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How a Medical Professional Found a Way to "Understand What Makes the Other Side Tick" at Columbia's Insurance Management Program

As a medical professional, he has treated patients suffering from brain tumors. As the founder and CEO of North Cypress Medical Center in Houston, Texas, he has managed a major hospital. And as the founder, CEO, and chairman of the board of Summit Capital Partners, he has led a private equity company involved in everything from real estate development to fast-casual restaurants.

When Dr. Behar decided to advance his business goals, he turned to Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, where he received his Master of Professional Studies in Insurance Management (INSM). Dr. Behar utilized the program to deepen his understanding of the insurance industry, and the program’s asynchronous instruction gave him the flexibility to continue to expand his business while providing him with new insurance management knowledge, skills, and industry insights.

We recently spoke to Dr. Behar about his time in INSM, how the program helped him grow his analytical thinking, and what may surprise a layperson about the field of insurance management.

How do you use your experience with insurance management? 

Dealing with insurance is part of the game as a medical professional. Insurers pay for a majority of healthcare. In my personal experience as an owner and operator of a large general acute care hospital in Houston, this took on a paramount importance since I was negotiating and overseeing the insurance relationships for the hospital with all the major national players. It’s good to know and understand what makes the other side tick and what their needs are as well.

What attracted you to Columbia’s Insurance Management program? 

It sounded like a highly practical program, taught by experienced practitioners with real-life experience in one of the major insurance capitals of the world. This coupled with the outstanding international academic reputation of Columbia University sealed the deal.

What has been your biggest takeaway from the program? Was there a class you loved, or skills or knowledge you gained that you have found particularly useful?

I was able to discover the inner workings of the global insurance industry. In the process, I gained analytical skills that will improve my ability to interact with insurers at all levels. Being kind of a quant (quantitative analyst), I liked the finance and product, pricing and distribution classes the best. I really enjoyed working with Bob Percopo and Nick Weltmann.

What's something about the field of Insurance Management that might surprise a layperson? 

I think the interplay between premiums, investments, actuarial statistics, and losses would likely surprise most non-insurance professionals.

How so?

Most laypeople would not realize that oftentimes insurance products do not yield an underwriting profit. At times, the “profit” the insurance company makes actually comes from the investment returns on the premiums invested, otherwise known as the “float.”

Because of this fascinating interrelationship between losses and investment returns, insurance companies can play the “carry” trade. This means that when investment returns are high—especially in government fixed debt securities, like now—insurance companies may lower their underwriting standards in order to lose some money in their claim operations, but make more money in their investment operations. Hence the combined ratio goes negative, but the operating ratio goes positive. When investment returns are poor, insurers may require higher underwriting standards and a significant underwriting gain in order to offset a poor investment return.

So a consumer’s premiums are not just based on losses, but also on insurer’s investment returns, which are dictated largely by the bond market environment, the federal reserve interest rate policy, and the general state of the global macroeconomy.

Were you involved in a project during your time in the program that was particularly meaningful?

My Applied Research project focused on the creation of a new insurance product for cancer patients. The curriculum was flexible and allowed students to select projects that were useful to our real-life careers and jobs. My medical background enabled me to identify an opportunity that suited my interests, and the program was very supportive in helping me develop the project and lend resources and contacts when appropriate.

Views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Columbia University.

About the Program

The Master of Professional Studies in Insurance Management is for career professionals who want to accelerate their advancement to leadership positions or broaden their expertise in the industry. It accommodates both professionals already working in insurance and those looking to make a career change. The program is part-time, online, and instruction is asynchronous to accommodate working professionals