Avis Budget Group Risk Manager Suzanne Panicoe Details 2022 Travel Risk

Avis Budget Group risk manager Suzanne Panicoe details the risks she expects the travel industry will face in 2022.
By: | March 30, 2022

R&I: What was your first job? 

My first job out of college was as a staff accountant with Alliance Capital, which was actually owned by AXA. I accounted for the investments of the insurance products, and by background, I’m a CPA. 

R&I: How did you come to your current position?

I actually came to Avis back in 2003 as a staff accountant. At the time, Avis had its own property and casualty insurance company. I was hired to work on the NAIC filings, the statutory filings. 

While I was in that role, someone from the risk management department reached out to me, because the person who did their budgeting and forecasting was leaving, and asked if I would be interested in that position. 

In my insurance accounting position, I worked closely with the risk management department. So I made the move over to risk management in 2005. 

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

I would say cyber—cyber attacks weren’t really happening when I first joined risk management—and cyber insurance wasn’t a coverage many other organizations were purchasing, us included. 

However, it’s become such a critical line of insurance and an area of focus for organizations of any size and industry. 

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?  

There have been many challenges over the years, but the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career happened at the start of the pandemic. 

The travel industry came to a screeching halt, and we were faced with a large concentration of fleet sitting idle. 

“The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career happened at the start of the pandemic. The travel industry came to a screeching halt.” —Suzanne Panicoe, senior director, global risk management & claims, Avis Budget Group

We then suffered multiple property losses as we were in the midst of negotiating renewal terms. 

As a result, I was forced to look at different structures while leveraging relationships with insurers that had been developed over many, many years.  

R&I: Who has been your mentor(s) and why? 

I’ve had the privilege of reporting directly to female bosses since 2007—Barbara Vitale, Rochelle Tarlowe, Lynn Finkel and Izzy Martins. 

All of these women are smart, strong business women and amazing mothers. As a working mom, I’ve learned that you can have a fulfilling career while still being a mom. I consider them all to be mentors. 

I’d like to highlight one in particular though—Barbara Vitale, Avis’s previous risk manager. 

Barbara taught me so much about risk management by sharing her own knowledge and experiences with me and inviting me to attend nearly all meetings with her, enabling me to learn all aspects of risk management rather than only seeing the finance side of the role.  

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

I would say the risk management community is focusing on the next generations so that this industry can continue to have really talented workers. We’re bringing more awareness to the industry as a whole. 

I would say a decade ago, there was no such thing as a risk management major. And now several universities have that, and we’re cultivating new talent right out of college.

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

I struggle with this question, because in some ways, we have gotten better. 

But I think alternative options for traditional insurance are continuing to be a challenge as premiums continue to increase. Losses are getting worse. 

But presenting alternative structures to risk managers rather than just the traditional market, buying insurance, paying a flat premium is something that could improve.

R&I: How would you say technology has impacted the risk management profession? 

Well, certainly, it’s provided way better analytics. I think people got stuck in what insurances they were buying and benchmarking to a broader range of industries. 

Now, you can get so granular in the data and really benchmark your company to similar businesses, and see where your exposures are—whether that’s geographically or in a particular line of insurance. 

R&I: As the pandemic transitions to an endemic phase and people begin traveling more, what risks do you think the travel sector will face? 

I think that something that the travel industry is already starting to face is more demand than supply. 

So whether it’s the airlines or rental cars, we’ve seen this resurgence of pent-up demand for travel. It’s great to have the demand, but it’s driving prices up.

R&I: What’s your favorite book or movie? 

This is a tough one in the sense that it’s hard to pinpoint one. I was thinking, ‘Well, how do you define favorite?’ Because to me, favorite is a positive word. 

And so my choice is a little bit odd in that sense, but it’s really more about what book moved me the most when I read it or disturbed me, or had the biggest impact on me. And I would say it’s Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. 

R&I: What is your favorite drink? 

So my favorite nonalcoholic drink would be tea—and that’s hot or iced, black or green. I love tea. In terms of alcoholic drinks, I would have to say a nice, well-chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc. 

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

Moving up to the role of global risk manager. I took on that role during the pandemic, possibly the most challenging time for our business. I also run the liability claims team. So really, my proudest accomplishment is where I am today. 

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

I’m not a very risky person. I can’t think of anything. I don’t even have a tattoo. I’ve never driven on a motorcycle. And I certainly haven’t skydived! &

Courtney DuChene is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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