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Risk Management

Seven Questions for Michael Liebowitz

Is risk management becoming too specialized? NYU's risk executive ponders that and other questions on risk management.
By: | March 13, 2017 • 4 min read
Topics: ERM | Risk Managers

Michael Liebowitz, senior director of insurance and enterprise risk management at New York University, has come a long way from his very first job as a paperboy for the “Long Island Press.”

He came to the risk management profession in a “circuitous route,” he said, working in outside and inside claims before the “really bad underwriting” at a former company caused his department to become so “inundated with claims,” that he opted to leave the business.

Michael Liebowitz, senior director of insurance and enterprise risk management, New York University

He joined NYU Medical Center as an insurance specialist, handling primarily property, workers’ comp and medical malpractice, and later become director of risk management at NYU. In 2006, he served as president of RIMS.

I think the biggest thing I am proud of is that probably every place I’ve been employed, I’ve been able to go into the organization and create a risk management program where there wasn’t one, or identify deficiencies in risk management programs that had been in place and improve them,” he said.

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As for emerging risks, it’s cyber risk that most concerns Liebowitz. “Because the bad guys are always one step ahead of us. We are always playing catch up.”

These seven questions explore some of his thoughts on the risk management profession:

What is the risk management community doing right?

That’s a tough question. Risk management has now been fragmented. We have traditional risk management based upon an insurance model with loss control and safety and claim. Then you have enterprise risk management and looking at strategic risks. We are becoming subspecialists within a specialty.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad yet. It’s something that is still developing. There are very few people that have experience in all three disciplines.

What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

We are going from generalists to specialists and subspecialists. And I just don’t know if it’s good. It’s too early on to come up with a definitive opinion. It’s a concern. I have all of that experience so it doesn’t bother me, but a person coming out of school, they don’t know what they are getting into. We are siloing ourselves. I don’t think anybody sees it coming.

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

I don’t think the insurance industry has changed all that much since I entered 30-odd years ago. We still don’t have contract certainty. They still do things the old way. Instead of mailing a spreadsheet, we are emailing a spreadsheet and sending the same information to multiple different carriers and filling out multiple different applications.

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One way they have changed is they have decided that shareholder value is in some instances more important than insured interests. They put their shareholders before their insureds. This is a service industry; provide me with service. I am paying for it. That’s the negative.

The good side is they are putting more emphasis on loss control, loss reduction and claims identification and mitigation activities. They are trying to get ahead of the curve but those services don’t run that deep. They are very superficial. Some carriers don’t even understand what the four corners of their policy insure and I will leave it at that.

Was the contingent commission controversy overblown?

Yes. The way brokers get compensated hasn’t changed. What has changed is they are now telling you what they are making on your book of business and they are obligated to do that versus you having to ask them.

I would flip it around and say if you were really a diligent risk manager, you would have asked the question: What is the true cost of risk. And to get the true cost of risk, you have to know what you are paying your broker. It’s all about transparency and being smart enough to ask the question.

What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

China. It’s just so foreign from a Westerner’s point of view. Shanghai is a very modern city but you can walk two blocks in any direction and contrast it with old China. Chinese food there isn’t Chinese food here. From a food perspective, it’s very different. Culturally, it’s very different. As much as I love China and don’t mind going there – I’ve been there seven or eight times – it’s very difficult to wrap my head around it.

What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Cycling on the street. It’s dangerous between the potholes and cars and sand and leaves. You need to have eyes in the back of your head.

What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I like everything I do. It’s the variety, trying to solve problems and to make my clients able to do their business by protecting not only my client but the larger organization from the business some of them might engage in.

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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Risk Management

The Profession

The risk manager for Boyd Gaming Corp. says curiosity keeps him engaged, and continual education will be the key to managing emerging risks.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

I was trained as an accountant, worked in public accounting and became a CPA. Being comfortable with numbers is helpful in my current role, and obviously, the language of business is financial statements, so it helps.

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

Working in finance in the corporate environment included the review of budgets and the analysis of business expenses. I quickly found the area of benefits and insurance — and how “accepting risk” impacted those expenses — to be fascinating. I asked a lot of questions. Be careful what you ask for — I soon found myself responsible for those insurance areas and haven’t looked back!

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

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I have found the risk management community to be a close-knit group, whether that’s industry professionals, risk managers with other companies or support organizations like RIMS and other regional groups. The expertise of the carriers and specialty vendors to develop new products and programs, along with the appropriate education, will continue to be of key importance to companies going forward.

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

As I’m sure many in the insurance field would agree, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 changed our world and our industry. It was a particularly intense time and certainly a baptism by fire for people like me who were relatively new to the industry. This event clearly accelerated the switch to the acceptance of more risk, which impacted mitigation strategies and programs.

Bob Berglund, vice president, benefits and insurance, Boyd Gaming Corp.

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

The fast-paced threat that cyber security represents today. Our company, like so many companies, is reliant upon computers, software and IT expertise in our everyday existence. This new risk has forged an even stronger relationship between risk management and our IT department as we work together to address this growing threat.

Additionally, the shooting event in Las Vegas in 2017 will have an enduring impact on firms that host large gatherings and arena-style events all over the world, and our company is no exception.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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With the various types of insurance programs we employ, I have been fortunate to work with most of the large national and international carriers — all of whom employ talented people with a vast array of resources.

R&I:  How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

We use brokers for many of our professional coverages, such as property, casualty, D&O and cyber. We are self-insured under our health plans, with close to 25,000 members. We tend to manage those programs internally and utilize direct relationships with carriers and specialty vendors to tailor a plan that works best for team members.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I have been fortunate to have worked alongside some smart and insightful people during my career. A key piece of advice, said in many different ways, has served me well. Simply stated: “Seek to understand before being understood.”

What this has meant to me is try everything you can to learn about something, new or old. After you have gained this knowledge, you can begin to access and maybe suggest changes or adjustments. Being curious has always been a personal enjoyment for me in business, and I have found people are more than willing to lend a hand, offer information and advice — you just need to ask. Building those alliances and foundations of knowledge on a subject matter makes tackling the future more exciting and fruitful.

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

Our benefit health plan is much more than handing out an insurance card at the beginning of the year. We encourage our team members and their families to learn about their personal health, get engaged in a variety of health and wellness programs and try to live life in the healthiest possible way. The result of that is literally hundreds of testimonials from our members every year on how they have lost weight, changed their lifestyle and gotten off medications. It is extremely rewarding and is a testament to [our] close-knit corporate culture.

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

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Some will remember the volcano eruption in Iceland in spring of 2010. I was just finishing a week of meetings in London with Lloyd’s syndicates related to our property insurance placement when the airspace in England and most of northern Europe was shut down — no airplanes in or out! Flights were ultimately canceled for the following five days. Therefore, with a few other stranded visitors like myself, we experimented and tried out new restaurants every day until we could leave. It was a very interesting time!

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

I am originally from Canada, and I played ice hockey from the time I was four years old up until quite recently. Too many surgeries sadly forced my recent retirement.

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

That’s a funny one … I am a CPA working in the casino industry, doing insurance and risk management, so neighbors and acquaintances think I either do tax returns or they think I’m a blackjack dealer at the casino!




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