Edward Bonach, the CEO of CNO Financial Group, came to the University of Indianapolis on Oct. 21 to discuss his company and his work in the insurance industry.
Bonach came to UIndy through the Student Business Leadership Academy, which was created to connect professionals in the business world to students hoping to end up with careers in business. President of the SBLA Lindsey Turner introduced Bonach and described a little of his background. She said that CNO was incorporated in 1979 and began operations in 1982. Bonach was appointed CEO in October of 2011 and now serves as a member of the Executive Committee and Investment Committee.
Bonach began his presentation by explaining that CNO is a holding group for financial companies and is based in Carmel, Ind. He explained that the company focuses on middle income Americans and has approximately 1,300 employees in Indiana and 3,600 nationwide. He also said more than three million people in the United States have purchased a policy from the company.
Bonach then talked about his background in business. He said that he is an actuary, which, according to him, is an accountant without a personality.
“I didn’t start my career as an actuary, but very early on in my insurance years, I decided it wasn’t just about the numbers,” Bonach said. “I liked the business, and I liked the people.”
Bonach said that he had been working for a company for two-and-a-half years when a recruiter called to recruit him for another company. He explained that it was a risk for him to switch companies, but he did. Bonach said doing so allowed him to gain more experience and be involved in determining how to value a company and what it was worth.
The company Bonach was working for was based in Germany, so later he had the opportunity to move there. He said he had to move his wife and two young children to Germany. He also had to learn business terminology in German and the different office culture there, but he felt it was a valuable experience.
“I bring this up not to scare you, but to hopefully inspire you to take risks,” Bonach said. “It [transferring to Germany] put me in a position that let me work with these top executives, and I wasn’t even 30 years old.”
Bonach advised students to take risks with their careers. He said that both life and careers never move in a straight line, so it is important to take risks to end up with a valuable career.
Bonach then explained more about CNO. He said that CNO is made up of Bankers Life, Colonial Penn and Washington National Insurance. He said that because insurance is not a tangible product, trust is important.
“Trust is very important in our business…” he said. “It’s not machines or computers. It’s our people. I am always looking for the best and brightest people, because that is how we differentiate.”
Bonach said that various rating agencies had given CNO 13 upgrades since 2012, and they had been named Forbes’ Most Trustworthy Company.
Following his presentation, Bonach opened the floor to questions. In the question-and-answer period, Bonach said that he felt communication skills were important because they transferred to so many different aspects of business. He said that such skills can be helpful with clients and team members and help people to understand their audience and communicate better.
Freshman supply chain and information systems major Hannah Ellington came to hear Bonach speak because she wanted to hear a CEO’s perspective on business and insurance.
“Instead of taking just what I learn in the classroom, it shows how I can apply it to my career in the future,” Ellington said.
Freshman business administration and management major Jesse Cook said he came to hear about Bonach’s journey and to see how he became a CEO.
“I learned that just because they are high up doesn’t mean they aren’t a regular person,” Cook said. “He just seems like a normal person.”
Both Ellington and Cook thought hearing about business from someone who had done so well was useful. They also thought that what he said about communication skills was helpful, and Cook said he thought it would help him in a job interview in the future.