Best's Review


Emerging Leaders
AM Best’s Student Challenge Winners Offer Battle Plan for Infectious Disease Remediation

This year’s first-place team members said COVID-19, and its catastrophic impact on small businesses, was the impetus for their idea to help mitigate small-business closures.
  • Tom Davis
  • June 2022

Merely reopening amid COVID-19 wasn't enough. Saint Joseph's University students Julia Berdzik and Elizabeth Colpe knew that just the right insurance coverage could help ensure the long-term survival of small businesses impacted by infectious disease outbreaks.

Julia Berdzik Saint Joseph’s University

Julia Berdzik
Saint Joseph’s University

Elizabeth Colpe Saint Joseph’s University

Elizabeth Colpe
Saint Joseph’s University

Paul Dunlap Illinois State University

Paul Dunlap
Illinois State University

Alexander Pearson Florida State University

Alexander Pearson
Florida State University

Their plan, “Infectious Disease Remediation Coverage,” won AM Best's second annual Student Challenge in 2022, which tasked risk management and insurance students from across the country with creating innovative solutions for managing insurance risks.

Colpe and Berdzik said COVID-19, and its catastrophic impact on small businesses, was the impetus for their idea to help mitigate small-business closures resulting from infectious disease outbreaks.

The winning duo said their coverage would seek to guarantee that qualified sanitary services, as well as the distribution of funds for PPE, are involved in infectious disease remediation. Contracts would be signed with companies for these services because demand can cause shortages at the time of an occurrence, Colpe said. “We also planned to provide a support team that would help workers quickly transition into a virtual workspace,” Berdzik said.

Related: College Standouts: Survey Provides View of Top College Risk Management and Insurance Programs

Berdzik and Colpe received 70% of the vote and were among three finalists in the challenge. Voting was open to the public from March 14-31.

The challenge is designed to support efforts by AM Best and the industry to develop and attract talented students to the insurance and risk management sector, said Matthew C. Mosher, president and CEO of AM Best Rating Services. The competition was open to undergraduate and graduate students who could submit as individuals or two-member teams.

“Insurance is a purpose-driven industry, and you can see with all these students' submissions what is meaningful to them and how they want to make a positive impact on individuals, businesses and communities,” Mosher said. “I hope they continue to focus on learning and exploring the many possibilities the insurance industry offers to find one that best fits their interests and strengths.”

Other Finalists’ Ideas

The finalists also included Alexander Pearson of Florida State University, who was selected for his submission, “Innovating the Under-Insured,” an interactive app that uses third-party real estate, construction and risk data to identify gaps in a homeowner's insurance coverage and educate consumers on what level of property coverage they truly need.

Paul Dunlap of Illinois State University earned a spot among the finalists for his submission, “Resilience Endorsements,” which offers a way to expand endorsements for homeowners and communities that employ certain resilience measures.

Under his proposal, Dunlap said he would be operating a consulting company that would sell his product to insurance companies. “It would create a metric on the basis of looking at community guidelines, as well as individual guidelines, then creating a score,” he said.

The score would be based on how the policyholders and the communities demonstrate a “certain resilience” amid a catastrophic event. The insurer could then set a certain discount for that policyholder and go about pricing the policy, Dunlap said.

Dunlap said his idea was inspired by rising natural catastrophe losses.

“With climate change being at an all-time high, insurers are experiencing record losses. There's been a pretty good correlation between resilience measurements and the outcomes of lowering losses,” he said. “I believe FEMA puts the hurricane losses at somewhere [here:] For every $1 we invest in resilience, we get about $11 in return, which seems like a pretty good deal in my opinion.”

Pearson said his phone app would provide “unbiased information” about coverage levels and rebuilding costs. The intent is to prevent homeowners from being underinsured, he said, as well as to provide “information efficiency.”

“It's a one-stop shop for all your information when it comes to property and home insurance. Instead of having different companies [having] different biases on their insurance, this brings all your property insurances and different packages into one place. It shows what that extended replacement cost looks like. It helps the underinsured. It helps the coverage gap situation,” Pearson said.

It also helps if you make home improvements, he said. If you refurnished your basement, for instance, “you add that piece of information to your home model within the app, and it will tell you the current value of your home,” he said.

“It provides education that you might not get from agents and brokers and it brings into the app,” Pearson said. “It's going to simplify it. The regular consumer can look at it and understand, at least a little bit, what they're getting themselves into.”

Related: Survey: Colleges Need to Better Prepare Future Insurers for Real World

Facts Behind Winning Submission

When they were researching for their proposal, Colpe and Berdzik found that about half of U.S. small businesses operate with less than 15 days of cash reserves, and even healthy small and midsize enterprises usually have less than two months. “As we know, these businesses were closed a lot longer than the two weeks to eventually be reopened, so they got decimated financially,” Berdzik said.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, extra unexpected expenses associated with the health and safety exposures also depleted cash reserves, Berdzik said. “This can help explain why there were so many extra permanent business closures—200,000, to be exact, within the first pandemic year when compared to previous years, ” she said.

Tom Davis is managing editor. He can be reached at

There’s So Much to Cover—Don’t Miss the Latest

Get more news stories like this delivered to your inbox by signing up for our article spotlights.


Back to Home