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  • Rob Houghton

Insurance Certifications:  To Have or Not to Have?

Rarely a week goes by when a candidate doesn’t ask us, “Should I invest the time to get my CISR/ACSR, CIC/AAI, or CPCU?” My answer is always the same, “ABSOLUTELY, YES!” 

As many of you already know, there are many certifications available to insurance professionals ---- but you have to invest the necessary time, and yes, sometimes your own funds, to obtain these certifications.  Here are a few truisms about insurance certifications:

  • Professional certifications = greater earnings potential $$$$

  • Professional certifications = significantly more professional growth

  • Professional certifications = fast-track promotions

  • Professional certifications = job security

  • Review your employment contract/HR Handbook - many of these certifications will be paid for (or reimbursed by your employer)

  • These certifications will significantly = increase your value to the clients

  • These certifications will allow you to = SELL more insurance to your clients

For example, based on our 2012 Salary Survey released last month, we discovered for those Account Managers with 7+ years’ experience, those with CIC designations made an average of $12,757 more in annual compensation, those with CISR certifications made $7,253 more, and those with CPCU designations made on average $22,254 more annually.

As a recruiter specializing only in the commercial insurance sector, I assure you that with either a AAI,ACSR, CISR, CIC or CPCU designation listed after your name on a resume, your value is supremely higher than candidates without any of these certifications in the eyes of my Top 20 insurance broker clients in the WDC metro market. 

Let’s take a look at some of the more relevant and popular certifications that we come across.  I will give you my two-sense worth along the way too.  This month we will focus on those designations related to Commercial Lines Insurance.  Next month will be Employee Benefits.

CISR (Certified Insurance Service Representative):

My Take:  excellent course and will definitely separate yourself from those CSRs and Account Managers who do not have this certification.  See ACSR discussed below which is a comparable designation.

This course (or the ACSR below) is a no-brainer for any commercial lines Customer Service Representative (or Account Manager) for any size firm.  You have nine one-day courses to choose from.  Wow, some of these actually look very interesting! 

To earn the CISR designation, you must complete any five of the nine courses and pass the five exams within three years. Then, to keep your designation, you must update each year with additional continuing education courses.

The courses are reasonably priced and locally convenient. They are available in the classroom and are approved for state CE credit. An optional exam is given at the end of each classroom course.

These are the CISR courses - Choose 5 of 9 to complete for your certification.

Available in the classroom and online:

  • Commercial Casualty I – CGL, Additional Insureds

  • Commercial Casualty II – BAP, WC, Excess Liability

  • Insuring Commercial Property

  • Insuring Personal Residential Property

  • Insuring Personal Auto Exposures

  • Personal Lines - Miscellaneous

  • Agency Operations

  • Life & Health Essentials

  • Elements of Risk Management

ACSR (Accredited Advisor in Insurance): 

My Take:  The ACSR is recommended by the IIAV.  The ACSR is the equivalent to the CISR only it does not require an annual update.  Another advantage of the ACSR versus the CISR is that with the ACSR you can specialize in either commercial, personal, or Life & Health.

The IIAV has all the details about this certification at

Choose one of the following three tracks to earn the Accredited Customer Service Representative (ACSR) designation:

Personal Lines

Commercial Lines


Program Options: The Accredited Customer Service Representative (ACSR) designation program is available as a self-study program via printed textbooks and course guides, or via online learning modules.  ACSR is also offered in a seminar format by certain state insurance associations.

CIC (Certified Insurance Counselor)

My Take - The Certified Insurance Counselors (CIC) Program has been the insurance industry's premier, proven source for practical, real-world education since 1969. Definitely worth the investment in time and money.

Approved for state continuing education credit across the nation, the five CIC institutes are:

  • Personal Lines

  • Commercial Casualty

  • Commercial Property

  • Life & Health

  • Agency Management

You must take all five CIC institutes (or four institutes and one CRM course), and pass all five examinations within five calendar years.

How does the CIC Program compare to CPCU?

While the two designation programs are complementary, the CIC institutes focus on the ""hands-on,"" practical application of insurance principles and CPCU offers a more theoretical approach.

CPCU is an eight-part, theory-based program. Depending on your location and choice, you can take the classes through self-study, online, or in a classroom setting. National exam windows are offered four times a year.

Each of the five, classroom-based CIC institutes lasts 2-1/2 days. CIC exams are developed and administered onsite at the end of each course. An annual continuing education requirement must be met to maintain the CIC designation, while CPCU has an optional continuing professional development program.

AAI (Accredited Adviser in Insurance):

My Take:  very similar to the CIC although the IIAV describes the AAI as a bit more comprehensive than the CIC and no annual updates are required.

The IIAV  has all the details about this certification.

The following courses are required to earn the Accredited Adviser in Insurance (AAI) designation:

AAI 81—Foundations of Insurance Production

AAI 82—Multiple-Lines Insurance Production: Commercial general liability insurance Part I and Part II; Commercial automobile insurance; Garage and motor carrier insurance; Commercial crime insurance; Business owners insurance; Other commercial coverages; Workers compensation and employers liability insurance; Specialty insurance; Commercial excess and umbrella liability insurance; and Surety bonds

AAI 83—Agency Operations and Sales Management:

Program Options: The Accredited Adviser in Insurance designation program is available as a self-study program via printed textbooks and course guides. AAI is also offered in a seminar format by certain state insurance associations.   

CPCU (Chartered Professional Casualty Underwriter):

My Take: this is the Grand-daddy of them all!  A Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) is an insurance professional who has earned the CPCU designation.  CPCUs are considered to be property-casualty insurance subject matter experts.

In order to earn this prestigious designation, insurance professionals must meet certain requirements in the following areas:


CPCUs pass eight national exams on topics including insurance law, accounting, risk management, and ethics. CPCUs continually update their base of insurance expertise by participating in technical and professional development workshops and seminars.


CPCUs promise to abide by a Code of Professional Ethics, placing their clients’ needs before their own.


CPCUs meet an experience requirement to become a CPCU and have proven insurance expertise and knowledge.

A CPCU designation is recommended for: Agents/brokers, agency principals, claim representatives, line of business managers and executives, insurance litigators, risk managers, and underwriters

Course Sequence: You can take courses in any sequence according to your background, needs, and interests.

The Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation program consists of four foundation courses, one elective course, and three courses in either the personal lines or the commercial lines concentration.

Foundation Courses

CPCU 500—Foundations of Risk Management and Insurance

CPCU 510

CPCU 520—Insurance Operations

CPCU 530—Business Law for Insurance Professionals

CPCU 540—Finance and Accounting for Insurance Professionals

Commercial Lines Concentration Courses

CPCU 551—Commercial Property Risk Management Insurance

CPCU 552—Commercial Liability Risk Management and Insurance

CPCU 553—Survey of Personal Insurance and Financial Planning

Personal Lines Concentration Courses

CPCU 555—Personal Risk Management and Property-Casualty Insurance

CPCU 556—Financial Planning

CPCU 557—Survey of Commercial Insurance

Elective Courses

AAI 83—Agency Operations and Sales Management

AIC 34—Workers Compensation and Managing Bodily Injury Claims

AIC 31—Property Claim Practices

AIC 32—Liability Claims Practices

ARe 144—Reinsurance Principles and Practices

ARM 56—Risk Financing

AU 67—Strategic Underwriting Techniques

CPCU 560—Financial Services Institutions

ERM 57—Enterprise-Wide Risk Management: Developing and Implementing

So why earn the CPCU designation?

• CPCUs earn 29 percent more than their peer group (same functional area and time in the industry).

• 91 percent of CPCU designees saw an increase in job opportunities.

• 85 percent of program completers said earning the designation fast-tracked their career progression.

• 74 percent believed earning the designation helped them gain a promotion.

• 75 percent felt it helped them gain a salary increase.

• More than 1,100 CPCU designees serve as president or chief executive officer of insurance companies, according to a membership profile compiled by the CPCU Society

CRM (Certified Risk Manager)

My Take:  The CRM designation is ideal if your work requires knowledge in the areas of managing risks, hazards, and exposures.

Available in the classroom and online, the courses provide you with an in-depth knowledge about today’s highest priorities – identifying, analyzing, controlling, financing, and administering operational risks – as well as political risks, catastrophic loss exposures, third-party exposures, fiduciary exposures, employee injury exposures, juridical risks, legal risks, and more – whether insurable or not.

The five CRM courses are:

  • Principles of Risk Management

  • Analysis of Risk

  • Control of Risk

  • Financing of Risk

  • Practice of Risk Management

Each course is 2-½ days of instruction, followed by an optional exam. Any eligible individual may attend classes without taking the examinations or working toward the designation.

To Earn the Designation, You must take all five CRM courses and pass all five

Here is a list of the most popular and Employee Benefits certifications:

AFIS – Agribusiness and Farm Insurance Specialist

AIAF – Associate in Insurance Accounting & Finance

AIC – Associate in Claims

AIM – Associate in Management

AIS – Associate in Insurance Services

AMIM – Associate in Risk Management

AU – Associate in Commercial Underwriting

CLCS – Commercial Lines Coverage Specialist

CLU – Chartered Life Underwriter

CRIS – Construction Risk and Insurance Specialist

PLCS – Personal Lines Coverage Specialist

REBC – Registered Employee Benefits Consultant

RHU – Registered Health Underwriter

In closing:

  • Take the time to inquire with your Human Resources contact to see if the cost of these  courses are reimbursable

  • Negotiate in your next employment contract that professional certifications are reimbursed

  • Investigate and research which of these certifications is best for you

  • Make it a priority to begin working on these certifications

For additional details on insurance certifications and professional growth, I would recommend you contact the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia.  They are very helpful and can point you in the right direction. 


Special thanks to Kristina Preisner of IIAV for her generous assistance.

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