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

Cyber Liability

Fresh Worries for Boards of Directors

New cyber security regulations increase exposure for directors and officers at financial institutions.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 6 min read

Boards of directors could face a fresh wave of directors and officers (D&O) claims following the introduction of tough new cybersecurity rules for financial institutions by The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS).

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Prompted by recent high profile cyber attacks on JPMorgan Chase, Sony, Target, and others, the state regulations are the first of their kind and went into effect on March 1.

The new rules require banks, insurers and other financial institutions to establish an enterprise-wide cybersecurity program and adopt a written policy that must be reviewed by the board and approved by a senior officer annually.

The regulation also requires the more than 3,000 financial services firms operating in the state to appoint a chief information security officer to oversee the program, to report possible breaches within 72 hours, and to ensure that third-party vendors meet the new standards.

Companies will have until September 1 to comply with most of the new requirements, and beginning February 15, 2018, they will have to submit an annual certification of compliance.

The responsibility for cybersecurity will now fall squarely on the board and senior management actively overseeing the entity’s overall program. Some experts fear that the D&O insurance market is far from prepared to absorb this risk.

“The new rules could raise compliance risks for financial institutions and, in turn, premiums and loss potential for D&O insurance underwriters,” warned Fitch Ratings in a statement. “If management and directors of financial institutions that experience future cyber incidents are subsequently found to be noncompliant with the New York regulations, then they will be more exposed to litigation that would be covered under professional liability policies.”

D&O Challenge

Judy Selby, managing director in BDO Consulting’s technology advisory services practice, said that while many directors and officers rely on a CISO to deal with cybersecurity, under the new rules the buck stops with the board.

“The common refrain I hear from directors and officers is ‘we have a great IT guy or CIO,’ and while it’s important to have them in place, as the board, they are ultimately responsible for cybersecurity oversight,” she said.

William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting, Argo Pro

William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting at Argo Pro, said that unknown cyber threats, untested policy language and developing case laws would all make it more difficult for the D&O market to respond accurately to any such new claims.

“Insurers will need to account for the increased exposures presented by these new regulations and charge appropriately for such added exposure,” he said.

Going forward, said Larry Hamilton, partner at Mayer Brown, D&O underwriters also need to scrutinize a company’s compliance with the regulations.

“To the extent that this risk was not adequately taken into account in the first place in the underwriting of in-force D&O policies, there could be unanticipated additional exposure for the D&O insurers,” he said.

Michelle Lopilato, Hub International’s director of cyber and technology solutions, added that some carriers may offer more coverage, while others may pull back.

“How the markets react will evolve as we see how involved the department becomes in investigating and fining financial institutions for noncompliance and its result on the balance sheet and dividends,” she said.

Christopher Keegan, senior managing director at Beecher Carlson, said that by setting a benchmark, the new rules would make it easier for claimants to make a case that the company had been negligent.

“If stock prices drop, then this makes it easier for class action lawyers to make their cases in D&O situations,” he said. “As a result, D&O carriers may see an uptick in cases against their insureds and an easier path for plaintiffs to show that the company did not meet its duty of care.”

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One area that regulators and plaintiffs might seize upon is the certification compliance requirement, according to Rob Yellen, executive vice president, D&O and fiduciary liability product leader, FINEX at Willis Towers Watson.

“A mere inaccuracy in a certification could result in criminal enforcement, in which case it would then become a boardroom issue,” he said.

A big grey area, however, said Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader for cyber risk at Starr Companies, is determining if a violation is a cyber or management liability issue in the first place.

“The complication arises when a company only has D&O coverage, but it doesn’t have a cyber policy and then they have to try and push all the claims down the D&O route, irrespective of their nature,” he said.

“Insurers, on their part, will need to account for the increased exposures presented by these new regulations and charge appropriately for such added exposure.” — William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting, Argo Pro

Jim McCue, managing director at Aon’s financial services group, said many small and mid-size businesses may struggle to comply with the new rules in time.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve and a lot of work in terms of preparedness and the implementation of a highly detailed cyber security program, risk assessment and response plan, all by September 2017,” he said.

The new regulation also has the potential to impact third parties including accounting, law, IT and even maintenance and repair firms who have access to a company’s information systems and personal data, said Keegan.

“That can include everyone from IT vendors to the people who maintain the building’s air conditioning,” he said.

New Models

Others have followed New York’s lead, with similar regulations being considered across federal, state and non-governmental regulators.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Cyber-security Taskforce has proposed an insurance data security model law that establishes exclusive standards for data security and investigation, and notification of a breach of data security for insurance providers.

Once enacted, each state would be free to adopt the new law, however, “our main concern is if regulators in different states start to adopt different standards from each other,” said Alex Hageli, director, personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“It would only serve to make compliance harder, increase the cost of burden on companies, and at the end of the day it doesn’t really help anybody.”

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Richard Morris, partner at law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP, said companies need to review their current cybersecurity program with their chief technology officer or IT provider.

“Companies should assess whether their current technology budget is adequate and consider what investments will be required in 2017 to keep up with regulatory and market expectations,” he said. “They should also review and assess the adequacy of insurance policies with respect to coverages, deductibles and other limitations.”

Adam Hamm, former NAIC chair and MD of Protiviti’s risk and compliance practice, added: “With New York’s new cyber regulation, this is a sea change from where we were a couple of years ago and it’s soon going to become the new norm for regulating cyber security.” &

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]