge advances made in electronic capabilities and the advent of the Internet, allowing for faster document production and communication-perhaps most notably between agents and insurers
- The increase in nontraditional insurance products, many of them based on financial models and including finite risk contracts.
- The rise of professional risk managers and changes in the role of risk management at firms. The decisions might still break down to the basic “avoid/transfer/retain” triumvirate, but the options within that context have expanded.
- What remains the same, however, is the need for careful drafting of policy wording so that protection is real and understandable-even though perfection is impossible and courts will always need to rule on disputes from time to time
What do you think about the rise of women in the MA Insurance Industry? Any specific things you can point to?
I think it’s great for all! When I began my agency job in 1973, most insurance offices-company and agency alike-depended upon the “girls” in the back office to complete necessary detail work, including issuing policies and billing customers. (I was reminded of this recently when hearing a World War II code-breaker describe how she and her female colleagues accomplished critical security work, yet were still referred to as “the girls”). Changes came slower in some industries than in others, perhaps partially related to whatever level of detailed paperwork is involved, and we all know that insurance involved a lot of paperwork.
Computerization has not obviated the need for intelligent attention to detail, but has enhanced efficiency and made it possible for many people to perform their own “secretarial” tasks.
As women gained respect and recognition in high profile fields such as law, economics, and politics, ascension to management positions and boardrooms was a natural outcome.
While the high need for transaction processing may have retarded the insurance industry to some degree in this context, the tendency for insurance enterprises, particularly agencies, to be family owned and managed resulted in a new cadre of leaders who were as likely as not to be women.
For whatever reason (perhaps it was the early appellation of “insurance buyer”), it seems to me that women gained a foothold as risk managers earlier than their cohorts on the other side of the insurance transaction. When it is a woman making the buying decisions for a firm, smart brokers and carriers realize that it may be another woman who is best able to interact and negotiate on their part.
I was fortunate to work at the Insurance Library with and for many strong leaders who happened to be women. In 1980, Barbara Thornton (who died in March of 2013) almost singlehandedly revitalized an education program that, having started in 1890, was in hiatus. She has worthy successors.
My observations comport with the general perception that woman leaders often take their responsibilities to heart on a personal level, and that most tend to favor productive conversation over confrontation. By this I certainly don’t mean to downplay the strength of their resolve and determination to see things done right.
What do you feel that your greatest accomplishment has been during your tenure at the Library?
I hope that I succeeded in maintaining the Library’s reputation for excellence both as a library and as a center for insurance education that was established in 1887 and fostered throughout the succeeding years. I also take pride in having implemented the vision of the Trustees in such explicit matters as the purchase and renovation of 156 State Street, as well as in more general directives. The latter includes the recruitment of superior instructors and thousands of students in various programs, as well as recognition of the Library beyond our immediate geographical area.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Maintenance and enhancement of the Insurance Library’s unique strengths-especially those related to the collection of materials and their use for research into issues of both an historical and a contemporary nature-was a big challenge for me, as I’m sure it will be for my successors. Reaching the right balance between resources needed to assure quality is not compromised with resources needed for outreach to the larger insurance community is not easy, yet it is crucial.
What do you like best about insurance?
Much of what I like best about insurance is expressed in two phrases closely associated with marine insurance” “utmost good faith” and “lost or not lost”. And when people understand the principle of indemnity, they understand the truly beneficial way in which insurance functions.
What will do now that you are retired?
Now that I am retired, I really like being able to spend more time with family and friends. Also, Frederick N. Nowell, III (“Rick”, recently retired from Hub International) and I are collaborating on a sequel to a history of the Insurance Library that was published in 1947. We don’t expect it to be a best seller, but we hope that it may engender some interest in the insurance community. I like to write (maybe some these long answers are evidence of that), and hope to keep my hand in writing some insurance text material.
It’s nice to spend time with a good work of fiction, and not to particularly care what day of the week it is, or whether I need to prepare for a meeting!
What recommendations or words of wisdom do you have for the MA insurance community?
Boston is in many ways a small town, and the surrounding insurance community is an even smaller universe. I always thought of the Insurance Library as an institution uniquely positioned to encourage respectful and amicable interaction among parties who might be fierce competitors in the “outside world”. The annual Insurance Professional of the Year event is a manifestation of this role. I would urge the insurance community in Massachusetts to continue to recognize that everyone is in this together, and that forthright dealing, such as I often observed among Library members and supporters, will always be the ultimate best practice.