Risk Management

The Profession

Drawn to the industry since college, Elisa Atwell, the risk manager for a Fortune 500 company, is at the pinnacle of her career.
By: | February 20, 2017 • 4 min read


R&I What was your first job?

I started my career in property broking at Aon in New York. I spent five years there and [then] relocated to Tampa for one year as a Lean Six Sigma facilitator.

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

I studied risk management and insurance in college. As a freshman at Florida State University, I wanted to attend the business school and secure accounting and finance degrees. On a whim, I took the Introduction to Risk Management course and the professor suggested that I take her next course, Employee Benefits. If I didn’t like it, I could use it as an elective toward my other majors. I knew very quickly that risk management was the right career for me, and I never looked back! I was very involved in the RIM program and Insurance Society at Florida State, and was even awarded a scholarship to the PRIMA conference in Las Vegas my senior year.

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

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The risk management community is wonderful at encouraging networking and professional development. There are many designations, conferences and continuing education opportunities available to risk managers at all levels. The community has also done a good job of elevating the profile of risk management as a strategic finance discipline both in the industry and within companies.

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

Talent retention and recruitment of new college graduates. A handful of colleagues that I started with in the industry have left insurance for other careers in the finance sector. There were also very few entry level risk management positions available when I graduated in 2007, although I have seen improvements in this area over the last 10 years.

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

I would say with respect to the overall insurance market, for better or for worse, there really hasn’t been much change. I started in the industry at the beginning of the financial crisis, and since then the insurance market has been relatively stable.

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

Chubb. In my opinion, the ACE/Chubb acquisition was seamless. Both companies did a great job of communicating the changes in a clear and professional manner. I also enjoyed working with both carriers and members of the various underwriting teams prior to the acquisition.

R&I Who is your mentor and why?

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I have had a few mentors … in different stages of my career development. Dr. Cole and Dr. McCullough at Florida State University helped me with internships, interview skills, career placement and preparing my resume. Vincent Flood, Joan Jakowski and Janine Smith at Aon guided me through my first years in the industry, and I still seek advice from all three.

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

Getting to the position that I am currently in. I have worked, since college, with the goal of becoming a risk manager. I am proud to have advanced my career to this level.

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

Malala Yousafzai. Her life story is incredible and inspiring. As such a young girl she had the strength to stand up for what she believed to be right. Not only has she been strong enough to persevere through all that she has had to endure, but she has actually thrived and continued her mission with the Malala Fund. Worldwide access to education should be a basic human right and the work she is doing to improve these circumstances for girls is unparalleled.

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

This is a tough question since I love travelling and trying new restaurants. But, Eleven Madison Park [in New York City] was a memorable treat; I went for lunch and have been meaning to go back for dinner. The service is exceptional and the menu is creative and fun.

I would say with respect to the overall insurance market, for better or for worse, there really hasn’t been much change. I started in the industry at the beginning of the financial crisis, and since then the insurance market has been relatively stable.

R&I What is your favorite drink?

The Stoli Doli from the Capital Grille is my favorite cocktail (paired with a Kona crusted filet, of course).

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

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Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui, Hawaii. My husband and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon and we were surprised that the beach consisted of smooth lava rocks instead of fluffy, powdery sand. We had never seen anything like it.

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

Driving to work every day on I-95. Joking aside, zip lining and rappelling in Belize.

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

The partnership and relationships that I have built with my brokers, insurance carriers and team members. They are wonderful to work with and I am thankful that I am surrounded by talented, thoughtful people. We all work together with a common goal of reducing risk and losses.

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

Most people think that I work in personal lines insurance and I have had family members ask me to review their home and auto policies.

The views represented here are the views of Elisa Atwell, not those of her employer.




Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 RIMS

Cyber Threat Will Get More Difficult

Companies should focus on response, resiliency and recovery when it comes to cyber risks.
By: | April 19, 2017 • 2 min read
Topics: Cyber Risks | RIMS

“The sky is not falling” when it comes to cyber security, but the threat is a growing challenge for companies.

“I am not a cyber apocalyptic kind of guy,” said Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, who currently is a principal at the Chertoff Group, a security consultancy.

Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and NSA, and principal, The Chertoff Group

“There are lots of things to worry about in the cyber domain and you don’t have to be apocalyptic to be concerned,” said Hayden prior to his presentation at a Global Risk Forum sponsored by Lockton on Sunday afternoon on the geopolitical threats facing the United States.

“We have only begun to consider the threat as it currently exists in the cyber domain.”

Hayden said cyber risk is equal to the threat times your vulnerability to the threat, times the consequences of a successful attack.

At present, companies are focusing on the vulnerability aspect, and responding by building “high walls and deep moats” to keep attackers out, he said. If you do that successfully, it will prevent 80 percent of the attackers.

“It’s all about making yourself a tougher target than the next like target,” he said.

But that still leaves 20 percent vulnerability, so companies need to focus on the consequences: It’s about response, resiliency and recovery, he said.

The range of attackers is vast, including nations that have used cyber attacks to disrupt Sony (the North Koreans angry about a movie), the Sands Casino (Iranians angry about the owner’s comments about their country), and U.S. banks (Iranians seeking to disrupt iconic U.S. institutions after the Stuxnet attack on their nuclear program), he said.

“You don’t have to offend anybody to be a target,” he said. “It may be enough to be iconic.”

The world order that has existed for the past 75 years “is melting away” and the world is less stable.

And no matter how much private companies do, it may not be enough.

“The big questions in cyber now are law and policy,” Hayden said. “We have not yet decided as a people what we want or will allow our government to do to keep us safe in the cyber domain.”

The U.S. government defends the country’s land, sea and air, but when it comes to cyber, defenses have been mostly left to private enterprises, he said.

“I don’t know that we have quite decided the balance between the government’s role and the private sector’s role,” he said.

As for the government’s role in the geopolitical challenges facing it, Hayden said he has seen times that were more dangerous, but never more complicated.

The world order that has existed for the past 75 years “is melting away” and the world is less stable, he said.

Nations such as North Korea, Iran, Russia and Pakistan are “ambitious, brittle and nuclear.” The Islamic world is in a clash between secular and religious governance, and China, which he said is “competitive and occasionally confrontational” is facing its own demographic and economic challenges.

“It’s going to be a tough century,” Hayden said.

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