An Interview with Abby Black: From Summer Student to Full-Time Account Manager

/ By Cowan Insurance Group

Every spring, post-secondary students “hit the pavement” searching for a summer internship or co-op placement to help them gain experience and network in their chosen field. Cowan frequently welcomes students eager to learn new skills and make a difference in our workforce. We aim to help them develop their expertise through mentoring and valuable learning opportunities.

Abby Black joined Cowan as a summer student in the Personal Insurance department in 2017 while studying at Carleton University. When she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Global and International Studies, she was offered a full-time job at Cowan in the group benefits department as a Benefits Analyst. Through the mentorship and guidance of her manager and colleagues, Abby moved into her current Account Manager role in the International and Partnership Programs division of group benefits. Abby shares more about her background, what brought her to Cowan, and her unique career path.

What brought you to the insurance industry?

Having grown up in southwestern Ontario, I was familiar with Cowan and their work in the community. I also have family who work in insurance, so it made sense to apply for a student position at Cowan.

Coming to Cowan as a student turned out to be an excellent opportunity for me. It gave me office experience, introduced me to the corporate world, and provided me with an income to live on while I was in school.

Why did you decide to continue working for Cowan after you graduated?

It was important to find a job that challenged me to grow and develop my skills and continuously offered something new to learn with plenty of room for career growth. For me, Cowan has provided all that and more.

The culture at Cowan promotes lifelong learning and empowers employees to reach their potential. My manager at Cowan provides me with mentorship and career guidance, giving me valuable insight into where my skills and goals can take me. It is really important to me that my leadership supports me in my growth, and I’ve always been encouraged to continue my education by earning my insurance license and other designations; this is the kind of learning environment that’s important to me.

Are you looking to take the next step in your career?

What is your current role at Cowan?

I work as an Account Manager for our international clients and partnership programs division within group benefits. My role is to oversee the management and satisfaction of the clients, partnerships, and programs I have been assigned to. It can be challenging at times, but also very rewarding. My role is multifaceted, with a variety of responsibilities—no two days are the same. For example, my role requires knowledge and understanding of the Canadian public health care system to guide our members and partners in their seeking of healthcare while working in Canada. I work alongside our Third Party Administration (TPA) department, understanding our TPA services offering and how that relates to the insurance coverage of inpats, and expats to and from Canada is the bread and butter of my role.

What do you enjoy most about your Account Manager job at Cowan?

As a people person, I enjoy building relationships with my clients and coworkers. We have a friendly and collaborative work environment. My job requires working across many different departments to support my clients, and since collaboration is vital to my success, a friendly and professional work environment is very important to me. When Cowan hires employees, the ability to collaborate and demonstrate strong teamwork skills is a significant factor in finding suitable candidates, and it shows. Not only do my coworkers support each other in their work, but they also genuinely care about one another. It’s nice to have friendships with the people I work with, not just in a work context.

During my time at Cowan, I’ve shifted from working at the Cambridge office to the Ottawa office, so I can confidently say in my experience that the friendly work culture is consistent across our locations.

I also appreciate that Cowan hires from within, allowing existing employees to advance in their careers, and hires from employee referrals. Cowan offers an employee referral program to encourage employees to provide referrals when they’re a good fit.

What advice do you have for students interested in an insurance career?

Insurance professionals come from all sorts of backgrounds. We are a diverse group of individuals, each with our own strengths and I think our industry has an advantage that way. There isn’t necessarily a direct funnel to the insurance industry from educational streams like you see with other industries; most of us pursued an opportunity in this industry and stayed. When it comes to an insurance career, it’s critical to enjoy interacting with people if you work in a client-facing role. For example, in my position, my day is spent answering client questions and concerns, fostering those client relationships, and collaborating with my team.

Time management skills are vital in the insurance industry. We work in a fast-paced environment and its essential to learn how to optimize your time, prioritize tasks, be most effective, and not be afraid to ask for help. Since my role is challenging and busy and my clients are complex, I remind myself I am constantly learning and that asking for help is okay. That’s why it is important to be collaborative and a good team player in this industry.

Cowan provides their employees with opportunities to learn and hone their knowledge to deliver the best possible service to our clients. I have developed many skills while working here that I didn’t learn or develop in university. For example, my responsibilities include leading meetings and conducting presentations. My team environment gave me the confidence to develop my presentation and communication skills that that my post-secondary education was unable to replicate. I was always so nervous in university but working in a corporate environment helps you improve those skills and your confidence. With the support of my coworkers and their trust in me, I was able to learn a lot and enhance the skills I wanted to develop. My team has helped me feel empowered to lean into my strengths by allowing me to learn and grow.

What are your short- and long-term career goals?

I’m excited to complete my life insurance license by the end of this year, Once I’m licensed, I hope to continue my career growth and move away from account managing and into business development. As much as account management has allowed me the opportunity to learn and grow, I have come to the conclusion that I very much enjoy strategizing and being involved with the development of international benefit plans and programs, so I hope to do more of that as I continue down my career path. Cowan offers a variety of educational opportunities that help me feel empowered in my career growth. My managers and team are also very encouraging when growing my career. Since I have found so much opportunity here, my career will remain with Cowan.

Looking to make a career change this year?

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