Tag Archives: Insurance Careers Corner

Insurance Careers Corner: A few minutes with Kristian Ottesen, intern, CNA Brokerage Strategy team

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.

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.

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!

Insurance Careers Corner: Q&A with Tasha Fuller, FloodFrame USA

By Kris Maccini, Social Media Director, Triple-I

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.

Tasha Fuller, CEO & Co-Founder, FloodFrame USA

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.

Insurance Careers Corner: A Few Minutes with Anisha Navendra, Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) intern

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. 

Several organizations have stepped in to fill this gap, including insurance businesses, industry trade groups, and in particular, Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS), a student society with 77 chapters serving more than 5,000 members across North America that’s recognized by many as “the insurance industry’s premier collegiate talent pipeline.”  Earlier this year GIS launched their Virtual Internships program. Despite getting a somewhat late start, the program placed more than 65 students on 30 projects at 14 insurance businesses.

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

Internship: IICF

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?

Anisha: I was looking into internships earlier this year, but by the time classes went remote many programs were either suspended or cancelled. Gamma Iota Sigma stepped in to find ways to connect students with insurers and insurance businesses. My internship with IICF is an opportunity to learn more about the unique philanthropic side of the insurance industry by allowing me to spend time working closely with industry professionals.

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.

Insurance Careers Corner: Q&A with Rahel Abraham, ClimaGuard

By Kris Maccini, Social Media Director, Triple-I

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 Rahel Abraham, CEO of ClimaGuard, a Houston-based start-up that provides protective coverings for cars (and personal belongings) to prevent valuable losses from flood damage. Rahel shared her inspiration for creating ClimaGuard, her experiences as a first-time entrepreneur, and how she prepped her business for hurricane season, amid a pandemic.

Name: Rahel Abraham

Current Role: Founder & CEO, ClimaGuard

Years at Company: 2 years

Tell me about ClimaGuard. What led you to start the company in 2018?

The idea of ClimaGuard came about a month after Hurricane Harvey. This event was a historical devastation – not only were residential homes flooded, but many businesses and vehicles were flooded also. I lost my car, and there was a shortage of rental vehicles. Living in Houston, I depend on my mobility – being vulnerable post the hurricane was a challenge. I realized that I needed help, and so did many of my neighbors.

Shortly after the storm, a friend and I thought of an idea to produce a protective covering. As more hurricanes hit, we realized that flood mitigation wasn’t going to be solved overnight, but that we could come up with a way to help people safeguard themselves in real time. My background prior to ClimaGuard was in Engineering, so I knew that I had the background to create a product that would work.

ClimaGuard protective coverings can be used for other purposes outside of automobiles. I have a client who used it to protect a grandfather clock that was passed down through generations. I wanted the covering to be large enough to fit a car, but easy enough to use for quickly packing other valuable items in the home – sofas, electronics, tables, etc.

As CEO, what’s top of mind as you look to grow your business?

There are two goals that are top of mind: 1.) Spread awareness about flood risks, and 2.) Encourage and empower at-risk communities to proactively mitigate. Education in creating awareness for disaster planning and mitigation is vital to the growth of ClimaGuard. Whatever life looks like post-event – whether it’s running for home supplies, shopping for groceries, or accessing temporary living (hotel) – you need mobility, and, more importantly, peace of mind throughout the event.

It wasn’t until I got flooded that I understood the challenges post-flooding, and the financial costs to recover. I was fortunate to have a support system, but I know individuals who are still trying to recover three years after Harvey. I’m focused on preparing individuals and communities to get back up and running as soon as possible.

Being a woman and Black-owned business, what challenges have you faced in growing the company?

I didn’t know anyone personally who ran a successful product-based company, or any start-up, in general. I quit my job to pursue my business, so my cash flow was limited. I relied on my savings in the beginning, because I didn’t know how to seek funding. I was concerned that I would lock my business into a situation that would prevent it from thriving, if I didn’t partner with the right people. Because I didn’t have the network here, I went overseas to build partnerships, understand manufacturing, and learn how to create opportunities.

What activities have you been involved in to help build networking and partnerships?

Prior to COVID-19, I was part of an accelerator program called DivInc out of Austin, Texas. Austin is a great community for start-ups, and I wanted to be in the mix among entrepreneurs who were also starting from the ground up. After completing that program, I began outreach specifically to dealerships and the insurance industry. These two markets have proven to be good partnership opportunities for ClimaGuard. With insurance, my goal is to touch on the fleet business, the rental car space, and the commercial and residential customer base. With the dealerships, I am seeking access to the residential and commercial buyers who are invested in protecting their assets.

[ClimaGuard is currently a participant in Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator]

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in seeking opportunities and overcoming challenges? 

Just like your ingenuity led to an idea that solves a real problem, that same creative thinking will lead you to solutions to overcome your challenges. Your path is your own, and you don’t need millions of dollars to make your start-up successful. You do not need a proven track record to show you are capable. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, so don’t burn yourself out.

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? How are you preparing for the season?

Currently, the nation is highly focused on COVID-19. The lack of attention to this hurricane season concerns me, however we are living in very unusual and uncertain times. Many of us, myself included, are taking things day by day. I’m trying to be observant of the climate and the emotional health of our communities. In terms of preparedness during hurricane season, I know that hurricanes and flash flooding only allow a few days of notice before hitting an area. I’ve ensured that ClimaGuard inventory is ready, and I’m prepared to ship units (with the available supply) through a local fulfillment business in Houston. ClimaGuard’s mission is to prevent loss from natural disasters, and we’re ready this season and preparing for next season. Our goal is increase inventory next year as we develop more opportunities with partners and retailers.

Insurance Careers Corner: Q&A with Mary Jo Hudson, Squire Patton Boggs

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, Kris Maccini, director, social media, Triple-I, interviewed Mary Jo Hudson, Partner, Squire Patton Boggs who provided insights about her career trajectory, LGBTQ+ support in the workplace, and implications for LGBTQ+ professionals following the recent Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender Americans from workplace discrimination.

Name: Mary Jo Hudson

Current Role: Partner, Squire Patton Boggs

Years at Firm: 3 years

Tell me about your current role and work at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs

I’ve been at Squire just over three years, and I lead the U.S. Regulatory practice as part of our Global Financial Services Practice Group. Our group includes several former senior insurance regulators [including myself] and several former insurance company general counsel and experienced litigators. We represent insurance companies in transactional market product issues, provide strategic advice on regulatory matters, and work with trade associations and professional associations on top regulatory issues. I particularly enjoy our thought leadership efforts – writing content as litigation experts on insurance regulations.

Prior to your time at Squire Patton Boggs, you served at the Ohio Dept of Insurance. What was your role there and what attracted you to the regulatory side of the industry?

I did two ‘tours of duty’ at the Ohio Department of Insurance. During my first ‘tour of duty,’ I was a staff attorney and then a general counsel of the Ohio Liquidation Office. We had several liquidation estates, and I was the only attorney in that office. Eventually, I went back to private practice and got involved in local politics – returning for my second “tour” as the Director and a member of the Governor’s cabinet. I’ve been out of the Department of Insurance for about 10 years now.

When I was Insurance Director – it was just prior to the Affordable Care Act – my governor had all his administration’s health reform efforts based at the Insurance Department. I was an officer of the Insurance Compact all four years of my service, and I also worked actively on numerous National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) committees and task forces, including serving on the Executive Committee and EX-1.

It was a great learning experience. Insurance regulation brings together a mix of legal and public policy together with complex financial services issues. I find the multi-jurisdictional structure to be unique and fascinating.

We’re in a time where it’s still challenging for women to make ‘Partner’ at leading firms. What has led to your success and what advice can you give to other women looking to achieve similar goals?

I love what I do. I work with great clients and try to deliver the best services that I can. Law practice – especially at a larger firm – is always a challenge, and I try to learn and grow. When I talk to younger lawyers, I tell them that when doors seem to close there are a lot of windows that open. Don’t try to force things that aren’t meant for you – continue to work hard and watch for those opportunities to come as a result of that work.

It’s still a challenging profession and industry to be a woman – particularly the higher up that you go. I’ve been an open member of the LGBTQ+ community for 30 years.  I’ve found that it’s sometimes easier to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community than it is being a woman. The gender issues are somehow larger.

I remember as a young lawyer a partner once told me ‘Don’t go into regulatory work. That’s women’s work and it’s not valued.’ Regulatory is where I excel – but that work is not always valued – unless you remind colleagues about its foundational value with respect to transactions and litigation. You learn to pick your battles wisely and push where it’s needed.

Your firm has a commitment to diversity & inclusion – recognized in 2019 as one of the ‘Best law Firms for Women’ and in 2017 as a ‘Top Firm in Diversity’. Can you talk about some of the programs Squire Patton Boggs has in place to create opportunities and foster inclusion for LGBTQ+, women, and minorities?

There is a dedication at the top on diversity & inclusion, and it permeates throughout the office. The firm has worked hard to elevate women into leadership roles. Squire continues to do the work to be self-reflective and improve on our efforts.

Efforts are also focused on connections and relationships. These relationships generate business development. Our LGBTQ+ programs allow for connections with colleagues at other offices, which has led to new work for us all.

Squire has a 100% rating for the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. It’s important and a good leadership statement – involving employment policies, benefits, and a concerted effort on hiring a diverse mix of candidates. I’ve been involved in the hiring process to ensure that our next generation of lawyers is even more diverse.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, what challenges have you faced throughout your career?

I’ve always found that I had to work hard to get to advance, but I’ve always tried to be my authentic self. I was never good at being closeted. I’ve been out since the early 90s. I did find job mobility difficult, and it was tough to move from state to private practice. I had to be patient. I took a winding route professionally, instead of a direct route, combining public service, social justice service and private practice. During that time, I was very active nationally in the LGBTQ+ movement. I served on a several boards and in leadership for the Human Rights Campaign national board. This work helped me develop personally and professionally, including some great board experience.

In public service and local board service, I had a lot of what I called ‘Lady Godiva moments’ where I was often the only openly LGBTQ+ person in the room. I remember going to community events as an elected official and people [in the room] had never met anyone who was gay. I spent time listening and learning about what was going on in their neighborhoods and lives. I developed a reputation for being hard-working, and it was all about being a good public official and a good human being – less about sexual orientation.

Has recent support [for LGBTQ+] in the financial services, legal, and insurance industries eased any challenges for the community?

I do see a lot more support. Some businesses struggle with how to translate support that into the workplace. It’s an interesting perspective to work with different companies. Some do a good job at ‘getting’ diversity and inclusion. We’re still in a very conservative industry. Some companies don’t have any diversity at all. I see it growing, but there’s a gap between large companies and companies based in metropolitan areas and some companies that are smaller or mid-range. It may be a resource limitation or location. These companies need to make a concerted effort to build diversity.

The insurance industry needs to take the lead on making a multi-year commitment to getting diversity right, or they won’t be in touch with the next generation of customers.

What are your thoughts on the landmark Supreme Court decision protecting LGBTQ+ professionals from job discrimination? What do you think are the broader implications for this ruling and how it will impact the workplace?

I did not think I would see a ruling like Bostock in my lifetime. Over the years, I would read court decisions and employment discrimination cases on LGBTQ+ and the logic was so twisted against the plaintiffs. I didn’t know how we would get past that intolerance. The Bostock decision is a signal that the social justice and education work of the last 30+ years has made a difference – but we’re not done. It is a turning point to make changes for workplace and public policies on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s a groundbreaking decision around gender identity discrimination, which has not been discussed nearly as much as discrimination based on sexual orientation. The issues of the trans community [historically] have been treated separately. It took education and a couple of generations to help define and integrate the movements. I think it’s terrific that of the cases in Bostock, the claims of discrimination based on gender identity and the claims based on the sexual orientation discrimination were so both addressed rather than split.

Where we will still have challenges – the next generation is more gender fluid. The decision  breaks down some barriers, but now we’ll need to address those issues around gender fluidity as well. Ultimately, we’ll have to work on how the individuals of our next generation can be their best authentic selves to work and to the community.

Insurance Careers Corner: Q&A with Demetrius Gray, WeatherCheck

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. This month Kris Maccini, director, social media, Triple-I, interviewed Demetrius Gray, Founder & CEO of WeatherCheck.

WeatherCheck, an insurtech that analyzes weather data to help insurers predict severe weather impact to properties, was a finalist in 2019’s Resiliency Innovation Challenge.

Demetrius shared insights for building and growing his innovative business, and how he’s advising on severe weather prep amid the pandemic.

Demetrius Gray

Name: Demetrius Gray

Current Role: Founder & CEO

Years at WeatherCheck: 3.5

Tell us about WeatherCheck? What led you to found this company and build your career in insurance?

I was a storm contractor. I chased hailstorms across the continental United States. Most of my work was around understanding insurance losses, and it gave me an intimate knowledge, which I used to create WeatherCheck. While there are numerous weather-related sources, there wasn’t a great place to assess whether something was damaged or not. For example, would an event at a particular property rise to the level that the insured should file a claim?

The insurance industry today is already thinking about creating efficiencies in the claims process. We allow property owners to sign up on WeatherCheck, type in any address in the country, and it exposes severe weather loss associated with that property. We work from the premise that informed people make informed decisions. At our core, WeatherCheck works to give people quality information so that they can make the right decision at the right time.

We’re in the middle of a significant global catastrophe. How has this impacted your business and conversations around severe weather?

When the shutdown started happening [throughout the stay at home orders], we had conversations with emergency managers around the country on what does emergency management look like for people at home. Normally, they would be at their office and those structures are built and fortified better than the average single-family home in the country. What we have seen is an increase in overall hazard-related deaths this year. The 2020 tornado season has killed more people than it has in the past few years because people are sheltering in place at home and risk is greater. We are preparing for these insights now, and we expect to see even greater risks heading into summer heat waves.

There is also an infinite question about the current infrastructure. Normally, people are placed into shelters post event, but that infrastructure has been displaced largely because the volunteers have been displaced. The inverse of that conversation is that the risk has been shifted to commercial enterprises and hotels. If the hotels are closed, then it’s where do we shelter people who have been displaced? We’re encouraging community partners to have conversations with stakeholders around planning, including reopening hotels for evacuations quickly.

Over the next year, what is top of mind as you grow your business?

Partnerships are important. We have been working with partners across all sectors to continue to grow the product itself. How do we help individuals who don’t necessarily understand their risks or the policies that they’ve purchased to get what they need? The way we’ll do that well over the next 12-24 months is by partnering with stakeholders who also have interest in that same asset. Whether that’s mortgage companies, cities, or banks–that’s where we’ll be focused while continuing to represent the interests of the insurers.

What setbacks have you faced in building your business and how did you move past them?

We’re the only black-owned meteorology company in the entire country. You get a whole lot more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s’ and those answers are based on unconscious biases. We had to be very honest with ourselves about what are bias characteristics–whether it’s race, gender, location–and we had to decide in the business plan how we were going to overcome those biases. For us, it meant that maybe venture capital (VC) wasn’t going to be a strong path for us because the data doesn’t prove out that they would invest in a woman or minority-run company. We built a profitable business with strategy based on data and that also influenced what the product looked like.

Through this process, we decided to go direct to policyholders. The data showed us that policyholders are largely unbiased and that they want what they want when they want it. If you have what they want, they will forgo internal biases to make their buying decisions. By focusing on the data and taking out the emotion, it allowed us to see viable prospects up front.

What are your goals for the future in terms of where you want to take your career and your business?

In the future, I could see WeatherCheck offering other products and services to get the insured at a place of homeostasis that is far better than what it is today. If we look at the number of individuals who are underinsured for flood or underinsured for fire–the system really sits at the nexus of being able to drive some of that. We’ll probably see some unique boutique offerings come out of selling new insurance products geared at solving those challenges. We’ll be driving better data to continue to inform decisions. We’d like to empower agents and brokers throughout the country to do an even better job of keeping the insured better informed. Agents and brokers will play an impactful role in continuing to drive value. It is very personal when people have a loss from an event and that personal pipeline is a far better approach than a chatbot or AI.

Q&A with Emily Viner, Guardian Life Insurance

By Kris Maccini, Social Media Director, Triple-I

Triple-I has created an “Insurance Careers Corner” series to highlight trailblazers in insurance and to spread awareness of the career opportunities within the industry.

This month we interviewed Emily Viner at Guardian Life Insurance, who provided us with insights about her career trajectory, how she’s working to build a more inclusive workplace, and her advocacy work helping more women reach management roles at agencies.

Name: Emily Viner

Current Role: VP of Agency Growth & Development

Years at Guardian Life Insurance: 22


Tell us about your current role at Guardian Life. What does a typical day look like for you in this role?

As VP of Agency Growth & Development, I make sure that we hire enough of the right people to serve our communities and that our leadership bench is growing. We’re committed to growing future leaders from within the company.

In a typical day, I act as a bridge between what our field needs–our general agents who own and operate their businesses as partners of the Guardian networkand the home office. A typical day depends on what’s going on in the community. In the last three weeks that’s changed dramatically in what we need to provide to our partners.

As VP of Agency Growth & Development, what is top of mind for you?

Top of mind for me is making sure that we have the capacity to hire enough of the right people, and we’re equipped to hire people from diverse backgrounds–creating workplaces that are inclusive where people feel that they want to be part of that environment.

One of my colleagues years ago called it the greenhouse. Is the greenhouse set to make sure that someone can grow and thrive, and if not, then you’ve got to fix that first.

You began your career as a financial advisor before moving on to the corporate side of the business. What advice would you give to women looking to make a shift in their careers?

I remember that first year was so hard. As an advisor, I was in complete control and in a different environment I didn’t always have that. I would tell all women to say ‘yes’ when you don’t know how. That’s a scary thing, but once you do it, you realize ‘I made it and I’m fine.’

It’s also trusting that you’re competent and that you’ll figure it out.

I read an article years ago that stated women spend a lot of time being competent but not confident. That’s why saying yes when you don’t know how is so important. If you’re taking on a project where you only know 20%–if you fall, you’ll learn, and you’ll move on–that’s how you build confidence.

How did you get that confidence to follow through knowing that you had that skillset?

I spoke at an industry meeting years ago, and during that time, two companies had asked me to join them. At the time my children were young [three and four], and the companies weren’t being flexible. One of the companies offered the idea of me consulting three days a week to help with recruiting and building field leaders, so I just jumped in to do what was best for my family and my children.

I did that for two years before joining Guardian Life. In looking back–the two years I spent consulting–the knowledge that I gained helped me accelerate in the role once I arrived at Guardian. It’s having faith in your ability and what works for the current situation and what you’re looking to build. The perspective of having patience is important. It’s knowing that maybe this is the time that you need to learn something more or different for that next role.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, what are some ways that Guardian Life addresses topics such as equal pay, leadership opportunities, and inclusion efforts? 

We have an amazing executive leadership team that leads by example [CEO Deanna Mulligan and President, Andrew McMahon]. They live our values every day through their actions. We hold ourselves to very high standards, we seek to do the right thing and people count. That transcends to equal pay, equal opportunities, and all our inclusion efforts around hiring to ensure that there’s a diverse pool of candidates for open positions as well as opportunities for internal moves. I’ve seen inclusion programs really accelerate over the last ten years.

We’re living in an uncertain time. Your CEO Deanna Mulligan and President Andrew McMahon have made a public commitment to minimizing business interruptions during COVID-19 and maintain response during the crisis. How has this type of leadership impacted your role directly, and how is it impacting the company overall?

My team feels proud of the communication. There was a work-from-home strategy starting March 10th. The safety of our employees is a priority, as is client communication and services. We were built for this. We got through the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. We got through the great recession. We payed our obligations and still paid the dividends. We’re in the same position to be able to do that today–not just for our employees but for all our clients and consumers across the country.

Our clients are in good hands. We updated our website and communications to clients to let them know they can update their policies and get answers to questions through all our digital platforms. We’ve also provided our field partners with information they can share with their clients on market volatility and what they can do to help calm their fears. With the stock market volatility, the cash value in life insurance is not going to change, [it’s not subject to the same volatility] so there is also reassurance with those decisions.

What are your goals for the future in terms of where you want to take your career?

I’m thinking about how I’m positioning the firm for the future and building up our bench– ultimately grooming my successor. I’d also like to continue to help young women in male dominated industries. I’ve been working towards this for the past 30 years, but there is so much more to do whether it’s in my company or philanthropic/volunteer. It’s important to me to continue this work.