By Thomas A. Parmalee
If you haven’t noticed that there has been someone new at the helm of National Guardian Life Insurance Company for the past four months, you can be forgiven.
That’s because it’s a familiar face: Kimberly A. Shaul has been at the company for almost 10 years, having served as senior vice president and general counsel before being named interim president and CEO in June.
She’s honored to be the first female leader of the company in its 114-year history.
“NGL is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion,” she told FuneralVision.com. “We believe it’s our obligation to create a welcoming, safe environment, so that everyone has a sense of belonging, respect and equitable treatment.”
She also expressed appreciation for those who helped her march her way to the top, noting, “My mother, who owned her own business, gave me the foundation and the drive to create my own path and showed me that there is no limit to what you can achieve. My advice for others is to always keep striving to accomplish goals.”
We recently caught up with Shaul to learn more about her background and why she loves working at NGL. Edited excerpts follow.
How did you first get into the insurance space … and why does it suit your talents?
My first experience in the insurance space was in law school. I worked at a law firm that litigated cases defending insurers and policyholders. The work I did helped people during a difficult time. Each case was different, and I enjoyed developing a plan and strategy to reach the best outcome.
When you earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, did you ever envision getting into the insurance arena? What did you foresee yourself doing?
I did because I knew from my experience at the law firm that I enjoyed working on insurance issues. My goal was to become an expert in insurance law. After I received my law degree, I worked at another insurance company for several years building my skills in insurance law. I was also able to pivot from law to business leadership, leading a compliance and claims department.
You spent several years in Wisconsin state government. What did you do and what did you learn in those roles that you’ve been able to apply at NGL?
When I was in executive leadership at two state agencies in Wisconsin, I focused on ensuring that the agencies were providing appropriate resources and good service to the citizens and industries of the state of Wisconsin. During this time, I managed staff, had oversight for operations and budget, provided information and advice on legislative initiatives, met with legislators and consumers and advocated for the agencies.
Every business has a customer, and you need to understand the unique perspective of the customer by listening, engaging and respecting their viewpoints. That knowledge has influenced me at NGL as I learned about our business operations, the challenges each team faces and how we can further enhance our customer experience.
What do you like about working in the preneed insurance arena?
For me, preneed insurance is special because of the personal impact it has on families. The insurance is there at a significant time of need and grief. Working with funeral homes and helping them provide families peace of mind is rewarding. When I meet with funeral industry professionals, I hear their stories: getting up in the middle of the night to meet a family, or heartbreaking moments of dealing with the loss of children or friends in their community. It made me realize how mentally, emotionally and physically draining their jobs can be. They are incredible members of our community who care for people during some of the worst moments of their lives. The fact that NGL can be there to pay claims and make those moments a little easier is what makes it worth it for me.
What do you like the most about NGL?
NGL is truly about people. The team at NGL supports one another for the greater good. There is a great environment that fosters collaboration and success throughout the company. The commitment and enthusiasm our employees share creates a positive engagement experience that makes NGL a great place to work.
I find that every day is different. The continued ability to learn, grow and engage are important aspects for me. I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their perspectives as I work with them to develop and create positive outcomes.
What are your primary goals in your new position?
Serving our customers is a top priority. I want to ensure our customers continue to receive the excellent service they have come to expect. Another objective is to make sure our NGL team members are engaged and successful in their roles and have the resources needed to serve our agents, marketing partners and policyholders. I will continue to focus on preneed growth opportunities and enhancing our technology platforms that will further improve the customer experience.
I look forward to meeting more people in the funeral service industry and deepening relationships with our marketing partners. It’s always a great opportunity to meet with others and learn more about the challenges they are facing and how NGL can help.
Will you still be carrying out your senior vice president and general counsel duties – or will you or has the company hired someone to carry out those functions?
NGL’s deputy general counsel has stepped in to fulfill the legal functions as my primary focus is now the business side of NGL.
How did the death rate during COVID-19 affect the preneed insurance business?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 reminded everyone how end-of-life planning is important, which created new interest in our preneed products. COVID-19 increased the awareness of not only life insurance but preneed insurance.
What are the main lessons that NGL learned from the COVID experience – did it in any change how you operate or do business?
Our focus on customer care remained the same. Staying connected whether virtually or in person allowed us to continue to deliver results. We utilized more technology as we shifted our employees to a remote work environment. We currently have a hybrid work option, which gives employees more flexibility and allows us to both attract and retain talent.
Do you feel you have ample opportunity to grow?
NGL recently celebrated a milestone 25 years in the preneed industry. It’s an honor for us to work with and provide support to thousands of funeral homes. We believe there is a large opportunity for growth in the industry, and we are looking for ways to expand our reach and serve even more families.
Copyright 2023, FuneralVision.com. All Rights Reserved.