By Scott Holeman, Media Relations Director, Triple-I
For Black History Month, Triple-I is putting the spotlight on Black entrepreneurs and innovative leaders in insurance. Connecticut’s first Black Insurance Commissioner, Andrew Mais, is an undisputed insurance leader and mentor as the video above makes clear.
“Connecticut is the insurance capital of the known universe,” says Mais. The state ranks number one for insurance employment and payroll and has the highest concentration of actuaries in the U.S.
Mais wants young people to understand the tremendous opportunities that the insurance industry offers and to consider it as a place to start a career.
For Black History Month, Triple-I is putting the spotlight on Black entrepreneurs and innovative leaders in insurance. Innovation and leadership are two words that come to mind when you meet Roosevelt Giles, chairman, Atlanta Life Financial Group, as much as his humble beginnings speaks to his resilience and fortitude.
Giles is the son of Bo and Lake Giles, two sharecroppers who lived in servitude to a plantation owner in South Carolina until the 1960s. He describes life during these times as “legalized slavery” and says that he picked cotton throughout much of his early childhood. “I only went to school when it rained,” he says. “If it was sunny, I was in the fields.”
Giles says that his family left sharecropping when his older sister paid off their $11K debt [to the plantation owner] and bought the family a home. This freedom allowed Giles to pursue higher education and led him into business as a tech founder and investor. In fact, it was Giles’ technology background that brought him into insurance when he was asked to transform the over 100-year-old company into the digital era.
Atlanta Life has proven to be an attractive opportunity for Giles. The company was founded by Alonzo Franklin Herndon, a former slave with only three-months of formal education. Herndon was emancipated in the late 1800s and went from selling goods on the side of the road to real estate and eventually insurance. He made many investments in infrastructure – housing and education – over the years, believing that Atlanta Life was successful only when the community was successful. In 1950, Herndon and his son Norris created the Herndon Foundation and named the people within the community as shareholders. The company has been credited with funding the Civil Rights Movement and became the primary source of life insurance policies for Black people during that era, most notably insuring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Atlanta Life and the Herndons were recognized and honored with the Nobel Laureate Foundation in 2018.
Giles feels a kinship with Herndon and his desire to provide comfort and dignity to the Black community. “When I was growing up, we’d sell fish fries on Friday or Saturday nights to make enough money to bury someone. Alonzo went into insurance because he wanted to take care of the people most at risk,” Giles says.
According to Giles, Atlanta Life has been invested in “stakeholder capitalism” since the onset. He credits the company with being one of the first to support women on the Board and in the C-suite as far back as the 1920s.
Recently, Giles has made another move towards improving racial equity by creating the Herndon Directors Institute (HDI), a 6-month program that trains underrepresented individuals – women and people of color – to be “board-ready”. The program launched earlier this month with fellows receiving mentorship from an impressive list of global corporate leaders.
“Capitalism is making it happen. Capitalism started this problem, and capitalism needs to fix this problem,” Giles says.
He just may be right. Several top companies have implemented commitments to racial equity, including NASDAQ who requires board diversity on any listed company and Goldman Sachs, who won’t take a company public without it.
While programs like HDI will be a huge step in ending generational poverty, Giles recognizes that his industry still has a long way to go. “The insurance industry needs to be more inclusive. We need to build products that address the wealth deficits in communities of color. The way to end generational poverty and build wealth is through financial literacy.”
“As the only Black Insurance carrier in the U.S., Atlanta Life is positioned to do just that. The brand is trusted in Black and underserved communities, and there is no other company, owned by a foundation, that is positioned to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Black and people of color communities on an annual basis,” Giles says. “So, when companies partner with Atlanta Life, we can eliminate generational poverty.”
By Marielle Rodriguez, Social Media and Brand Design Coordinator, Triple-I
For Black History Month, Triple-I is putting the spotlight on Black entrepreneurs and innovative leaders in insurance. We sat down with Kevin Henderson, Founder and CEO of Indenseo, an analytics software company based in Palo Alto, CA to talk about his background in insurtech and how telematics is shaping the commercial auto insurance space.
Originally from West Medford, Massachusetts, Henderson moved to the Bay Area in California during the Web 1.0 internet boom in the late-1990’s, where he led the global data business for telematics company @Road [later acquired by Trimble] and partnered with commercial auto carriers on their telematics programs. Henderson’s extensive experience in insurance telematics led him to create Indenseo in 2013.
Data has an enormous potential for insurance, according to Henderson. We are now able to know in real-time what’s happening with the vehicle and how it’s being driven. Combining telematics data with contextual data like the road conditions, the limit is your imagination.
Yet, obtaining funding for Indenseo as a Black business owner provided initial hurdles for Henderson. Citing a Harvard Business article on diversity in innovation, he says there’s a positive correlation between the [racial] makeup of partners and those who get funded.” However, his difficulties with obtaining VC funding also led him to be more strategic in his fundraising approach. “It made [us] use the capital we did raise more efficiently,” he says.
While funding was an initial battle, Henderson shares the importance of having a vision and people around you that you trust.
“You need to have people around you that know the ecosystem, and people who will be honest with you. It’s a numbers game and you need to be creative. Learn how to target investors with an interest in the markets you’re trying to get into,” he says.
While telematics is synonymous with commercial fleets, use in personal lines insurance remains low. COVID-19 has revealed telematics’ potential in personal lines. “People are more open with sharing their data,” Henderson says. “The shift in driver behavior caused by the pandemic has revealed that people want to be priced based on how much they use their vehicles as opposed to a standard premium that doesn’t account for vehicle use.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought its own set of challenges for Indenseo, including a slowdown in developing international business, but Henderson believes those opportunities will help expand his business in other countries. “Not everything can be done on Zoom. I will be back on airplanes when international travel and in-person meetings are practical again.”
As on the future of telematics in insurance, Henderson believes that commercial auto will evolve very differently than personal lines.
“The risks are different, and the technology is different. The risk you care about for an 18-wheel truck or a service van will be much different than the risk for a four-wheel sedan,” he says.
With the rise of new specialty markets and new companies, distribution models will change, and new products will emerge. All this makes the future of telematics and commercial auto insurance quite unpredictable and exciting.
Indenseo will be hosting a free webinar with Jeffrey Williams of Forrester on February 25th, 1PM ET as part of the “Connected Insurance” series on how IoT will transform insurance. During the webinar, they will talk about trends, technologies, and use cases.
A number of insurance companies are among Fortune magazine’s 2021 ranking of the world’s most admired companies.
Berkshire Hathaway, at Number 6, tops the property/casualty firms listed, followed by USAA, Allstate, Chubb, Swiss Re, Travelers, and Zurich, respectively.
MetLife tops the life insurance companies included, followed by New York Life Insurance, Massachusetts Mutual Life, Northwestern Mutual, and Prudential Financial.
The survey asked respondents to rank companies using criteria including: products, quality of management, financial soundness, ability to attract talent, and social responsibility.
The rankings came out just in time for Insurance Careers Month. To find out more about why working in insurance can be such an attractive career choice, check out the stories told by people working in a variety of fields who sat down for interviews for our Insurance Careers Corner series.
Triple-I’s “Insurance Careers Corner” series was created to highlight trailblazers in insurance and to spread awareness of the career opportunities within the industry.
February is Insurance Careers Month, and this month we interviewed Suzanne Meraz, an external affairs executive at CSAA Insurance Group. Suzanne discusses why she chose a career in insurance, the impacts of the pandemic, and the importance of racial equity in the industry.
Tell me about your current role at CSAA.
As external affairs executive for a AAA insurer, I’m fortunate to work with a talented team that manages PR, social media, thought leadership, executive visibility, reputation management, and relationships with industry associations (like Triple-I, The Institutes). Our team works to promote CSAA Insurance Group and its associated companies, such as Mobilitas, our commercial insurance company, and Avanta Ventures, our venture capital arm.
You’ve worked in PR and Corporate Communications for many years. What led you into insurance and to make a career in the industry?
I’ve been fortunate to have worked in PR my whole career, and in insurance for about 15 years. Hewitt Associates, a consulting firm later acquired by Aon, is where I started working with insurance. I was responsible for promoting the healthcare practice, helping companies with their healthcare benefit programs.
Working in insurance has provided me the opportunity to promote and learn about innovative products and services, such as green and entertainment insurance, as well as multiple lines, including P&C, healthcare and medical malpractice. I’ve truly enjoyed these experiences and working with many talented and smart people, but I am also proud to be part of this noble profession. As society’s financial first responders, we’re making and delivering on a promise to people to be there for people in their time of need. It feels good to be working in an industry that is doing something positive for the economy, for people, and for communities.
2020 was a rough year for the insurance industry. Can you talk about some of the challenges that you’ve faced?
2020 was challenging on many levels, but I’m very proud of what we’ve done at our company and overall as an industry. At CSAA, we quickly transitioned employees to work from home while continuing to serve our customers well. Our industry wasn’t known for having a work-from-home culture, and we all surprised ourselves in a good way.
The pandemic also spurred a lot of innovation which allowed us to think about ways to do things differently. For example, CSAA created efficiencies that allowed us to introduce a touchless claims system, which enabled customers to share pictures and videos of auto damage claims versus handling in person. We have received a lot of positive feedback for this enhancement, since it saves a lot of time and makes the entire process much more convenient for customers.
As an industry, insurance has assisted customers and communities throughout the pandemic with donations and community service. The industry also took a stand on racial equity issues. There is so much more to do, but it’s important that we start to use our voice as an industry to support important issues that we are facing. Our industry needs to become more diverse and better reflect the communities that we’re serving.
Let’s talk about Diversity & Inclusion. It is the topic that’s front of mind in the industry, particularly lack of representation for women and people of color. What challenges have you faced and overcome during your career? What is CSAA’s commitment to D&I?
As a mixed race female (half Japanese and half Polish), I feel that I bring a unique perspective to the table. While the communications field has strong female representation overall, that doesn’t mean that we can’t improve or don’t face other challenges. Women in leadership positions and people-of-color still remain very under-represented.
During my career, I have encountered sexism and discrimination. It’s a challenge many of us face, but I’ve been fortunate enough to not allow it to derail my goals and aspirations. To this day, I am often asked “What are you?” in terms of my ethnicity. In time, I’ve learned that it’s not my problem that people can’t put me in a box or easily categorize me.
The insurance industry has traditionally been tight-lipped on many social issues, but one of my proudest moments was when our CEO, Tom Troy, publicly supported Black Lives Matter. Coming from a mixed family, it meant so much for my company to take that stand on this important issue and to say those words. I’m grateful to be a part of a company that cares about our employees, customers and communities, and isn’t afraid to speak out on injustice.
You’ve just been honored as part of the 2021 APCIA Class of Emerging Leaders for your work in 2020 and helping to navigate CSAA with challenges through the pandemic as well as promoting diversity and equity. What are your goals for 2021 and beyond?
It was such an honor to be recognized along with my other CSAA colleagues who are so deserving: Briana Clifford, Beti Cung, Jachyn Davis, Christian Myers, and Maureen Parish. We need more events that bring the insurance industry together, whether it’s by function or discipline, to keep the industry engaged and share the stories of how we’re making a difference.
I’m proud of CSAA’s inclusion and belonging work. Over the past year, we’ve explored diversity training around unconscious bias and micro-aggressions. We also have a CEO that is truly supportive in addressing racial inequity and providing the space, budget, and support to launch programs that address these issues. Just acknowledging that these are serious and important issues is a big deal, yet we’re taking the necessary steps that will help us move forward and take real action. We’re on a journey with this, and we are not perfect, but we are committed to increasing the diversity of our workforce and advocating for representation at every level of our organization.
There’s so much work to be done in this area that it sometimes can feel overwhelming, but our team is committed to advocating for real change that can make a difference for our company and the communities we serve. For us, this is not a bandwagon moment and ‘Black Lives Matter’ wasn’t just for 2020. Inclusion and belonging is now and forever, and we will continue to move forward with action and purpose. We are working on a CSR report that will document transparency about where we are, what we are doing, where we have work to do and where we are headed. This is an exciting, important and pivotal time for the insurance industry and the world, and I am grateful for the role we can play in influencing a positive and long overdue outcome.
SIR conducted a survey of insurance industry professionals in May to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the business climate. The survey asked how the pandemic was impacting staffing, budgets, work-from-home arrangements, business travel and professional development.
At the time of the survey, 97 percent of carrier respondents said staffing levels have not decreased. When asked about work-from-home arrangements, only 10 percent of respondents said they plan to return to the office full-time once restrictions are lifted.
Travel restrictions will remain in place indefinitely for most respondents. Even when travel restrictions are lifted, nearly everyone will remain cautious of traveling nationally, and nearly three-quarters expect their travel budgets to be reduced.
Micheal Myers, Lead Competitive Intelligence Analyst at USAA and President of SIR, said, “This was an extremely insightful and timely survey of industry professionals. SIR put the insights into action by quickly pivoting from planning an in-person conference to meeting virtually (with record attendance). We also published COVID-related research reference library to help researchers solve business problems. As is consistent with SIR’s mission, we provided these resources to members and non-members alike to advance the industry.”
Over 180 professionals responded to the survey; 67 percent were carriers and 33 percent were suppliers/vendors. A variety of lines and businesses were represented, including commercial, personal, life and health.
By James Ballot, Senior Advisor, Strategic Communications, Triple-I
It’s an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our personal and professional lives. Amid widespread disruption, however, people are finding ways to overcome the distance of “social distancing” and to make remote work seem less, well, remote.
Insurance business summer internships are a vital path for educating students about the industry, and for businesses to evaluate promising recruits. However, lockdowns and other measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus forced many companies to re-evaluate their internship programs. Several organizations have stepped in to ensure continuity of internship programs, including insurance businesses, industry trade groups, and in particular, Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS), a student society with 94 chapters serving more than 5,000 members across North America.
Through their Virtual Internships program GIS worked with dozens of companies to offer essential training and education opportunities through project-based or defined duration remote work. And what these businesses have discovered is that remote internships offer some built-in advantages over on-site work, including access to people who are ready-made to succeed amid disruption, as well as the ability to engage with recruits from a greater diversity of geographic locations, talents and backgrounds.
Next up is Kristian Ottesen, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he’s studying underwriting in excess and surplus lines at that institution’s School of Business’s Risk and Insurance Studies Center.
Kristian spent part of the summer of 2020 as part of a three-person team consulting on the impact of COVID-19 for CNA, a major commercial lines carrier.
Triple-I Blog (III): You had an internship lined up before Summer 2020? What happened?
Kristian Ottesen (KO): I was a part-time intern with Allianz Partners in the Spring, which was cancelled after the first day. Other internship opportunities—including one with a regional broker in Richmond were cancelled or put “on hold.”
(III): You’re on track for a career in insurance. When did you decide this was what you wanted, and what are some factors that contributed to this decision?
(KO): I was majoring in Management and Entrepreneurship at VCU’s School of Business. I was urged by some GIS members and alumni to follow my interest into studying RMI (Risk Management/Insurance). I have to say that it’s been the best decision I’ve made in college so far.
(III): How long was your internship with CNA? Tell us a bit about the work you were doing there.
(KO): My internship ran from June through the first week of August. A lot of what I did involved independent research and reading, with the goal of finding data, news and reporting that fed into charting CNA’s strategy for interacting with broker clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. My team [of three interns] submitted research analysis for feedback from our project supervisor.
(III): What skills and knowledge did you pick up along the way—and what insights do you most want to share with others [who are looking into remote internships]?
(KO): Teamwork, of course. Problem-solving and flexibility [learning in the workflow]. My team and I met weekly via Skype; I encountered some unanticipated advantages to remote work, as well as a few serious drawbacks. Perhaps most important was honing my time management and organizational skills: In addition to working with CNA [via the GIS remote internship program], I was doing coursework in financial modeling at VCU and working landscaping to help pay tuition.
(III): Any key takeaways or advice from this experience that you’d like to share?
(KO): There’s no substitute for working directly with and learning from people in the industry rather than from textbooks or in a classroom. If you get the opportunity, take it!
GIS’s Security in Risk Tour brings insurance industry executives back to their alma maters to share career stories and advice with students who are pursuing degrees in majors other than risk management or actuarial science (the two fields most often associated with insurance).
“For hundreds of years, insurance has been a key driver of innovation and economic growth worldwide,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I. “Thanks to Gamma Iota Sigma and programs like the Security in Risk Tour, the U.S.’s insurance industry is able to engage with, and recruit, some of the nation’s most promising college students. Insurers are making homes, businesses and communities safer by recruiting and hiring well-educated and ambitious young men and women as they embark on their professional careers.”
Other 2020 Security in Risk events scheduled for the fall include:
Wednesday, Nov. 4: “STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] Careers in Risk Management and Insurance,” at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ
Thursday, Nov. 5: “Security in Risk: Careers in Cyber Risk Management and Insurance,” at Baruch College, New York City.
“The insurance industry has a great story to share,” notes Alyssa Bouchard, CPCU, ASLI, ARM, Director of Education & Programming, Gamma Iota Sigma. “We’re excited to team up with the Triple-I to expand our reach by engaging with students at colleges and universities without GIS chapters. The Security in Risk Tour helps to educate students of all majors and backgrounds about the insurance industry’s positive societal impact and limitless career opportunities.”
The Gamma Iota Sigma Security in Risk Tour is presented in partnership with Triple-I. Funding is provided by the program’s lead supporters, Chubb and the Spencer Educational Foundation.
Triple-I’s “Insurance Careers Corner” series was created to highlight trailblazers in the insurance industry and to spread awareness on the career opportunities within the industry.
This month we interviewed, Tasha Fuller, CEO & Co-Founder, FloodFrame USA, a Houston-based company that provides homes and businesses with a waterproof cloth barrier against damage from flooding. Tasha shared her insights as a woman entrepreneur in STEM and how past flooding experiences and a background in civil engineering inspired her business.
You started your career as a civil engineer. What led you to eventually build your own business, FloodFrame USA?
As an engineer, I wanted to do more for the community. I was designing big projects around Houston, oftentimes office buildings or huge industrial buildings, but I got into engineering to help the world in some way. It was always in the back of my mind to figure out how to best use my talents for this.
My primary focus was hydraulics and hydrology – how water works and how storms work. Then flooding happened in Houston. My family and I went to Denmark about six months after [Hurricane] Harvey to visit family, and we were introduced to FloodFrame on the news. Immediately, I knew this was something that needed to be in Houston. I contacted the Danish engineers, who developed the technology, to discuss how to bring it to the U.S. This led to six months of conversations with the engineers, myself, and my Dad, who is also my business partner. Initially, we were pursuing this [opportunity] on the side, and it was a huge leap of faith when we realized this company needed a full-time champion in order to work in the U.S.
What was the transition like from engineer to entrepreneur?
It was a huge risk, and it was scary. I’d wake up in the morning and wonder if I made the right decision. I left a corporate environment where everything was lined up for me, and I had colleagues to ask questions. The pattern of the day was figured out. As an entrepreneur, each day you ask yourself what’s the best thing for your company. Not having colleagues, it’s all on you, and it can feel like you never turn off. I’ve been doing this for almost two years now, and I’ve most recently learned to find the balance.
What advice would you give to aspiring women entrepreneurs looking to build a STEM business?
On the days where you feel like giving up, just don’t. You are going to have days when you doubt if you have the potential. I read a quote the other day that resonated with me, ‘when you’re tired, learn to rest not quit.’ I’ve been using that for myself because I have tough days too. I recommend going for a walk or doing something that you enjoy. Go back to the challenge after that rest. Things will look a lot brighter than when you were in the moment.
In my previous job, I was the only woman and the only person under 40 in the room. I had to learn to stand my ground and feel comfortable in that situation. I would say to view that situation as an advantage to stand out and have your message heard versus blending into the room.
As a resident of Houston, you’ve experienced several severe storms including Harvey. How did you these experiences influence the business?
We wouldn’t have started this company if we didn’t see the impact of water on our community and how destructive flooding can be. During Hurricane Harvey, I remember watching the water inch towards my parents’ house. It was such a hopeless feeling, because we couldn’t stop this force of nature at the time. I remember thinking that there must be some solution out there for people who want to protect their homes. That’s really where the seed was planted and why meeting the FloodFrame engineers clicked during our trip to Denmark. My family would have been in a different position if we had the protection on our house.
2020 is expected to be one of the worst hurricane seasons on record and the pandemic will bring about new challenges in disaster prep. How have these challenges impacted your business?
We have installations already in the ground in the Greater Houston area. Our primary goal is to educate as many people as possible [in the area] about risk mitigation and property protection. The biggest hurdles have been reaching the people that really need it and educating the community overall. Pre-disaster mitigation is important. Floods will continue to happen, but protection can help people spend a fraction of cost to rebuild a flooded house. I’ve been leveraging digital platforms and accelerator programs like the Resilience Accelerator to find the right partners and get the word out on risk mitigation. We’re in this unusual time, but people realize that their homes are important and need the tools to protect themselves. Even though we are in a pandemic, that doesn’t mean the flooding will stop.
By James Ballot, Senior Advisor, Strategic Communications, Triple-I
It’s an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our personal and professional lives. Amid widespread disruption, however, people are stepping up with innovative ways to overcome the distance of “social distancing.”
For insurance businesses, summer internships have long provided a vital path for educating students about the industry, and for insurance businesses to evaluate promising recruits. However, with lockdowns and other measures to contain the spread of Coronavirus extending through and beyond the summer months, many businesses were forced re-evaluate internship programs, with some considering suspension of 2020 summer internships.
As part of the Triple-I Blog’s “Insurance Careers Corner” features series, we spoke with student interns about their experiences during summer 2020 and their insurance career journey so far. We also reached out to internship program directors to get a fuller sense of how their organizations benefit from expanding outreach to students even in the midst of a pandemic.
First up is Anisha Navendra, who is a rising sophomore at University of Texas, Austin. Anisha spent part of the summer of 2020 interning at the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation’s (IICF) Southeast Division. She’s double majoring in Mathematics with a concentration in Actuarial Science and Finance—and has “a keen interest in the insurance industry.”
Name: Anisha Navendra
Current Status: Rising Sophomore, The University of Texas at Austin
Triple-I: Tell us a bit about your experience as an intern. Did you have an internship lined up before schools and offices went into COVID-19 isolation?
How long is your internship with IICF and what sort of work are you doing there?
My internship runs through August. I’m assisting with a wide variety of projects, including pulling and researching financial reports for insights into how a charitable foundation works.
What skills and knowledge are you picking up along the way?
I’m learning more about teamwork, communications, doing due-diligence, time management and research skills, as well as how to use tools of the trade, like Microsoft Office. Also, I’m meeting and networking (virtually) with a lot of insurance professionals from different backgrounds and getting exposure to a wide range of business areas–marketing, finance, operations.
I plan to use these skills and the knowledge gained about insurance and the insurance industry to help me in my future endeavors as an actuary, or financial consultant.
When did you first consider insurance as a career path?
I became more aware of insurance as a member of my high school debate club (the topic was health insurance). Entering college, I discovered how actuarial sciences aligned with my other interests.
Any “surprises”; things you did not expect to learn or do?
Working with IICF has shown me a unique and more creative side of the business and how the industry’s charitable activities are helping to redefine the narrative about insurance. I’m also learning how companies are reacting to the pandemic—and that insurance is nimble and responsive. It’s exciting to be behind the scenes at a non-profit.
How will this experience affect you going forward—both in your studies and in preparation for life after college?
Working with IICF has encouraged me to be more innovative and team oriented. The experience has made me want to learn more about non-profits and has gotten me interested in marketing and brand strategies. I plan take more classes in business law and ethics to round out my knowledge.