Insurance agent David Lippa rose from the most modest of beginnings in Rochester, N.Y., to become the insurance industry’s “man of letters.” Just call him “The Designate.”

Armed with knowledge: insurance agent David Lippa rose from the most modest of beginnings in Rochester, N.Y., to become the insurance industry’s “man of letters.” Just call him “The Designate.”

John McDonald

You’d be ill-advised to give insurance broker, ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran David Lippa any lip. He might just deck you with a left hook. Or, more likely, he could choose to drown you in a reprimand laced with four-letter words–or three-letter or five-letter words for that matter. After all, you’d be picking a fight with an adversary holding a CPCU, a CLU, a ChFC, a CFP, a CEBS, a CIC, a CPIA, a CPHRM, an AAI, an ACI, an ARM, a DFP, an LUTCF, an RHU and an RWCS.

This insurance agent is certified, all right, certified to do battle in military and professional theaters of war. All told, Lippa has 15 professional certifications granted by insurance, benefits and health-care associations. All this, in addition to master’s degrees in financial services and management from The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Any questions?

Cynies might dismiss “Lippa’s letters” as a marketing tool to promote his brokerage agency. Others might go so far as to call Lippa overcertified, obsessive, even perhaps a little insecure. Still others might ask how anyone can claim to be a specialist in so many areas.

“I felt that I wanted to compensate for a lack of a four-year degree,” says Lippa, head of Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based Lippa Insurance Services Inc. “I wanted to not overlook it. I just felt I needed to be educated.”

His brokerage agency provides risk management, claims administration, property, liability and workers’ compensation services to small and midsize clients in Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee.

Lippa’s latest designation is the ACI, the Associate in Captive Insurance, which was issued by the International Center for Captive Insurance Education. Lippa earned the designation this spring, the first graduate of the ICCIE.

The program for ACI designation requires candidates to complete five core courses whose subjects include introductions to alternative risk financing mechanisms and business ethics in the captive industry, two electives, and three “hot topic” teleconferences offered through ICCIE or the Vermont Captive Insurance Association.

“It was really an honor. I felt a real sense of accomplishment,” says the 57-year-old agent. “I wanted to be the first.” Lippa completed the 18-month course in just eight months.

“The breadth of subject matter is obviously extensive,” he says. “I’ll use the word ‘challenging.’ It’s not an easy course.”

Meanwhile, for captive insurance professionals, Lippa’s successful bid for the ACI certificate is an important step for captive insurance domiciles all over the world, says ICCIE Executive Director Mitch Cantor. It marks the arrival of a more educated, well-rounded professional into the captive community ready to manage what has rapidly become a complex and overwhelming industry.

“The education of people working in the captive industry was a problem for a long time and had to be improved,” says. “If we don’t fulfill the needs of the industry, we’re not doing our job.”

Lippa’s status as the only person with the ACI designation will soon come to an end, however, as more students will graduate from the course over the next few months, according to the ICCIE.

For the time being, though, Lippa can bask in his uniqueness, take stock of his achievement, and look back on the days when “limelight” was a word that existed only in the dictionary.

Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Lippa and his parents lived with two dozen family members in two houses in the same neighborhood. His father worked as a cab driver and his mother as a waitress.

At night, Lippa retreated to his room, which consisted of a 4 ft. by 6 ft. pantry on the first floor of the house.

In 1966, he joined the Marines–just two weeks after graduating from high school–and served in Vietnam for the next three years. Back stateside after completing his tour of duty, he chose to skip college, opting instead to enter the insurance industry with his cousin, and tacked on a couple of master’s degrees in management and financial services in the process.

Lippa spent his first days as a life insurance agent in an Italian neighborhood–with a boss named Amedeo DiSalvo–working for Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. He remembers working with policies that had been written in the 1930s–life insurance that cost $150 and yielded 2 cents or 3 cents in premiums every week.

After stints with Prudential, Penn Mutual and Allstate, he established Lippa Insurance Services in 1979 and set out to educate himself about the insurance industry. In the past 25 years, he’s lived through revolutionary times in the insurance industry, from the deregulation of financial services, which allowed banks to buy insurance agencies, to the Internet, where proponents of technology forecast the demise of the intermediary functions of agents and brokers.

COMMITMENT TO SERVICE

One of the most important lessons he’s learned, after all these years, is the importance of service.

One of Lippa’s clients, Unified Care Services, acknowledges more than 100 personal visits from the agency in one year. Another, from Oakview Convalescent Hospital, credits Lippa’s insurance agency with slashing losses and missed days connected to worker injuries.

In the case of Pleasant Care Corp., a chain of nursing homes with 36 locations in California and Nevada, the services provided by Lippa’s agency have ranged from participation in the company’s corporate risk management efforts to crafting on-site safety programs at each location and workers’ compensation. Lippa also says he developed his first captive with Pleasant Care.

“What he does best is align his best interests with yours,” says Manny Bernabe, a corporate counselor at Pleasant Care. “He takes it at that personal level. He wants to see you succeed.”

Accountability, says Lippa, is an agent’s most important responsibility. “I don’t work for myself,” says Lippa. “I work for a lot of people.” That’s where the professional designations, which require several hundred hours of study each, become important.

“I think people look to see if they can trust you,” he says. “And to me accountability is a key word. When you can keep people for 25 years, you’re with them good days and bad days. If you retain clients, you are doing a good job.”

And, just in ease readers were wondering, Lippa’s designations stand for the following: CPCU, Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter; CLU, Certified Life Underwriter; ChFC, Chartered Financial Consultant; CFP, Certified Financial Planner; CEBS, Certified Employee Benefits Specialist; CIC, Certified Insurance Counselor; CPIA, Certified Professional Insurance Agent; CPHRM, Certified Professional Health Care Risk Manager; AAI, Accredited Advisor in Insurance; ACI, Associate in Captive Insurance; ARM, Associate in Risk Management; DFP, Disability Financial Planner; LUTCF, Life Underwriter Training Counsel Fellow; RHU, Registered Health Underwriter; RWCS, Registered Workers’ Comp Specialist.

JOHN McDONALD writes regularly for Risk & Insurance[R]. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

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