Ensuring an understanding of insurance risk management

Students huddled around a laptop

An innovative simulation requiring nine York business and economics student teams run their own insurance companies over four condensed quarters provided real-world experiential learning and taught students the value of putting theory into action.

By Elaine Smith

Shayaan Haider
Shayaan Haider

There’s nothing like running your own insurance company to give students a real understanding of insurance risk management – just ask Shayaan Haider.

Haider, a York University international student in his final year of a business and economics program, took part in a class simulation, requiring groups of five students to run their own insurance company through four condensed quarters of a year to see if their market decisions would make the company a success. The simulation, an experiential education activity, was part of the course Principles of Risk Management and Insurance, spearheaded by the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre and taught by contract faculty member Barbara Bellissimo, a former industry executive who previously headed State Farm Canada.

As an added challenge, the course was delivered online due to the pandemic.

“It was very nicely placed toward the end of the course, so we knew how the industry operated,” says Haider. “It was a real market setting and everyone had a chance to apply what they had learned about operations with real market conditions.”

Bellissimo divided the 150-person class into virtual teams with nine teams competing against each other to see whose share price was highest at the end of four quarters. At “year-end,” each team had eight minutes to present their solutions to the board of directors via video.

Barbara Bellissimo
Barbara Bellissimo

“The insurance industry market is only so large and, therefore, to gain market share you are taking it from your competitors,” explains Bellissimo. “You may think you have a good strategy, but results aren’t predictable, because you don’t know how the competition will react. Students need to understand what they are doing and why. They need to determine their strategy; whether that’s customer satisfaction or market share, and make decisions to support that objective.

“In the workplace, typically you are working on a team, and need to learn how to deal with all members of the team to be successful.”

The simulation, created commercially, provided the students with large amounts of data, so students needed to understand what was available to them and how to use it. Each quarter, there was a news gazette that furnished additional information, as well as contests that could increase a company’s value.

“There was so much information and data that students needed to learn to delegate and to assign specific roles to come to the table as an expert in areas such as, finance, underwriting or distribution/marketing,” Bellissimo says. “It allowed them to focus.”

Haider said the team exercise was awkward initially given the remote nature of the course, but some icebreakers got the conversation flowing and created a positive work environment for his team. Team members each took charge of a different department and advocated for their point of view as the company made decisions.

“There was a lot of information available, so we had to pick out what was relevant,” Haider says. “We helped each other out and played to the strengths of everyone on our team. The simulation let us develop soft skills, such as good teamwork, which are essential in the workplace.”

At the end of the simulation, Bellissimo required students to submit a written report, a team video report to the board of directors and self-reflections about the exercise.

“The students were able to see how their decisions led to outcomes,” says Bellissimo. “You can’t get that feeling from a book.”

Bellissimo’s course is the first one required for the Diploma in Risk and Insurance Management, funded by an Academic Innovation Fund grant and a grant from the Spencer Educational Foundation. Haider, however, simply enrolled because the topic sounded interesting, and he’s very glad he did.

“I had planned to pursue a job in the financial services industry and was thinking about investment banking,” he says. “Now, I realize that I could also think about investment in insurance.”