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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Report: Manufacturing

More Robots Enter Into Manufacturing Industry

With more jobs utilizing technology advancements, manufacturing turns to cobots to help ease talent gaps.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 6 min read

The U.S. manufacturing industry is at a crossroads.

Faced with a shortfall of as many as two million workers between now and 2025, the sector needs to either reinvent itself by making it a more attractive career choice for college and high school graduates or face extinction. It also needs to shed its image as a dull, unfashionable place to work, where employees are stuck in dead-end repetitive jobs.

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Added to that are the multiple risks caused by the increasing use of automation, sensors and collaborative robots (cobots) in the manufacturing process, including product defects and worker injuries. That’s not to mention the increased exposure to cyber attacks as manufacturers and their facilities become more globally interconnected through the use of smart technology.

If the industry wishes to continue to move forward at its current rapid pace, then manufacturers need to work with schools, governments and the community to provide educational outreach and apprenticeship programs. They must change the perception of the industry and attract new talent. They also need to understand and to mitigate the risks presented by the increased use of technology in the manufacturing process.

“Loss of knowledge due to movement of experienced workers, negative perception of the manufacturing industry and shortages of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and skilled production workers are driving the talent gap,” said Ben Dollar, principal, Deloitte Consulting.

“The risks associated with this are broad and span the entire value chain — [including]  limitations to innovation, product development, meeting production goals, developing suppliers, meeting customer demand and quality.”

The Talent Gap

Manufacturing companies are rapidly expanding. With too few skilled workers coming in to fill newly created positions, the talent gap is widening. That has been exacerbated by the gradual drain of knowledge and expertise as baby boomers retire and a decline in technical education programs in public high schools.

Ben Dollar, principal, Deloitte Consulting

“Most of the millennials want to work for an Amazon, Google or Yahoo, because they seem like fun places to work and there’s a real sense of community involvement,” said Dan Holden, manager of corporate risk and insurance, Daimler Trucks North America. “In contrast, the manufacturing industry represents the ‘old school’ where your father and grandfather used to work.

“But nothing could be further from the truth: We offer almost limitless opportunities in engineering and IT, working in fields such as electric cars and autonomous driving.”

To dispel this myth, Holden said Daimler’s Educational Outreach Program assists qualified organizations that support public high school educational programs in STEM, CTE (career technical education) and skilled trades’ career development.

It also runs weeklong technology schools in its manufacturing facilities to encourage students to consider manufacturing as a vocation, he said.

“It’s all essentially a way of introducing ourselves to the younger generation and to present them with an alternative and rewarding career choice,” he said. “It also gives us the opportunity to get across the message that just because we make heavy duty equipment doesn’t mean we can’t be a fun and educational place to work.”

Rise of the Cobot

Automation undoubtedly helps manufacturers increase output and improve efficiency by streamlining production lines. But it’s fraught with its own set of risks, including technical failure, a compromised manufacturing process or worse — shutting down entire assembly lines.

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More technologically advanced machines also require more skilled workers to operate and maintain them. Their absence can in turn hinder the development of new manufacturing products and processes.

Christina Villena, vice president of risk solutions, The Hanover Insurance Group, said the main risk of using cobots is bodily injury to their human coworkers. These cobots are robots that share a physical workspace and interact with humans. To overcome the problem of potential injury, Villena said, cobots are placed in safety cages or use force-limited technology to prevent hazardous contact.

“With advancements in technology, such as the Cloud, there are going to be a host of cyber and other risks associated with them.” — David Carlson, U.S. manufacturing and automobile practice leader, Marsh

“Technology must be in place to prevent cobots from exerting excessive force against a human or exposing them to hazardous tools or chemicals,” she said. “Traditional robots operate within a safety cage to prevent dangerous contact. Failure or absence of these guards has led to injuries and even fatalities.”

The increasing use of interconnected devices and the Cloud to control and collect data from industrial control systems can also leave manufacturers exposed to hacking, said David Carlson, Marsh’s U.S. manufacturing and automobile practice leader. Given the relatively new nature of cyber as a risk, however, he said coverage is still a gray area that must be assessed further.

“With advancements in technology, such as the Cloud, there are going to be a host of cyber and other risks associated with them,” he said. “Therefore, companies need to think beyond the traditional risks, such as workers’ compensation and product liability.”

Another threat, said Bill Spiers, vice president, risk control consulting practice leader, Lockton Companies, is any malfunction of the software used to operate cobots. Then there is the machine not being able to cope with the increased workload when production is ramped up, he said.

“If your software goes wrong, it can stop the machine working or indeed the whole manufacturing process,” he said. “[Or] you might have a worker who is paid by how much they can produce in an hour who decides to turn up the dial, causing the machine to go into overdrive and malfunction.”

Potential Solutions

Spiers said risk managers need to produce a heatmap of their potential exposures in the workplace attached to the use of cobots in the manufacturing process, including safety and business interruption. This can also extend to cyber liability, he said.

“You need to understand the risk, if it’s controllable and, indeed, if it’s insurable,” he said. “By carrying out a full risk assessment, you can determine all of the relevant issues and prioritize them accordingly.”

By using collective learning to understand these issues, Joseph Mayo, president, JW Mayo Consulting, said companies can improve their safety and manufacturing processes.

“Companies need to work collaboratively as an industry to understand this new technology and the problems associated with it.” — Joseph Mayo, president, JW Mayo Consulting

“Companies need to work collaboratively as an industry to understand this new technology and the problems associated with it,” Mayo said. “They can also use detective controls to anticipate these issues and react accordingly by ensuring they have the appropriate controls and coverage in place to deal with them.”

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Manufacturing risks today extend beyond traditional coverage, like workers’ compensation, property, equipment breakdown, automobile, general liability and business interruption, to new risks, such as cyber liability.

It’s key to use a specialized broker and carrier with extensive knowledge and experience of the industry’s unique risks.

Stacie Graham, senior vice president and general manager, Liberty Mutual’s national insurance central division, said there are five key steps companies need to take to protect themselves and their employees against these risks. They include teaching them how to use the equipment properly, maintaining the same high quality of product and having a back-up location, as well as having the right contractual insurance policy language in place and plugging any potential coverage gaps.

“Risk managers need to work closely with their broker and carrier to make sure that they have the right contractual controls in place,” she said. “Secondly, they need to carry out on-site visits to make sure that they have the right safety practices and to identify the potential claims that they need to mitigate against.” &

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]