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Students get to work on pioneering captive

Pioneering spirit: students and facility members from Butler University’s business school, with representatives of partnership companies and the BDA, who assisted in the creation of a ground-breaking student-run captive insurance company, domiciled in Bermuda (Photograph by Scott Neil)

What does a university mascot bulldog called Trip, shelves of rare books, and a $2 million 100-year-old telescope have to do with Bermuda?

The answer is they are all listed to be covered by a new captive insurance company based on the island.

And that is only part of the story. Of greater significance is that the captive insurance company is thought to be the first in the world set up and run by students.

It is a feather in the cap for Bermuda that the ground-breaking endeavour has landed on the island’s shores. And it was no accident. Bermuda’s responsiveness to an initial approach by the pioneering university students went a long way to securing the captive business.

When the group at Butler University’s Lacy School of Business, in Indianapolis, got serious about forming a captive, they researched a number of possible markets where it could be based. Out of the ten investigated, only Bermuda and Vermont responded to the students’ enquiries, and both did so within a speedy four hours.

Bermuda was ultimately chosen after other factors were weighed, such as the size and maturity of its insurance market, sophisticated infrastructure and the helpful nature of organisations including the Bermuda Monetary Authority and the Bermuda Business Development Agency.

The BMA granted approval for the MJ Student-Run Insurance Company Ltd in April.

This week, some of the students, along with facility members, visited the island to build relationships with service companies and organisations.

There are also potential benefits for Bermuda and Bermudians, as Butler University would welcome students from the island who are pursuing studies in risk management, insurance and other business disciplines.

“We want to get Bermudians to attend Butler University. We want to be a good partner,” said Zach Finn, clinical professor and director of the Davy Risk Management and Insurance Programme at the university. It is a sentiment shared by Stephen Standifird, dean of the university’s school of business.

The university group was in Bermuda to bring together the captive’s directors, review the code of conduct and meet with partners, including Aon and auditors KPMG.

They also met industry leaders and organisations, including Association of Bermuda International Companies, the Bermuda Foundation for Insurance Studies, and Bermuda College.

Having an operating captive insurance company as part of the university’s curriculum is expected to better equip students with an understanding of different facets of the industry and give them a practical, hands-on experience beyond classroom theory.

Being able to show they have played a role in running a captive insurance company is also expected to boost the students’ job prospects after graduation.

A further beneficial spin-off for the students has been learning more about what is actually being insured through the captive. That has meant learning about, among other things, the rare books the university owns, its fine art collection, and the telescopes housed in the university’s Holcomb Observatory.

The university’s bulldog mascot Butler Blue III, nicknamed Trip, is included in the insurance coverage of the captive.

Trip is a real dog with an impressive 20,000 followers on Twitter.

And if you’re going to insure one dog through your captive, why not make it two?

The students have done that by also insuring Marcus, the university’s bomb-sniffing dog.

For Butler University, having its own captive insurance company will provide greater loss controls.

Since news of the pioneering student-run captive was announced earlier this year, it has featured in more than 330 media reports, according to Mr Standifird.

“That’s without any media campaign. It’s been a significant experience,” he said.

However, a bigger story in his eyes is the shortage of qualified professionals preparing for the anticipated 400,000 new employees the insurance industry will need by 2020.

“The headlines in the Wall Street Journal should be about the crisis in the industry. People should be paying attention to this. It’s the opportunities in this industry that are immense.”

And according to Mr Finn there are about 1,000 US universities with accounting programmes, 900 with finance programmes, but only 82 offering insurance and risk programmes.

Butler University is underscoring its leading role in the field by giving students real-life experience operating a captive insurance company, together with opportunities to intern at partner companies.

Anna Geist and Josh Toly, two of the students closely involved with the captive and among those visiting Bermuda this week, are currently interning with Aon.

Mr Finn said companies know they can come to Butler and recruit people with hands-on knowledge.

When asked if other universities are likely to follow Butler’s lead and create their own captives, Mr Standifird said: “There are going to be a lot who will try, but universities are risk adverse. You have to have the right people in place.”

He added that it had worked at Butler because the university had the right people in place, and the right partnerships.

Mr Finn believes others may follow. He added: “There are some universities looking at what Butler is doing — running an insurance captive as part of the curriculum.

“We are looking for partners in industry, and we would like to see others [form captives]. I’m happy that we are here and we are ahead of the game.”

Regarding the future of the captive, Mr Finn outlined three phases. The first was setting up the captive and getting it running, while the second is to transition the captive from being “professor-run” to “more like a risk manager would run it”.

As for the third stage, he said: “If we do it right, we will look at attracting third-party investors.”