Facing fierce competition for business talent, Pinnacol Assurance, Colorado’s leading workers’ compensation insurance company, is joining with the University of Colorado Denver Business School to create a new Risk Management and Insurance Program (RMI), the first of its kind in the state.

Pinnacol’s $5 million gift, allocated over seven years, will fund a unique curriculum offering both graduate and undergraduate degrees focused on insurance and risk management.

“We want this to be a nationally recognized institution for risk management and insurance knowledge creation and dissemination,” said Ajeyo Banerjee, Ph.D., associate professor of finance and director of the new RMI Program at the Business School. “We have been through a major economic crisis and some think this was caused by a failure to manage risk.”

Like other insurance companies, Pinnacol is concerned about the coming shortage of leaders. Industry officials say 50 percent of top managers will retire in the next decade. The RMI program will highlight career opportunities in insurance and risk management and help create a pool of qualified candidates to be the leaders of tomorrow.

“We envisioned a comprehensive curriculum that would enhance the reputation of the industry, be accessible to students of all ages, support our agent partners and provide an incubator for cutting-edge ideas in the industry,” said Don Collins, Pinnacol’s chief marketing officer/vice president of communications and chairman of the RMI advisory council. “This partnership delivers in all of those areas, and we are grateful to the CU Denver Business School for helping us make this dream a reality.”

The money will help support the hiring of new teachers, provide scholarships and fund an office suite.

The RMI program, now enrolling undergraduate students for its first spring semester class in January 2011, will teach traditional risk management and insurance principles while exploring new ways to integrate them into changing business models. It will also host forums, provide student internships, recruit speakers, conduct research and work with the industry to place students in jobs.

The program will grow in phases, starting with an undergraduate component next year and leading to a graduate program in the future. Several Colorado companies and risk management professionals will actively participate and enrich the classroom experience. They have already offered suggestions on course content and curriculum. The input has led to the creation of a course entitled “Legal and Ethical Implications of Risk,” which will deal with everything from water pollution to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For school administrators, the RMI program fills a void in a region where risk management studies are rare or non-existent.

“We want Denver to be the epicenter of risk management and insurance in the Rocky Mountain West,” said Sueann Ambron, dean of the University of Colorado Denver Business School. “Businesses today are looking at risk management as a fundamental. It’s an integral part of their thinking going forward.”

Ambron said more and more people are becoming experts in risk management and insurance because the stakes are so high.

“Failure to properly assess risk can bring an entity down,” she said. “The opportunities for students in this area are expanding rapidly and they have a good chance of finding jobs when they walk out the door.”

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