Risk Management

The Profession

Q&A with Carolyn Snow, director of risk management for Humana and the 2014 RIMS President.
By: | March 3, 2014 • 3 min read

R3-14p46_Profession.inddIn 2014, Risk & Insurance® is dedicating its back page to Q&As with risk management professionals. Our second installment is with Carolyn Snow, director of risk management for Humana.

R&I: What was your first job?

Property underwriter.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

My employer was consolidating offices.I did not want to relocate again and an opportunity became available at Humana.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

In my career, Jim Bloom, the just-retired CFO of Humana; and from RIMS, former presidents Janice Ochenkowski and Scott Clark; and my fellow board member, Nowell Seaman.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Having an opportunity to work with people at every level of my company, to continue to grow and learn new things, and meeting all of the great people connected to the risk management profession.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

[It’s] doing a better job of proving our value to the success of our companies, and that we do more than manage insurance programs and losses.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

Continuing to do what we are doing right, but to a bigger and broader audience.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

The more sophisticated cyber attacks.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Raised a great daughter.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie: 84 Charing Cross Road, with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. It’s an old movie but [has a] timeless message of friendship. The book that made the greatest impression on me was The Diary of Anne Frank, which I read when I was about her age.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

I love to travel, so it is usually the last place I visited. In the U.S., I love the great parks in Utah; and outside the U.S., my favorite place is Scotland.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

A helicopter ride in Hawaii, which was to go over volcanoes. Helicopters do not glide but fall straight down, and I would never do that again.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why? 

I admire Angela Merkel as a world leader, and Melinda and Bill Gates for their work on behalf of children.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My husband knows, but my friends just know I work at Humana, so they think, “It is something to do with insurance.” They are envious, however, since they know I love my job.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

San Diego is always a personal favorite of mine. Location, location, location — and our members seem to love it too as we always get a great response.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Trattori Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

I am well known for always having a Tab  available at all times. Otherwise, a nice glass of wine, but not chardonnay. I hate chardonnay.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

The evolution of ERM/SRM for risk management and the sophistication of underwriters and products from the insurance industry.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic and why?

Optimistic most days — as I think we have tremendous resources in brain power in this country — but frustrated at the political gridlock.

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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R&I Profile

Achieving Balance

XL Catlin’s Denise Balan stays calm and focused when faced with crisis.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 6 min read

In the high-stress scenario of kidnap or ransom, the first image that comes to mind isn’t necessarily a yoga mat — at least, not for most.

But Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin, who practices yoga every day, would swear by it.

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“I looked at these opposing aspects of my life,” she said. “Yoga is about focus, balance, clarity of intent. In a moment of stress, how do you respond? The more clarity and calmness you maintain, the better positioned you are to provide assistance in moments of crisis.

“Nobody wants to be speaking to a frenetic person when either dealing with a dangerous situation or planning for prevention of a situation,” she added.

“There’s a poem by [Rudyard] Kipling on that,” added Balan’s colleague Ben Tucker. “What it boils down to is: If you can remain calm, you can manage through a crisis a lot better.”

Tucker, who works side by side with Balan as head of U.S. terrorism and political violence, XL Catlin, has seen how yoga influences his colleague.

“The way Denise interacts with stakeholders in this process — she is very professional and calm in the approach she takes.”

Yin and Yang

Sometimes seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected. In Balan’s life, yoga and K&R have become her yin and yang.

She entered the insurance world after earning a juris doctor degree and practicing law for a few years. The switch came, she said, when Balan realized she wasn’t enjoying her time as a commercial litigator.

Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

In her new role, she was able to use her legal background to manage litigation at AIG, where her transition from law to insurance took place. She started her insurance career in the environmental sector.

In a chance meeting in 2007, Balan met with crisis management underwriters who told her about kidnap and ransom products.

She was hooked.

Because of her background in yoga, Balan liked the crisis management side of the job. Being able to bring the calmness and clearness of intent she practiced during yoga into assisting clients in planning for crisis management piqued her interest.

She then joined XL Catlin in July 2013, where she built the K&R team.

As she became more immersed in her field, Balan began to notice something: The principles she learned in yoga were the same principles ex-military and ex-law enforcement practiced when called to a K&R-related crisis.

She said, “They have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.”

“K&R responders have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Many understand yoga to be, in itself, one type of meditation, but yoga actually encompasses a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices. Each is a discipline. Some forms of yoga focus on movement and breathing, others focus on posture and technique. Some yoga is meant to relax the mind and create a sense of calmness; other yoga types make participants sweat.

After having her second child and working full-time, Balan wanted to find something physical and relaxing for herself; a friend suggested yoga. During her first lesson, Balan said she was enamored with it.

“I felt like I’d done it all my life.”

She dove into the philosophy of yoga, adopting the practice into her daily routine. Every morning, whether Balan is in her Long Island home or on a business trip, she pulls out her yoga mat to practice.

“I always travel with my mat,” she said. “Daily practice is the simplest form of connection to routine to maintain my balance — physically and mentally.”

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She said the strangest place she has ever practiced was in Lisbon. She was on a very narrow balcony with a bird feeder swarming with sparrows overhead.

After years of studying and practicing, Balan is considered a yogi — someone who is highly proficient in yoga. She attends annual retreats with her yoga group, where she is able to rejuvenate, ready to tackle any K&R event when she returns.

In 2016, Balan visited Tuscany, Italy, where she learned the practice of yoga nidra, a very deep form of meditation. It’s described as the “going-to-sleep stage” — a type of yoga that brings participants to a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

“It awakens a different part of your brain,” Balan commented. “Orally describing it doesn’t quite do it justice. One has to practice Nidra to fully understand the effect it has on your being.”

Keeping a level head during a crisis is key in their line of business, Tucker said. He can attest to the benefit of having a yogi on board.

“I’ve seen her run table-top exercises where there is this group of people in a room and they run an exercise, a simulation of a kidnap incident. Denise is very committed to what we’re doing,” said Tucker.

“She brings that energy. She doesn’t get flustered by much.”

Building a K&R Program

When Balan joined XL Catlin, she was tasked with creating the K&R team.

Balan during a retreat in Sicily, Italy, 2017

She spent time researching and analyzing what clients would want in their K&R coverage. What stuck out most to Balan was the fact that, in these situations, the decision to purchase kidnap and ransom cover is rarely made because of desire for reimbursement of money.

“I asked why people buy this type of coverage. The answer was for the security responders,” she said.

“These are the people who sit with the family. They’re similar to psychologists or priests,” Balan further explained. “Corporations can afford to pay ransom. They buy [K&R] because it gives them access to these trained and dedicated professionals who not only provide negotiation advice, but actually sit with a victim’s family, engaging deep levels of emotional investment.”

“I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Balan described these responders as people having total clarity of purpose, setting their intentions to resolve a crisis — a practice at the very heart of yoga. She knew XL Catlin’s new kidnap program would put stock in their responders.

“I’ve worked closely with the responders to better understand what they can do for our clientele. These are the people who run into danger — warrior hearts married to dedication to our clients’ best interests.”

But K&R is more than fast-paced crisis and quick thinking; Balan also spent a good deal of time writing the K&R form and getting the company’s resources in order. This was a huge task to tackle when creating the program from the ground up.

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“A lot of my day-to-day is speaking with brokers and finding ways to enhance our product,” she said.

After a few months, she was able to hire the company’s first K&R underwriter. From there, the program has grown. It’s left her feeling professionally rewarded.

“People don’t often get that opportunity to build something up from scratch,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience — rewarding and fun.”

“She brings groups of people together,” said Tucker. “She’s created a positive environment.”

Balan’s yogi nature extends beyond the office walls, too. Her pride and joy, she said, are her kids. And while it may seem like two large parts of her life are opposite in nature, Balan’s achieved balance through her passions.

“[Yoga] has given me the ability to see beyond only one aspect of any situation” she said. “I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” &

Autumn Heisler is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]