Risk Insider: Tony Boobier

The Value of Experience

By: | May 23, 2017 • 3 min read
Tony Boobier is an experienced independent consultant focusing on insurance analytics. An international speaker, commentator and published author, he lies awake at night thinking about the convergence of insurance and technology. He can be reached at [email protected]

Over dinner I was discussing the importance of experience with professional (and senior) insurance colleagues. We spoke about new business models, blockchain, cognitive analytics, and how AI would ultimately change our industry and our professions.


One of them raised his eyes to the ceiling. “I don’t know if experience matters any longer,” he said, and he had a point. “After all,” he went on, “aren’t we increasingly looking at the way the insurance industry operates, and tearing up the rule book?”

As Thomas Edison put it, we can keep to the rule book, or we can make progress.

I wondered afterwards about what my colleague had said, especially about the topic of experience. When I look at my own CV covering nearly four decades, it’s as if the experience gained over the first three decades is no longer relevant. Isn’t it only the most recent stuff that matters? And who really cares about hard-earned professional qualifications based on an old-school syllabus?

If knowledge is that which we believe in, then isn’t experience how we apply that knowledge?

I’m not the only one to have thought about the issue of experience. As distinct from knowledge, experience seems to be something much deeper. If knowledge is that which we believe in, then isn’t experience how we apply that knowledge?

Let’s have a quick history lesson. Knowledge, according to the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), comprises three levels: intuition, demonstrable knowledge (where we make comparisons), and faith or opinion, which Locke accepts isn’t really knowledge at all but only something we believe in.

(By the way, Locke was around about the same time that the insurance industry as we now know it was first conceived in the coffee shops of London, but that doesn’t make him an insurance expert.)

Nowadays we often tend to equate knowledge mainly with academic and other professional qualifications, which seems to miss at least some of the point. In London, cab drivers who learn the streets of London and can navigate without Sat Nav are said to have “the knowledge.”

Locke also had something to say about experience: If we imagine the mind to be a blank piece of paper, experience is where knowledge comes from. Put another way, he said that all knowledge comes from experience. It seems that we really need to know can’t be learned in a book.

So what’s this to do with insurance? The insurance industry is continually and increasingly being challenged to revisit traditional business models, some of which are tried and tested. Disruption is the name of the game.


Yet, Insurtech startups continually complain that more than other industries, insurance companies seem to comprise gatekeeper after gatekeeper, each being (in the opinion of these startups) ultra-cautious. “Why are insurers so slow to take on board my great idea?” they say.

Perhaps such reticence is based on the experience of an individual who intuitively isn’t certain about proposed changes, and has no option but to treat these new ideas with an element of skepticism? Or maybe it’s a byproduct of an insurance industry whose ultimate success depends on the evaluation of risk, entirely based on experience?

The impact of change will be enormous, and the consequences of failure could be expensive. But we shouldn’t forget that the insurance industry underpins the financial security of companies and individuals, and shouldn’t be attracted by bright shiny technological baubles.

More from Risk & Insurance

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The Profession

For This Pharmaceutical Risk Director, Managing Risk Means Being Part of the Mission to Save Lives

Meet Eric Dobkin, director, insurance and risk management, for Merck & Co. Inc.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?
My first job out of undergrad was as an actuarial trainee at Chubb.I was a math major in school, and I think the options for a math major coming out are either a teacher or an actuary, right? Anyway, I was really happy when the opportunity at Chubb presented itself. Fantastic company. I learned a lot there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?
After I went back to get my MBA, I decided I wanted to work in corporate finance. When I was interviewing, one of the opportunities was with Merck. I really liked their mission, and things worked out. Given my background, they thought a good starting job would be in Merck’s risk management group. I started there, rotated through other areas within Merck finance but ultimately came back to the Insurance & Risk Management group. I guess I’m just one of those people who enjoy this type of work.


R&I: What is risk management doing right?
I think the community is doing a good job of promoting education, sharing ideas and advancing knowledge. Opportunities like this help make us all better business partners. We can take these ideas and translate them into actionable solutions to help our companies.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
I think we have made good advancements in articulating the value proposition of investing in risk management, but much more can be done. Sometimes there is such a focus on delivering immediate value, such as cost savings, that risk management does not get appropriate attention (until something happens). We need to develop better tools that can reinforce that risk management is value-creating and good for operational efficiency, customers and shareholders.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
I’d actually say there hasn’t been as much change as I would have hoped. I think the industry speaks about innovation more often than it does it. To be fair, at Merck we do have key partners that are innovators, but some in the industry are less enthusiastic to consider new approaches. I think there is a real need to find new and relevant solutions for large, complex risks.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?
Cyber risk. While it’s not emerging anymore, it’s evolving, dynamic and deserves the attention it gets. Merck was an early adopter of risk transfer solutions for cyber risk, and we continue to see insurance as an important component of the overall cyber risk management framework. From my perspective, this risk, more than any other, demands continuous forward-thinking to ensure we evolve solutions.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Sticking with the cyber theme, I’d say navigating through a cyber incident is right up there. In June 2017, Merck experienced a network cyber attack that led to a disruption of its worldwide operations, including manufacturing, research and sales. It was a very challenging environment. And managing the insurance claim that resulted has been extremely complex. But at the same time, I have learned a tremendous amount in terms of how to think about the risk, enterprise resiliency and how to manage through a cyber incident.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?
Have strong intellectual curiosity. Always be willing to listen and learn. Ask “why?” We deal with a lot of ambiguity in our business, and the more you seek to understand, the better you will be able to apply those learnings toward developing solutions that meet the evolving risk landscape and needs of the business.


R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?
We’re continuing to look for ways to apply technology. For example, being able to extract and leverage data that resides in our systems to evaluate risk, drive efficiencies and make things like property-value reporting easier. We’re also looking to utilize data visualization tools to help gain insights into our risks.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?
I think, at this time, I would like to continue to learn and grow in the type of work I do and broaden my scope of responsibilities. There are many opportunities to deliver value. I want to continue to focus on becoming a stronger business partner and help enable growth.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
I’d say right now Star Wars is top on my list. It has been magical re-watching and re-living the series I watched as a kid through the eyes of my children.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in? When I was about 15, I went to a New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I wore my Rangers jersey. I would not do that again.

Eric Dobkin, director, insurance & risk management, Merck & Co. Inc

R&I: What is it about this work you find most fulfilling or rewarding?
I am passionate about Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives. “Inventing for Life” is Merck’s tagline. It’s funny, but most people don’t associate “inventing” with medicine. But Merck has been inventing medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases for a long time. It’s amazing to think the products we make can help people fight terrible diseases like cancer. Whatever little bit I can do to help advance that mission is very fulfilling and rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?
Ha! My kids think I make medicine. I guess they think that because I work for Merck. I suppose if even in a small way I can contribute to Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives, I am good with that. &

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