By Kris Maccini, Social Media Director, Triple-I
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.