Gene Lai’s research analyzes the cost of doing business in a post-COVID world.
UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business is providing the research and workforce to support Charlotte’s fast-growing insurance sector.
"The banking industry is here, which is the draw," says Gene Lai, James J. Harris Chair in Risk Management and Insurance in the Department of Finance. "The synergy is here – they have money to invest, and it makes sense to be in Charlotte. Talent is here – and UNC Charlotte provides ‘human resources’ to this industry. Additionally, companies come to Charlotte for the weather, the lifestyle and lower housing costs compared to New York City."
Charlotte is the No. 2 financial hub in the United States. The region’s dominance has only grown with the expansion of the insurance sector. Recent expansions include Fortune 25 Centene, which is opening its East Coast headquarters to Charlotte’s University City and bringing 6,000 jobs, and USAA, which recently opened its first Charlotte office with about 750 jobs.
Lai says having a strong research business school such as the Belk College is important to the Charlotte region’s growing financial footprint.
"We have a great risk management and insurance program at UNC Charlotte, and our graduates are prepared well to enter the industry," he says.
Lai’s research into the cost of doing business is also illustrating how the pandemic has affected businesses’ bottom line. Public radio’s "Marketplace" interviewed Lai about his research related to the insurance industry and the cost of doing business in post-COVID world, in particular the costs associated with not getting vaccinated. He focused on the connection between the cost of insurance and health.
"It is reasonable to charge employees who do not get vaccinated a cost, which some companies are doing now," Lai says. "Premiums can be adjusted for losses in corporate health insurance retrospectively, unlike car insurance."
Lai cites companies that give employees incentives to stay healthy – such as distributing Apple watches to track fitness levels – which can impact productivity levels. "Health costs are a cost of doing business in today’s economy," Lai says.
Lai, whose research has been published in more than 40 peer-reviewed journals, admits the path to publication is a long one.
He says he’s proud of his research-focused faculty. Belk College’s Department of Finance ranks among the top 100 most productive in the United States over the past five years.
Lai also touts a well-rounded faculty with academic and industry expertise.
"We are a strong research department, and graduates who want to stay in research are able to find jobs at other highly rated research institutions," Lai says. "We also do a good job of attracting students to major in finance with a concentration in risk management and insurance, which is important since insurance is not a 'sexy' degree."
The department’s emphasis on research produces results and "polished" students, Lai says. "The students in this program are not typical; they are international and top students with the added advantage of a finance background."
Belk College’s Risk Management and Insurance undergraduate concentration, through the Department of Finance, helps develop the next generation of insurance professionals through courses closely aligned with industry and through experiential learning opportunities, such as internships, career fairs, student mentoring, and international travel.