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Insurance Careers Corner: Q&A with Susan Holliday, Senior Advisor, International Finance Corporation and Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar

By Marielle Rodriguez, Social Media and Brand Design Coordinator, 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.

Susan Holliday

March is Women’s History Month, and this month we interviewed Susan Holliday, a Senior Advisor at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank where she focuses on insurtech and insurance for SMEs and women. She is also a non-resident scholar at the Triple-I. Holliday sat down with us to discuss developing trends in insurtech, how technology and innovation can help close the protection gap, and the importance of collaboration in tackling climate risk.

Tell us about your current role at the International Finance Corporation (IFC). How did you fall into a career as an advisor and an investor in insurance?

IFC is the private sector arm of the World Bank. We focus on making investments and advisory work in emerging markets in sectors ranging from infrastructure to banking and insurance and healthcare. I’ve had a 33-year career in the financial services industry, particularly focusing on insurance and more recently fintech. I joined IFC to work on insurance and fintech. I’m currently working within different departments at IFC and at the World Bank and building a board portfolio. I’m also a non-resident scholar for the Triple-I. 

A lot of your work is focused on insurance for women and SMEs. What do you hope to achieve in investing in insurance for women?

Before I joined the IFC in 2015, the company completed research in conjunction with Accenture and AXA about the insurance market for  women. The study found that the insurance market for women could be USD 1.3 trillion globally by 2030 and half of that would be in emerging markets. The research also indicated that women have a better understanding of risk, are very open to insurance, and can be loyal customers and excellent employees in the industry.

After the She for Shield report was published, IFC started advising insurance companies in emerging markets on how to successfully serve women. IFC already had a program called ‘Banking on Women,’ which provided financing for banks to lend to women and women-led SMEs. Whenever we make investments in emerging markets, we are interested in taking an angle that better supports women. 

Can you elaborate on the protection gap between women and men and between people with different financial backgrounds?

If you think about it, the insurance industry has a great history and is hundreds of years old. A lot of products were developed a long time ago when society and family structures were very different from what they’re like now. For example, today there are lots of single women and single parents, and most women work, which was not the case when the products were developed. We also have gig economy workers. The default option has always been to continue to offer products that have been offered for 50-100 years, but they do not necessarily meet the needs of today’s customers, whether they are women or men. 

This is the reason why I like technology and innovation. To close the protection gap, we need to protect the things that people care about and that need to be protected. There has been a mismatch between traditional products and the actual risks people are facing. 

There’s been a report by the Chartered Insurance Institute called “Insuring Women’s Futures” which looked at different times over a lifetime of one person, and it shows where a woman can be treated differently than a man. For example, having time off for maternity leave, having less pension, and living longer. It pointed out all these things that could accumulate and leave a woman being in a much worse position [than men]. Families are no longer a guy who’s working, a stay-at-home woman, and kids. Insurance needs to catch up to reality, and this not only applies to women but all underserved communities. This will not only be a challenge for the industry but also an opportunity to grow. 

As an advisor to insurtech start-ups, what impact do you see these companies making? Are there any recent trends or developments in insurtech and fintech that excite you?

I think insurtech, digital, and innovation are critical. There is no insurance without insurtech. We’re never going to close the protection gap unless we use and utilize new technologies to do it. 

One of the trends is bite-size insurance on demand. For example, instead of buying an insurance policy for a year, you would be able to turn it on and off, which is relevant to gig economy workers, and is popular in developing countries. Some people would rather access [insurance] when they need it.

Another trend is using alternative data to close the protection gap and get insurance to more people. If we just rely on the old sources of data, a lot of people get excluded from the market or get priced out. It may have built-in biases, which were not intended, but may disadvantage women or certain racial groups. The combination of alternative data sources and artificial intelligence is exciting. 

You’re part of the leadership team for Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator. Tell us about your work with the initiative and why you chose to join the team.

An area where the protection gap is big in the U.S. is in natural disasters and climate-related risks. We’ve seen so many things happen in recent years, such as Hurricane Harvey, and most recently, the very cold snowstorms in Texas and the wildfires on the U.S. West Coast. I think this is an extremely important area. It’s something that impacts everybody, regardless of gender, income level, or political identity. 

I particularly like Accelerator, because I think insurance has a bigger role to play in prevention and mitigation, not just about compensation, and I like the approach of bringing different stakeholders together.  

2020 was a historic year for natural catastrophe losses. What is the insurance industry doing to mitigate future losses and to prepare for a world impacted by climate change? What are the industry’s biggest challenges in creating resilience?

First and foremost, making insurance more available and more affordable. For example, there is parametric, index-based insurance, which can be provided at a micro-level and is used in some developing countries.

We need to get involved in longer-term thinking about how we can be more resilient against these risks in the first place. We must think about building towns, cities, and farmland in a way that they will be more resilient against weather losses. It has to do with planning, infrastructure, and it may have to do with changing certain industries.

I would like to see the insurance industry at the table in these discussions with regulators, local and state governments, and with private sectors so that all sides are working together. The industry needs to have a voice and be taken seriously. We need to think about how different parts of society can share the risk of climate-related losses.

Mentoring: Insurance for Success.
Spotlight on Cathy Weatherford

To commemorate Women’s History Month, Scott Holeman, Triple-I’s Media Relations Director, interviewed Cathy Weatherford, the first woman to serve as Insurance Commissioner of Oklahoma.

Like most insurance and financial service professionals, Cathy Weatherford didn’t pick her career. It picked her. Taking advice from her father who served as a state legislator in Oklahoma, Cathy applied for state government jobs where there were a variety of opportunities with health and retirement benefits. She landed at the Oklahoma Insurance Department.

For 16 years, she climbed the department’s ladder while honing her skills in public policy and insurance regulation. She also learned the art of politics while serving as a top aide on a gubernatorial campaign. Soon after, Weatherford landed the job of Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner, the first woman to serve in that role. “That was a ceiling-smashing moment for me,” said Weatherford. “I suddenly became acutely aware of the torch I was carrying for my daughters and for younger women in my state.”

Many of her direct reports at the department were young women. The terms “mentor” and “sponsor” were not common in state government or even the private sector, but Weatherford says she used her role to help younger women and men enhance their professional growth by sharing her unique perspectives, honest feedback and earnest advice.

“Mentoring is about sharing your experiences, suggestions and knowledge,” says Weatherford. “Hold back on trying to push your personal opinions because mentees need to make their own decisions in order to gain confidence and strength. Be a mentor—not a mother. Stay out of relationship and marital advice. Support them in difficult professional moments and celebrate their professional accomplishments.”

After leaving the Oklahoma Insurance Department, Weatherford worked in private industry before being named CEO of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, where she led efforts to modernize insurance regulation. “We moved regulation into a highly efficient and productive process through technology and innovative software solutions,” said Weatherford. “We developed educational credentials for regulators to further professionalize regulatory careers, and we engaged in and play a major role in the international regulatory arena. Most importantly, we proved that state insurance regulation works and does not need federal intervention.”

Her next stop was to rebrand and rejuvenate the National Association for Variable Annuities/NAVA after the financial crisis. As president and CEO of Insured Retirement Solutions (IRI), she moved the association from Reston, VA to Washington, D.C., expanded the role of the association and made it more consumer-facing. She retired from that job in 2019 after 10 years.

In the last 13 years, Weatherford has mentored six young women. One of them is Molly Meek, a Kansas City, MO-based account executive for an insurance brokerage firm. Meek almost left the industry after her first job wasn’t providing the experience she’d hoped. Weatherford encouraged her to try again before switching career paths. “It’s so amazing having Cathy as a mentor,” says Meek. “Having someone I can call who can help explain large organizations and their politics, as well as helping me focus my efforts, is invaluable. That’s not something college prepares you for.”

Weatherford is the author of “Women and Wealth: Inspiring Stories from Real Women on the Path to Financial Success.”

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.

Linda Goldstein: Making A Difference to Help Policyholders

Loretta Worters, Triple-I’s Vice President of Media Relations, contributed this installment of our Women’s History Month series.

When Linda Goldstein joined CSAA Insurance Group in 2013, it was very different from the typical male-controlled companies. What drew her to the insurer was Paula Downey, the first female president and CEO in the organization’s then 100-year history. 

Goldstein, who is the executive vice president of customer experience and marketing for CSAA Insurance Group, noted that when she came on board she was impressed with the number of women in leadership positions.

Linda Goldstein

“It provided a slightly different perspective than a public company led by mostly men,” she said. 

Part of that different perspective was how women were compensated in the organization.  “I’m proud to say the gender pay gap is not an issue at our organization. I hope more companies do an extensive pay equity analysis, the same way we did here, so they can finally close the pay gap,” she said.

Progressive companies like CSAA Insurance Group engage in pay equity analysis to ensure equal pay between employees in similar roles. The objective is to determine that pay inequities are justified by compensable factors, like location and tenure, and not by unjustified factors, like gender or race and it has been a success at the firm.

Goldstein acknowledged that women have been underrepresented in certain areas of the insurance industry.  “There are different functions where you tend to see more men versus women, particularly in leadership roles,” she said, adding, “the insurance industry needs to do a better job of making sure woman are aware of the great opportunities across all of the functions. There is a plethora of jobs out there including innovation, actuary, underwriting, service, claims and marketing.  But the insurance industry needs to promote those opportunities and support women who seek them out,” she said.

As people retire, Goldstein hopes more women will be offered these roles. “Not just from a diversity perspective,” she said, “but from the ability to bring diversity of thought and focus to the business to drive profitable and sustainable growth.”

When asked what she liked best about the insurance industry, Goldstein smiled broadly, “It’s the fact that I know I’m doing something that helps people.  It helps them either be prepared and protect what’s most important to them or to be able to recover from a situation,” she said.  “Being in California and having seen the devastation of the wildfires over the past several years and understanding the stories of our policyholders who have lost everything,” she paused.  “It really does make a difference.”

Click here to read the other stories in our Women’s History Month series.

Barbara Bufkin, an Insurance Maverick

By Loretta L. Worters, Vice President, Media Relations, Insurance Information Institute

When Barbara Bufkin started in the insurance industry nearly four decades ago, she didn’t think about women’s roles.  She started her career as a commercial underwriter, then a casualty facultative underwriter to a reinsurance intermediary.  In fact, in the first five years of her career she had four job changes – unheard of at that time. 

Today, many would say she has exceeded her goals.  She is Chair of the International Board of Governors of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF), directly engaged in the global and national Women in Insurance Conference series, and President of the Association of Professional Insurance Women (APIW). Concurrently, she advocates for the value of the insurance industry as a career of choice in her role as Co-President and Board of Trustee of Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS) and as a keynote speaker on The Power of Purpose in various insurance industry forums. In these initiatives, she has been driving the Big Tent of culture, inclusion, innovation, sponsorship, mentoring talent and the power of networks.

In addition to her Board responsibilities, Bufkin is on the advisory board of ODN, an early round InsurTech. She is Ambassador of The Insurance Supper Club, and member of the Dallas Host Committee for 2020 Women on Corporate Boards. In June 2019, she completed the EY Course: Board Readiness in a Transformative Age and has now taken on a new role as senior advisor to AmWINS Access.

But this success didn’t come easy. Bufkin recognized that there were corporate barriers which she had to learn to navigate.  But through that navigation she learned how to negotiate, a skill greatly needed in the business world.  She had the courage to build the career she envisioned for herself by seeking out mentors whom she trusted. 

Barbara Bufkin, senior advisor, AmWINS Access
chair, Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation

One area Bufkin could identify with was not only having a successful career but balancing that career with children as well as being a caregiver for aging parents; being responsible for a family.   “It was a very… productive time,” she grinned.

Bufkin said it was important now to help build up the industry during a time of rapid replacement of talent.  “For young woman who choose a career in insurance, it’s a great business to be in.  It’s much more secure during cyclical changes and economic downturns.”

Bufkin noted that there is a great need for women’s training. “We need to make sure that women’s voices when they are not in the room are being heard,” she said, adding that “we need to prepare women for executive roles.  Giving women strong coaching to be more conscious of their own capabilities and confidence, to overcome ‘imposter syndrome’ and consider themselves for a position when they may not have felt ready for it.” 

“When I transitioned over to the capital side of the business, I really didn’t know what a glass ceiling was.  When I confronted it, it had to be shattered; I didn’t think of it any other way.” 


Bufkin said that the statistics and studies that are being conducted now are creating a true awareness around the importance of gender equality and pay equality.  “There’s an intentional and committed focus around this,” she said.

“We as women need to be fearless; to accept the challenges and sometimes to understand defeat.  And by doing so, can we stand back up and do it better, bigger, greater and stronger.”

Women’s History Month: Honoring Women in the Insurance Industry

By Loretta L. Worters, Vice President – Media Relations, Insurance Information Institute

Women are advancing throughout the insurance industry. Hard work is one factor behind their success, but so are perseverance, supportive mentors, and willingness to take risks with their careers. 

Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on the work that still needs to be done, but it’s also a time to celebrate the inroads that have been made. The Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I), has created a series of interviews showcasing dynamic women leaders — trailblazers who have built successful careers in the industry. We’ll hear their stories, providing insight on how they made it to the C-suite and their advice to young women just entering insurance. 

Check back to see the interviews by clicking on this link: #womenshistorymonth

Challenges remain

Studies have found that greater gender diversity can help organizations be more innovativeand higher performing. Many female CEOs have led their companies’ stocks to outperform the index in terms of cumulative total returns during their tenures. Some have managed to produce triple- and even quadruple-digit percentage gains.

More specific to the insurance industry, a McKinsey report found that while women outnumber men at entry-level positions, their representation of the workforce is significantly smaller near the top of the organizational chart.

Women of color in insurance hold only 12 percent of entry-level roles and a mere 3 percent of direct-reporting roles to the CEO.  And black, Hispanic, and Asian women altogether make up only 3 percent of the insurance C-suite.

Growing Wages for Women Helped Narrow Gender Pay Gap, Though Women Still Lag Behind Men in Pay

According to PayScale.com women are often undervalued for the work they do, are more likely to hold lower-level, lower-paying jobs, and tend to stagnate in their careers, still making only $0.79 for every dollar made by men in 2019. Moreover, Hired.com’s  State of Wage Inequality in the Workplace found that companies pay women on average 4 percent to as much as 45 percent less than men in the same jobs — and these numbers haven’t changed since the company released its second annual 2017 report. In addition, 60 percent of the time men are offered higher salaries than a woman, for the same role at the same company.  The survey further reveals that of the 61 percent of women who discovered they were being paid less than men at the same role in their company, 16 percent found the difference was at least $20K.

Women’s experiences in the workforce also vary vastly by race.  PayScale.com noted that black and Hispanic women experience even wider pay gaps than white women, start their careers in lower-paying positions, and are less likely than white women to make it to the C-suite.

And disparity in earnings inevitably leads to a disparity in retirement savings, according to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, which has further implications for women, who generally have a longer life expectancy than their male counterparts.

Swiss Re Institute estimates that a 26 percent increase in global GDP in a scenario of labor market gender parity would yield an additional $2.1 trillion in global insurance premiums by 2029. 

How the Industry is Working to Make a Difference

“By focusing on solutions to achieve gender parity, insurers and reinsurers can address a key driver of the widening protection gaps facing individuals, families and societies.”

–Marianne Gilchrist, Head Global & South Asia, Hong Kong, Swiss Re

Insurers are making significant strides to improve gender diversity by creating sponsorship programs and addressing unconscious bias. There is, for example, the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index, which tracks the financial performance of public companies committed to supporting gender equality through policy development, representation, and transparency.The 2020 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index includes 325 companies across 50 industries, including insurance headquartered in 42 countries and regions.

Here are a few of the organizations that are making a tremendous difference:

  • Association of Professional Women is dedicated to encouraging women to embody the future of insurance through participation, progressive education, and engagement with forward thinking industry professionals. 
  • Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) and their Women in Insurance Conference Series, led by pioneer Elizabeth (Betsy) Myatt, vice president and chief program officer of IICF.
  • Women’s Insurance Networking Group (WING) which helps increase awareness through events and are a platform to share skills and knowledge.
  • Women in Insurance Initiative (WII) is a consortium of organizations throughout the insurance industry, which is taking substantive and measurable action by recruiting, mentoring, and sponsoring women to drive equality in career advancement and leadership throughout the insurance industry.