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IICF hosts 3rd Women in Insurance Global Conference

Elizabeth "Betsy" Myatt has been the executive director of the Northeast Division of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation and leader the IICF Women in Insurance Conference Series. (Photo: Marget Long)

With a theme of “The Power of Diverse Thought and Innovation,” the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) hosted the third Women in Insurance Global Conference in New York City June 7–9.

Related: Why diversity matters

Nearly 600 attendees from around the world gathered at the Sheraton New York Times Square hotel to discuss ideas around diversity, inclusion and innovation in the insurance industry. The conference alternated between large general sessions and smaller breakouts, allowing attendees the opportunity to share their thoughts in a variety of settings.

Lemonade CEO and Co-Founder Daniel Schreiber. (Photo: Marget Long)

The conference opened on June 7 with a welcome by James Romanelli, Northeastern zone officer, CNA, followed by Daniel Schreiber, CEO and co-founder of Lemonade, the online insurance company that donates money left after paying claims to causes its customers select. Schreiber said that the company’s business model creates a community and that people selecting the same cause form a virtual cohort. He expressed the hope that elements of his business model will be contagious, noting that “Diversity is not our key message. Social impact is. Diversity is a byproduct.”

Related: 3 reasons Lemonade’s CEO wants to disrupt the insurance industry

Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, senior vice president, chief diversity & inclusion officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance. (Photo: Marget Long)

The first day was wrapped up by Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, senior vice president, chief diversity & inclusion officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance, celebrating her birthday by talking about ways to engage men as allies in diversity initiatives. Liberty Mutual began its diversity initiative by involving men in “listening sessions,” giving them an opportunity to open the conversation in a nonthreatening way.

Related: 4 diversity challenges stifling insurance innovation

Megan Thomas, chief underwriting officer - liability lines, AIG. (Photo: Marget Long)

Benefits of diversity – by the numbers

Victoria Budson, founder and executive director, Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP), Harvard Kennedy School of Government, kicked off the second day of the conference by explaining the organizational benefits of diversity and gender equality. WAPPP’s research and data on the ways corporate profitability can be improved with a more diverse workforce are regularly relied on by public, private and government organizations.

Pam Jeffords, partner at Mercer, and Bo Young Lee, global diversity and inclusion leader at Marsh LLC and Guy Carpenter, provided detailed facts and statistics demonstrating the positive impact of innovation and diversity. They used data on diversity to communicate effectively with leadership. “Align diversity and inclusion with the company’s mission and business strategy imperative,” Jeffords and Lee urged the audience.

Megan Thomas, chief underwriting officer - liability lines, AIG, spoke about her experiences, first as a lawyer in Queensland, Australia, and New York, then as an insurance professional in New York, Bermuda and Australia. Thomas demonstrated that the issues of diversity and inclusion span the globe, and the insurance industry has to think on a worldwide scale. But women also have to be open to change and curious, seeking out opportunities, not just waiting for them.

Paula Downey, president and CEO of CSAA Insurance Group. (Photo: Marget Long)

Bringing the conversation back to insurance technology and innovation, Paula Downey, president and CEO of CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA insurer, provided an overview of the steps CSAA took to transform its internal processes and upgrade its technology across the organization. The five major projects were conducted simultaneously, Downey said, “because no one told us we couldn’t do that.” All the projects were concluded on time and on budget.

The breakout sessions discussed personal branding, unconscious bias and what to do about it, attracting and keeping talent, and leadership through change.

Enya He, regional director, South Central U.S. for Lloyd’s America, Inc. leading a discussion with Xin Li, founder and CEO of Ding Ran Technology, Inc., and Yuhan Li, co-founder and vice president for product, Happy Life Tech Insurance. (Photo: Marget Long)

Innovation is global

Demonstrating that innovation in insurance technology is global, Enya He, regional director, South Central U.S. for Lloyd’s America, Inc., led a discussion with Xin Li, founder and CEO of Ding Ran Technology, Inc., and Yuhan Li, co-founder and vice president for product, Happy Life Tech Insurance, on the role of female entrepreneurs in China. Ding Ran, based in Shenzhen, China, provides usage-based insurance actuarial pricing modeling services to insurance carriers as well as a platform of vehicle telematics that connects and consolidates the data from car manufacturers and other stakeholders in the auto industry. Happy Life Tech, a start-up company in China, is focused on artificial intelligence and big data platforms for the Chinese health insurance industry. Yuhan Li stressed that the leader’s responsibility is ultimately to lead, whether the person is male or female.

A. Morris Tooker, head of the Middle Market for The Hartford, discussed the way we see bias in insurance underwriting, highlighting factors that most people aren’t aware of, such as outcome bias and familiarity bias. He noted that people have hardwired biases that can result in a sub-optimum outcome. “If you’re aware of your reaction, you can remedy unconscious bias,” he said. “Diagnose before treating.”

Attendees participate in a boundary spanning exercise. (Photo: Marget Long)

The audience then participated in a boundary-spanning exercise, led by Rebecca Braitling and Pohee Chiu and Suzanne Covelli-Buntley, the founding partners of InspiraWork LLC. The exercise helped attendees see how they need to break down invisible barriers, often created by work silos, to help everyone succeed.

Jennifer Brown, head of her own strategic leadership and diversity consulting firm, wrapped up the day’s sessions by talking about ways the audience could help foster healthier, more productive cultures in their own workplaces. She introduced the conference attendees to the concept of “covering,” that is, deliberately downplaying a known stigmatized identity through appearance, affiliation, advocacy or association. “Everyone has a diversity story of some kind,” Brown told the audience, noting that “covering” can include hiding information about your age or religious affiliation, not just sexual orientation.

Closing keynote Ivy Kusinga, senior vice president, chief culture officer, Chubb. (Photo: Marget Long)

Closing day

Pascal Finette, vice president SU Labs, entrepreneurship chair & global evangelist at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank, discussed exponential thinking, the ways it can be useful in the insurance industry and what it might mean for the future of the industry. “Technology for the sake of technology is meaningless,” said Finette, urging the audience to keep the big picture in mind.

Barbara Bufkin, an insurance and innovation executive, led the panel discussion on the power of diverse thought and innovation, which included Jill Beggs head of new strategic markets for Munich Reinsurance North America, Inc.; Russina Sgoureva, senior vice president and head of Business Technology Transformation for Personal Lines, Farmers Insurance; and Sarah Street, executive vice president for Strategy & Innovation at XL Catlin. The panel emphasized the value of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, as well as the importance of taking time to disconnect and just think.

The last panel of the conference, led by Barry Franklin, discussed the interconnectedness of risk and the biggest risks as identified at the World Economic Forum. Panelist Robert Bauer, managing director, Commercial Strategy and Innovation for AIG, observed that the biggest change from a risk management perspective is that we now have the power to know more about more things with more certainty than ever. Rainer Sachs, head of emerging risks and reporting, Integrated Risk Management for Munich Re, noted that, “Technology is neither good nor bad; it’s how people apply technology that produces good or bad effects.” Uncertainty comes from complexity, Kurt Karl said.  

Ivy Kusinga, senior vice president, chief culture officer, for Chubb, brought the conference to a close asking “Where do we go from here?” Kusinga predicted that “Women will be the key architects of change in this industry.” She also observed that women and people of color feel as though they’re moving against a headwind that’s invisible to others, but a real force. In Kusinga’s view, the unwritten rules of meritocracy may prevent our industry from embracing diversity. “Allow your back to become a bridge to others,” Kusinga said. “We are already a thriving industry. Imagine our impact if we optimized all talent.”

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