This week we got to sit down with Mark Walls – Vice President of Communication & Strategic Analysis with Safety National. Mark is also the Program Co-Chair for the National Workers Compensation and Disability Conference (NWCDC) which will be held next week in Las Vegas. For all of you that are going out there this year we got the inside scoop from Mark on what you should be sitting in on and what not to miss while in Vegas. Remember when at a work conference what happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas. Let get into it.
WCInsights: First question, where did you go to school and what did you study?
Mark Walls: I’m a proud graduate of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, and I majored in speech communications. So now 26 years after getting my degree, I finally got a job that requires a degree in communication.
WCInsights: How did you find your way into comp?
Mark Walls: Well, like most recent college graduates, I was looking for a career, and I saw an ad in the want ads for an adjuster trainee with May Department Stores, and they were looking for a college graduate with strong communication skills and no prior claims experience, so that sounded interesting to me, and I gave it a try, and here I am.
WCInsights: Can you just give our readers a brief overview of your career so far?
Mark Walls: Well, I’ve had 23 years of claims handling experience at the front of my career, first with May Department Stores and then with Safety National. My entire career, I’ve worked with employers who retain risk, either self-insured or on deductible programs, so I’ve always had that perspective that, not only is every dollar your own, but these injured workers are your co-workers and your friends and should be treated accordingly. I left Safety National in 2013 for just over a year and went over to Marsh where I was in a consulting role with their Workers’ Compensation Center for Excellence. That was a really great experience for me, because it gave me a completely different point of view on the industry as a whole. I got to deal with a lot of issues that I’d never dealt with before, so it was nice, and I felt like that really helped broaden me. Then, in June of this year, Safety National recruited me back into my current role.
WCInsights: What are you doing for Safety National now?
Mark Walls: My title is Vice-President of Communication and Strategic Analysis, and what I do is I oversee all of our corporate communications. That includes our leadership activities such as columns and white papers, speaking at conferences. I’m also responsible for all of our marketing and advertising content. My role really focuses heavily on industry education, so I personally speak at a lot of conferences, and I write columns. I’m also engaged from the government relations side with education, doing educational things for regulators, IAIABC, things like that.
WCInsights: What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Mark Walls: My biggest achievement has been the little after-hours hobby I started six years ago called the Work Comp Analysis Group. When I started that, I was really just looking for a way to gain information from around the country. I was handling claims nationwide and was really looking for a way to tap into some resources in other states to understand issues and things particular to their jurisdiction. That little hobby has turned into where six years later, we’re over 24,000 members, and I think the Work Comp Analysis Group really has become a great information resource for the worker’s compensation industry. I’m not only very proud of what that’s become, but I’m amazed at what that’s become. It’s certainly not what I expected when I started it, and it continues to grow. I like when people pose questions, and I get 20 different answers. I always think that’s neat.
WCInsights: Yeah, you get different perspectives from where people stand in the industry or if they’re lower on the totem pole or higher, it’s good to get that other perspective. Where do you see the comp industry heading in the next few years?
Mark Walls: There’s been so much vendor consolidation in the last few years, and that seems to be continuing. To me, that’s making it harder and harder for payers to really differentiate between vendors. I think you’re going to see analytics playing an increasing role not only in evaluating different service companies but also really gauging the return of an investment on different service providers. The analytics just become more important than ever when it’s so hard to differentiate between companies because competitors combine and now they’re the same entity.
WCInsights: Let’s get into the conference a little bit that is coming up. What will you be speaking about at NWCDC this year?
Mark Walls: I’ve got two sessions at the conference. On Wednesday afternoon, I’ve got a risk financing session where I’m going to discuss the different workers’ compensation risk financing option such as full insurance or deductible or self-insurance and things like that. Then Thursday afternoon, I’m moderating the blogger’s panel which is always a lot of fun. That’s a discussion where we get to take some risks, get a little controversial. We want it to be thought-provoking and educational but also entertaining, so it’s an enjoyable session to be a part of.
WCInsights: As far as your speaking panel goes, what do you hope attendees take away from that session?
Mark Walls: From the risk financing session, it’s really about understanding the different options that are out there and what the differences are between them-especially highlighting the differences between self-insurance and large deductible. I think a lot of people look at those two things and think that they’re the same, and while they are in some aspects, there are other aspects that they’re completely different. I hope to help really clear up misunderstanding of how these different options work. With the blogger session, what I hope is we entertain and provoke some discussion. That session is about being provocative and taking risks, and I hope we give people things to talk about. Things to think about.
WCInsights: What are you personally excited for most about NWCDC?
Mark Walls: I love the networking part of this. In the world we live in, there’s so much done online and email and social media and things like that, and to me, there’s just nothing better than good old face-to-face interaction. I love that aspect of this. There are literally thousands of members of the Work Comp Analysis Group that attend this conference, and I just really enjoy getting out and meeting people and talking to people. The networking to me is the number one draw.
WCInsights: Is there one evening event in particular you’re most excited to attend?
Mark Walls: I’m invited to a couple of different events that are in the Mix Lounge which is located at the top of Mandalay Bay. I went to that for the first time last year, and it gives you a spectacular view of the strip, and I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most simply because the view was incredible. It had big windows you could look out of or it had a balcony you could go out on. I just loved the view of the Las Vegas strip at night from that elevation, so that’s what I’m looking forward to is the Mix Lounge. There’s one each night that I’m invited to, and I definitely will go to that, because I love just the views.
WCInsights: Yeah, it is spectacular from up there. It’s completely open and very nice.
WCInsights: Besides your panel, what’s one speaking event that attendees should not miss out on, if they have to pick another one to go to?
Mark Walls: I’m really looking forward to the opening session with Dr. Chosewood. He is a very dynamic speaker, very involved with occupational health and safety. Let’s face it, medical cost is the big driver in workers’ compensation, so I’m very much looking forward to hearing his session and what he’ll have to say. The other thing that I like is the 60 tips in 60 minutes panel. That’s always fun. I liked last year, and this year, we made that a general session on Friday, so it gives you a good reason to get up Friday morning.
WCInsights: Everybody is usually trying to hurry up and get out Friday morning.
Mark Walls: Yep, yep, that’s the out day, but we put that in to opening session on Friday morning, and it drew really well last year, and I thought it was a great way to jump start the day.
WCInsights: Is there anything that returning guests at the conference can expect to see new this year?
Mark Walls: I’ve been involved in planning this conference for several years, and we try to keep it as fresh as possible. There are always new topics and new speakers and always new vendors in the expo hall. You never want things to get stale and repetitive, and we very much strive to make sure that every year is a new and great experience.
WCInsights: For these first timers heading out to Vegas, what’s one thing non-conference related, whether it’s a restaurant or show or something, what’s something they need to see in Vegas?
Mark Walls: Two years ago for the first time I went out before the conference, and I encourage people, if they can, to go out a day early or stay a day late just to take the time to walk around and look at things. There is so much to see on the Las Vegas Strip without spending a dime. It’s just fun to do. Just put on your walking shoes and start walking through the different properties like Caesars Palace or the Venetian, New York New York. There are just so many incredible casinos and resorts to just go walk through and take pictures is enjoyable to me.
WCInsights: Are there any emerging trends you see coming in comp whether they’re going to pose any challenges, benefits, anything really starting to spearhead out that’s going to make an impact on comp?
Mark Walls: There hasn’t really been new stuff in years. It’s been all about the medical for a number of years. More and more it’s just about what’s the latest thing that’s going to pop on the medical side and what’s going to be the latest cost containment thing that pops up to help address the medical costs. Really, that’s the biggest challenge we face as an industry is trying to figure out where’s the next abuse coming from and try to head it off ahead of time and then really weed out through the different solutions to figure out which ones are actually delivering a return on investment versus just increasing the spend.
WCInsights: Last question I have for you is, we ask everybody this, where do you get your work comp news? What are the certain sites you follow, LinkedIn groups besides yours, blogs, that type of thing?
Mark Walls: I’m a workers’ compensation geek, so I sign up for every newsletter, every insurance trade publication. I make sure I’m reading their workers’ comp content, different blogs. I look for any piece of information I can find related to workers’ comp I try to get in front of just to take a look at it. If I was going to say what my single favorite source is, it’s Twitter. I can aggregate all different news sources on Twitter and just periodically throughout the day scroll through and see if anything catches my eye. Five years ago, nobody in this industry was Tweeting, and now I think it’s just an incredible news resource for the insurance industry.
WCInsights: Hashtag for everything. We’ll be hashtagging in NWCDC soon.
Mark Walls: That’s right. It’ll be fun.
WCInsights: It was fun last year seeing all the pics of the people running the contests and people were hosting Twitter contests and find this and find that. You’re right, it’s a media outlet, it’s entertainment, it’s everything.
Mark Walls: Yeah, I love it. I love following the hashtags at conferences. I always follow the hashtag at the events to see all the things that are going on. I just think that’s fun.
About Mark: Mark Walls is currently the Vice President Communications & Strategic Analysis with Safety National. He returned to Safety National in 2014 after having spent over a year at Marsh as their Workers’ Compensation Market Research Leader. Mark has over 24 years of industry experience including 16 years previously with Safety National where he oversaw excess workers’ compensation claims in multiple states. Mark is also the founder of the Work Comp Analysis Group on LinkedIn. With over 23,000 members this is the largest online discussion community dedicated exclusively to workers’ compensation issues. In addition, Mark is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, writes columns for a variety of sources, and is quoted regularly in multiple media outlets.