London Calling: Alum's connection leads to rare opportunity for finance students

You don’t just stop by Lloyd’s of London for an unannounced visit. Even if you happen to be in London.

Access to the world’s most famous insurance market is limited to registered Lloyd’s brokers or invited visitors. But a group of Penn State Harrisburg finance majors was able to get a rare look inside Lloyd’s during the campus’ most recent international study tour to London in March. Their visit was possible through a connection with Lloyd’s that was made by Penn State Harrisburg alumna Christine Sears. Sears, a long-time member of the Penn State Harrisburg Board of Advisers, is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Penn National Insurance in Harrisburg.

When Sears learned that Lloyd’s was not on the itinerary of the finance students’ nine-day tour of London, she took action.

Sears knew more of Lloyd’s than the company’s renowned reputation for insuring everything from prized art on ocean-crossing vessels to body parts of models, athletes and entertainers. As a property and casualty insurer, Penn National did business through Lloyd’s.

She also knew of Lloyd’s penchant for privacy and security. Sears said even Penn National does not deal directly with Lloyd’s of London but works through intermediaries.

Yet Sears was not deterred. Once Penn State Harrisburg expressed an interest in the students visiting Lloyd’s, Sears sent an email to the Penn National intermediary in London, who connected her to a contact with Lloyd’s in London to begin working out the details.

Sears may see her role as no big deal. But her willingness to get involved made all the difference, said Nihal Bayraktar, an associate professor of economics, and the faculty member who leads the London study tour. Simply put, the students’ visit to Lloyd’s of London would not have happened without Sears stepping forward.

The London tour is jam-packed with corporate visits, many of which are set up by a travel agency. But the access needed to get students through the doors of companies like Lloyd’s comes only from the direct involvement of Penn State itself, starting with alumni like Sears.

“We have a much better connection when it is arranged through the school,” Bayraktar said. “You have to differentiate yourself and tell why your visit is important.”

Bayraktar said this type of connection is more than just getting students past the gates. Students also have the opportunity to meet
face to face with top managers and executives who wouldn’t otherwise be available.

Sears’ connection with Lloyd’s has paid dividends for the finance students beyond their initial visit. Months after the London tour, Glenn Dorr, Northeast U.S. Regional Director for Lloyd’s America, came to Penn State Harrisburg from Boston for a personal visit with the finance students.

“Educating students around the world about how Lloyd’s works is an important goal of ours,” Dorr said. “Further to the London student visit, I had the opportunity to visit Penn State Harrisburg and the Finance Club myself to meet the faculty, administrators and more of the students to educate a wider group about the insurance industry. Hopefully a few of them may have even considered a career in what I personally consider to be a very fulfilling and exciting industry to be a part of.”

Penn State Harrisburg started the London tour in 2004. The tour is part of a finance course created by Penn State Harrisburg Chancellor Mukund Kulkarni, who was director of the campus’ School of Business at the time.

London is among three international study tours being offered to Penn State Harrisburg students this spring. The others are to China and Guatemala.

Bayraktar, a World Bank economist before joining Penn State Harrisburg in 2003, will lead the London course and study tour for the third time this spring.

She said London is the world’s most international finance market. Nowhere else affords the students a better opportunity to see the global world of finance in action. New York City’s financial market is bigger in size, but the New York City market is mostly domestic.

The London market is unique in other ways. Among stops during the tour is a visit to the London Metal Exchange, where students see and hear intense face-to-face negotiations between buyers and sellers that set the price for metals like copper, iron and steel all over the world.

The London tour is not a vacation. Bayraktar said the compressed schedule is such that the students probably see more companies in nine days than if they spent an entire semester in London.

Bayraktar welcomes the involvement of more Penn State Harrisburg alumni, who by opening doors to more companies can further enhance the educational benefit of the tour to the students.

Sears encourages alumni who do business or have contacts with companies internationally to contact Penn State Harrisburg and see how they can help.

Last Updated February 07, 2014