Executive Spotlight

What Working on a Nuclear Submarine Taught Joe Tocco about Teamwork, Talent and Trust

The Navy veteran turned carrier executive discusses his unique introduction to insurance, the risks and challenges facing the industry, and the importance of cultivating talent.
By: | May 16, 2018 • 6 min read

Things are moving fast, and the insurance industry is perpetually challenged to keep up with emerging and evolving risks, advancing technology, and fluctuating market conditions. But companies that take proactive steps to embrace change and make efforts to attract, train and retain the right people will be equipped to succeed no matter what.


Risk & Insurance talked to Joe Tocco, XL Catlin’s Head of North America, about the big issues facing the industry, and how tapping into a broader pool of talent can help drive the innovation carriers need to stay ahead of the curve.

R&I: How did you get your start in the insurance industry?

Joe Tocco: I spent almost nine years in the Navy and got my education there. Towards the end of my career, I was a nuclear field service engineer doing useful life studies on submarines. When I got out of the Navy, that experience afforded me the opportunity to work for Hartford Steam Boiler as a boiler engineer.

After about a year of that, I moved to New York and got connected with Industrial Risk Insurers. I started out there doing boiler inspections and eventually became an account engineer, working side-by-side with the underwriter. That’s when I really started to learn about insurance.

Then the opportunity came up to do property facultative underwriting for Munich Re. It was all tech risk stuff — boiler machine, oil & gas, etc. — so it allowed me to use my experience. I eventually moved to Zurich and ran property for North America and spent about 15 years there before coming to XL Catlin.

R&I: How did your experience in the Navy benefit your career?

JT: I learned a lot about teamwork and leadership. I was stationed on an attack submarine for about five years. The way we would test for any repairs was to go down to test depth and monitor the leak rate. Everything would be cracking and creaking. You quickly realize at any given moment something really bad can happen, and you have to trust that everybody around you is going to know exactly what to do. And that’s not an easy thing to develop, that trust.

Joe Tocco, Head of North America, XL Catlin

For me, I carry that through in life now. It makes you prepared for the unexpected, and when it happens, you better be able to trust the people around you.

I’m about building teams of people that are willing to work together and are willing to go the extra mile. I try to cultivate that trust so that if things go south, we have the team here that’s going to solve the problem and solve it quickly. Getting a team to believe in each other and trust each other, I feel that’s what I bring to the table.

I’m about building teams of people that are willing to work together and are willing to go the extra mile. I try to cultivate that trust so that if things go south, we have the team here that’s going to solve the problem and solve it quickly.

R&I: What are the top challenges facing the insurance industry?

JT: Cyber has everyone’s attention because the industry is constantly trying to keep up and wrap our heads around it, but the risk is always evolving, which creates coverage issues. There’s unintentional coverage that’s embedded in products historically, and there are standalone products. Determining how the two interact when it comes to exposures like cyber-related business interruption and property damage is an ongoing challenge. As an industry, we’re still figuring out how to build meaningful products that will meet clients’ unique needs.


After the natural catastrophes of 2017, I think another big risk challenge is the sheer amount of uninsurable exposure. We tend to think of this as a problem for third-world countries. When they get ravaged by a storm, there is no backstop to help them rebuild. But it’s a problem in the U.S. too.

A typical Fortune 100 risk manager today will say they can transfer around 20 to 25 percent of their risk via an insurance product. Everything else, they have to find other ways to mitigate.
That raises a more systemic problem for the industry — the ability to stay relevant. Alternative capital has changed the playing field quite a bit. The development of models that allow non-traditional players to model a loss and sell insurance at a different price point also adds pressure. The traditional insurance cycle is dead, and traditional carriers have to get smarter and be able to access cheaper and more efficient capacity.

That raises a more systemic problem for the industry — the ability to stay relevant

R&I: How does talent shortage affect the industry’s fight to stay relevant?

JT: In order to innovate, we need to attract more young people with tech skills as well as underwriting talent.

We’ve had a 10 to 20-year gap where the industry has not attracted talented underwriting minds. When I first started in the industry there were great training programs, but most of them have disappeared due to budget cuts.

In recent years, corporations have increased their efforts to reach into academia and introduce the industry to college students, representing insurance as a place where you can build a great career. But we still have an image problem; we have to do more to portray this industry as not just “solid,” but interesting and essential and full of great people.

We are getting better at recruiting though. We’re bringing in some smart people. I often think ‘If I were a kid today, I wouldn’t get hired!”

R&I: Do you think the traditional cycle has been altered?

JT: The pricing challenge is not going to go away. We’re selling products across the industry at a cost that’s not sustainable because there’s too much capital out there to get the price we need, and the losses just keep getting bigger. We have to get more disciplined in our underwriting, and more efficient in our operations across the board. That’s where innovation and Insurtech can help take some cost out of the equation.

R&I: What does the innovation landscape look like right now? How are insurers making efforts to innovate?

JT: Lots of companies are making investments both internally and externally to develop and execute new ideas. We’ve gotten serious about it under Mike McGavick’s watch here in the last four or five years and have taken it to a new level.

In order to innovate, we need to attract more young people with tech skills as well as underwriting talent.

At XL Catlin, it’s an expectation that every day, in addition to your day job, you’re responsible for thinking innovatively and trying to come up with new ways of doing things or improving a product. Several years ago we launched XL Innovate, our joint-venture investment and start-up firm. This group gets pitched new ideas every day, so it gives us a front row seat to watch what’s going on, and then pick and choose where we want to make investments.

We also have a group internal to us called Accelerate that works directly with our business units to leverage new ideas. They quickly vet ideas, match them with the business unit that has a need, and gauge interest. Last year we introduced about 25 new products or services, and this year we’ve launched about a dozen so far.

R&I: What’s appealing to you about working in insurance?

JT: I love being able to solve problems for our clients and build relationships. Some of the people that I’ve met in this industry are some of my very, very dear friends that were business acquaintances at one time.


To get exposure to all these different people from different walks of life and different industries all over the world, and understand a little bit about each one of them, makes every day a new adventure. There’s something new to learn every day. I feel blessed to have been given this opportunity to work in this industry.

R&I: What’s next in your career journey?

JT: XL Catlin was recently acquired by AXA Insurance, and I think that will bring us some additional capital to enable us to move faster. We share a similar long-term vision for what we want to build. I’m personally very excited for the opportunity that it’s going to present to us here in North America particularly, but also for the organization on a whole. And I think that that excitement is very much felt throughout the organization. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance


Kiss Your Annual Renewal Goodbye; On-Demand Insurance Challenges the Traditional Policy

Gig workers' unique insurance needs drive delivery of on-demand coverage.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 6 min read

The gig economy is growing. Nearly six million Americans, or 3.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, now have “contingent” work arrangements, with a further 10.6 million in categories such as independent contractors, on-call workers or temporary help agency staff and for-contract firms, often with well-known names such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

The number of Americans owning a drone is also increasing — one recent survey suggested as much as one in 12 of the population — sparking vigorous debate on how regulation should apply to where and when the devices operate.

Add to this other 21st century societal changes, such as consumers’ appetite for other electronic gadgets and the advent of autonomous vehicles. It’s clear that the cover offered by the annually renewable traditional insurance policy is often not fit for purpose. Helped by the sophistication of insurance technology, the response has been an expanding range of ‘on-demand’ covers.

The term ‘on-demand’ is open to various interpretations. For Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO of pioneering on-demand insurance platform Trōv, it’s about “giving people agency over the items they own and enabling them to turn on insurance cover whenever they want for whatever they want — often for just a single item.”


“On-demand represents a whole new behavior and attitude towards insurance, which for years has very much been a case of ‘get it and forget it,’ ” said Walchek.

Trōv’s mobile app enables users to insure just a single item, such as a laptop, whenever they wish and to also select the period of cover required. When ready to buy insurance, they then snap a picture of the sales receipt or product code of the item they want covered.

Welcoming Trōv: A New On-Demand Arrival

While Walchek, who set up Trōv in 2012, stressed it’s a technology company and not an insurance company, it has attracted industry giants such as AXA and Munich Re as partners. Trōv began the U.S. roll-out of its on-demand personal property products this summer by launching in Arizona, having already established itself in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“Australia and the UK were great testing grounds, thanks to their single regulatory authorities,” said Walchek. “Trōv is already approved in 45 states, and we expect to complete the process in all by November.

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group.” – Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group,” he added.

“But a mass of tectonic societal shifts is also impacting older generations — on-demand cover fits the new ways in which they work, particularly the ‘untethered’ who aren’t always in the same workplace or using the same device. So we see on-demand going into societal lifestyle changes.”

Wooing Baby Boomers

In addition to its backing for Trōv, across the Atlantic, AXA has partnered with Insurtech start-up By Miles, launching a pay-as-you-go car insurance policy in the UK. The product is promoted as low-cost car insurance for drivers who travel no more than 140 miles per week, or 7,000 miles annually.

“Due to the growing need for these products, companies such as Marmalade — cover for learner drivers — and Cuvva — cover for part-time drivers — have also increased in popularity, and we expect to see more enter the market in the near future,” said AXA UK’s head of telematics, Katy Simpson.

Simpson confirmed that the new products’ initial appeal is to younger motorists, who are more regular users of new technology, while older drivers are warier about sharing too much personal information. However, she expects this to change as on-demand products become more prevalent.

“Looking at mileage-based insurance, such as By Miles specifically, it’s actually older generations who are most likely to save money, as the use of their vehicles tends to decline. Our job is therefore to not only create more customer-centric products but also highlight their benefits to everyone.”

Another Insurtech ready to partner with long-established names is New York-based Slice Labs, which in the UK is working with Legal & General to enter the homeshare insurance market, recently announcing that XL Catlin will use its insurance cloud services platform to create the world’s first on-demand cyber insurance solution.

“For our cyber product, we were looking for a partner on the fintech side, which dovetailed perfectly with what Slice was trying to do,” said John Coletti, head of XL Catlin’s cyber insurance team.

“The premise of selling cyber insurance to small businesses needs a platform such as that provided by Slice — we can get to customers in a discrete, seamless manner, and the partnership offers potential to open up other products.”

Slice Labs’ CEO Tim Attia added: “You can roll up on-demand cover in many different areas, ranging from contract workers to vacation rentals.

“The next leap forward will be provided by the new economy, which will create a range of new risks for on-demand insurance to respond to. McKinsey forecasts that by 2025, ecosystems will account for 30 percent of global premium revenue.


“When you’re a start-up, you can innovate and question long-held assumptions, but you don’t have the scale that an insurer can provide,” said Attia. “Our platform works well in getting new products out to the market and is scalable.”

Slice Labs is now reviewing the emerging markets, which aren’t hampered by “old, outdated infrastructures,” and plans to test the water via a hackathon in southeast Asia.

Collaboration Vs Competition

Insurtech-insurer collaborations suggest that the industry noted the banking sector’s experience, which names the tech disruptors before deciding partnerships, made greater sense commercially.

“It’s an interesting correlation,” said Slice’s managing director for marketing, Emily Kosick.

“I believe the trend worth calling out is that the window for insurers to innovate is much shorter, thanks to the banking sector’s efforts to offer omni-channel banking, incorporating mobile devices and, more recently, intelligent assistants like Alexa for personal banking.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.”

As with fintechs in banking, Insurtechs initially focused on the retail segment, with 75 percent of business in personal lines and the remainder in the commercial segment.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.” — Emily Kosick, managing director, marketing, Slice

Those proportions may be set to change, with innovations such as digital commercial insurance brokerage Embroker’s recent launch of the first digital D&O liability insurance policy, designed for venture capital-backed tech start-ups and reinsured by Munich Re.

Embroker said coverage that formerly took weeks to obtain is now available instantly.

“We focus on three main issues in developing new digital business — what is the customer’s pain point, what is the expense ratio and does it lend itself to algorithmic underwriting?” said CEO Matt Miller. “Workers’ compensation is another obvious class of insurance that can benefit from this approach.”

Jason Griswold, co-founder and chief operating officer of Insurtech REIN, highlighted further opportunities: “I’d add a third category to personal and business lines and that’s business-to-business-to-consumer. It’s there we see the biggest opportunities for partnering with major ecosystems generating large numbers of insureds and also big volumes of data.”

For now, insurers are accommodating Insurtech disruption. Will that change?


“Insurtechs have focused on products that regulators can understand easily and for which there is clear existing legislation, with consumer protection and insurer solvency the two issues of paramount importance,” noted Shawn Hanson, litigation partner at law firm Akin Gump.

“In time, we could see the disruptors partner with reinsurers rather than primary carriers. Another possibility is the likes of Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple, with their massive balance sheets, deciding to link up with a reinsurer,” he said.

“You can imagine one of them finding a good Insurtech and buying it, much as Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods gave it entry into the retail sector.” &

Graham Buck is a UK-based writer and has contributed to Risk & Insurance® since 1998. He can be reached at riskletters.com.