7 Questions for Sompo International’s Shannon Totten

Learn about making the move to the Bermuda market and why leaders must be dynamic and intentional with Shannon Totten, CPCU.
By: | March 5, 2024
Portrait of Shannon Totten

To help celebrate Women’s History Month, Risk & Insurance is featuring just a few of the successful women in the industry. Shannon Totten, CPCU, executive vice president, head of retail excess casualty insurance at Sompo International, North America, spoke with us about making bold career moves, her leadership strategy and why insurance is cool in Bermuda.

Risk & Insurance: Could you tell us a bit about your current role and day-to-day?

Shannon Totten: I am currently the head of Sompo’s retail excess casualty insurance teams across the U.S. and Bermuda, writing a wide range of complex commercial industry classes. I lead our experienced and amazing talented team for our North American strategy for the segment, including identifying and monitoring emerging risk, as well as facilitating broker, client and reinsurer long-term relationships.

On any given day, I could be meeting with the front line — our key clients and brokers — then drawing upon the extensive resources of our claims, actuarial, ERM, or getting insights from our knowledgeable reinsurance intermediaries and reinsurance partners. Underwriting team communication is constant, of course.

R&I: What pivotal moments or experiences have been instrumental in shaping your career journey, especially considering your relocation to Bermuda over two decades ago?

ST: My decision to embark upon my insurance career in New York out of university was pivotal. I was very fortunate that my first job as a broker turned out to be a massively supportive company that created impactful experiences, such as several months in London and getting to assist an experienced claims team on a complex tort litigation situation.

I counsel those entering the insurance world today to think carefully about that first job and the experiences it can offer. Imagine yourself 10 years from now and look backward; money is important, of course, but the money will come from having valuable experience, perspectives, integrity and a good old-fashioned work ethic.

I liked broking, but then I thought I should give underwriting a go. I could always go back to broking if I didn’t like it — right?

My first underwriting job in New York led to the opportunity of Bermuda. I certainly didn’t plan that or even see it coming. But I jumped on it.

Bermuda is the risk capital of the world. I really enjoy the mix of island living with global reinsurance opportunities, constant broker and client visitors from all over, and the concentration of industry intellectual capital here is top-notch.

Insurance is cool in Bermuda and every day is an “I” day!

R&I: How do you approach leadership in a dynamic industry, and what strategies have been crucial to your success in this role?

ST: The industry is certainly dynamic, but so is leadership itself. Your leadership approach must constantly change and shift to optimize effectiveness and communication. My strategy is first to listen to understand, not to immediately respond.

Learning about leadership means learning a great deal about yourself along the way. You have to be open to it. We all have external customers, but as a leader, you also serve to support your team in doing the best job they can. Sometimes, that means supporting them as they make a change, which is okay too.

R&I: What accomplishments are you most proud of in your career, and how have these achievements contributed to your current position?

ST: I am intentional that if you work for me, I want you to be better off for the time spent, regardless of where your next chapter is. As I have taken on more responsibilities and taken on larger roles, I bring those with me up along as well. And lateral moves can be super challenging and rewarding — it’s not a linear ladder. Don’t overthink that.

R&I: Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate achievements. Are there women in the insurance industry or beyond who have inspired or mentored you during your career?

ST: On a personal note, my Mom is a rock star, hands down. She had and is still having a successful “second” career as a professional coach and trainer for high-level federal executive employees. She was previously a social worker who did a great deal of work with children going through tough family transitions.

I was really helped along by my own professional and then personal coach, the incomparable Melanie Katzman, PhD. She pushed me to reframe both my career thoughts and personal journey path and to really discern between things that are within my control and those that are just not. She has a number #1 WSJ bestseller, “Connect First”; it’s 52 magical “Melanie-isms” — I highly recommend it!

We all can use some third-party perspectives at certain inflection points of our lives, both personally and professionally. You can never have a 360 on yourself — you are too close!

R&I: What advice would you give to the next generation of women aspiring to succeed in the insurance industry, especially considering the changes the industry may face in the coming years?

ST: You can absolutely “have it all.” Just be mindful that no one, woman or man, can “do it all” 100% of the time. It’s okay to not have it all at the same time; you will have some “slow growth” years and then other “warp speed years.” There is no work-life balance, really; there’s only integration. Some years, you will be more personally focused because life will happen. Other years, you will be more career-focused. You can’t lean in 100% of the time without incurring some serious burnout along the way. And if you are leaning in, who is leaning out in order to support you, whether at home or at work? Keep your path challenging yet realistic.

R&I: Who or what inspires you?

ST: My wonderful son and daughter, life-long learning, traveling and just about any time on the water or on the beach. The ocean is an amazing, calming and inspiring force. &

Abi Potter Clough, MBA, CPCU, is a keynote speaker, author and business consultant focused on Insurtech, leadership and strategy. She has over 15 years of experience at a Fortune 500 company with expertise in P&C claims operational leadership, lean management consulting, digital communications and Insurtech. As the past chair of the International Insurance Interest Group of the CPCU Society, Abi remains involved in many international initiatives and projects. She has published two books about change management and relocation. Abi can be reached at [email protected].

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