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With record insurance industry profits in 2006, but no major dip in premiums expected any time soon, the tough questions are inevitable: Chief executive officers at major corporations will want to know why their insurance budgets aren't shrinking; brokers and risk managers will poke around; the media will surely tackle the issue.
Many will turn to Robert Hartwig, insurance industry guru and new president of the New York-based Insurance Information Institute, to supply the answers. And he says he's ready to take on the challenge.
Already well-groomed to take on the role of leading industry spokesman, having served for several years as executive vp and chief economist at the III, Mr. Hartwig expects to be called on to tackle what he sees as major issues in the upcoming year: financial performance and profits, the softening market and the tort system and its impact on the industry.
"There are going to be divisive issues everywhere," said Mr. Hartwig, who is one of the most quoted insurance experts in the nation and who took over from Gordon Stewart, who retired from the III at the end of 2006.
Known in the industry as a man who is seldom without a Powerpoint slide presentation on hand, Mr. Hartwig is a regular on television news programs and in a wide variety of print media. During the last week in December, for example, he spent hours on the phone with reporters discussing recent developments in a Hurricane Katrina-related insurance lawsuit. He has also testified before numerous regulatory and legislative bodies, including the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Just Google him and you'll see his name everywhere," said Ellen Thrower, professor and executive director of the School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science at St. John's University's Peter J. Tobin College of Business in New York.
When he's not on the phone, he's developing reports and projects. His articles and graphs are commonly spotted in insurance textbooks and trade journals and other publications.
Industry colleagues say he's well-liked for his knack for simplifying tough issues.
"He has an incredible breadth of knowledge in insurance," said Ms. Thrower. "Bob has gained wide respect from the corporate world, the government, and the media and these are usually some tough audiences."
In short, Mr. Hartwig usually has answers, they say.
"He is very good at distilling complex concepts and making them easy to understand," said Julie Rochman, senior vp at the American Insurance Assn. in New York. "He's very passionate and talented."
Even those in positions wired to work against the industry call him a good go-to source for information. "He's a competent person in his field and knows a lot," said Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, an insurance watchdog group based in Washington.
"I don't agree with him all the time (because) he sells the insurance position, whatever it is," said Mr. Hunter. "The (III) takes positions that are anti-consumer. He has a tough job and he does it well."
Mr. Hartwig said he sees his job as one of a teacher, a profession he was lining himself up for until he got swept up in the insurance industry arena. He received his bachelor's degree cum laude in economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He later received his master's and doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he expected to become a professor.
"I love to teach," he said. "But when I graduated, the best options for me were not in academia but in the private and public sector."
His resume since boasts several positions in the industry, among them: director of economic research and senior economist with the National Council on Compensation Insurance in Boca Raton, Fla.; senior economist for Swiss Reinsurance Group in New York; and senior statistician for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington.
And it was during his time in those jobs that he learned to decipher insurance industry jargon.
"I remember in my early daysÖI felt like the actuaries were speaking a foreign language," said Mr. Hartwig.
"There's a lot of jargon and what I do is remove that jargon," he said. "People seem to like that."
"I am not someone with a large ego, but I am someone who is very high energy and very determined, and I am someone who is very proud to work in the insurance industry."