Barbara H. Vitale
I was working as a paralegal for a N.J. insurance company. They provided free insurance classes conducted by the Insurance Institute of America. I wanted to learn about the business, so I received my certificate in general insurance. That came in handy reviewing the insurance provisions of contracts. Eventually I received my ARM. An opportunity came up at a large gas utility, and I expanded my duties as a paralegal working for the VP of risk management. When he retired, I was offered the position of risk manager.
R&I: How has your experience as a paralegal influenced your risk management career?
[It] has been invaluable to my success as a risk manager. I did everything from litigation, contracts, mergers and acquisitions, to preparing SEC filings. I became well versed in the operations and business risks of a public company from a legal perspective.
R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?
We’re focused on understanding how rapidly the world is changing. Risk managers and carriers are making an effort to understand all the risks commensurate with being global companies. Another major change is that women have become a bigger part of risk management over the past 20 years. In fact, my department is all women.
R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
We need to get more people involved in risk management. It’s so much more than just buying insurance. You can be impactful for your company in so many ways as they come to trust and value you.
Another major change is that women have become a bigger part of risk management over the past 20 years.
R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?
I really loved New Orleans. We’re in the business of dealing with risk and disaster and catastrophe, and the year we were there, it was right after Hurricane Katrina. It was a testimony to risk managers that we wanted to be there. Disaster recovery and continuity are what we’re about.
R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
Having more women in the field is one. Another is the way the industry has become so multifaceted as well as responsive to emerging risks like cyber. Risk managers are much more involved with their companies’ operations, and it’s become more challenging as we keep abreast of rapidly changing issues.
R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?
We’re all holding our breath on cyber risk. It’s still so unknowable, and anything can happen that you’re not prepared for, even with the coverage that’s out there. This is an area where we’ll have to wait and see how the risk evolves and how products develop. Apple just learned that the FBI could hack into its phones and I bet they never saw that coming!
R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?
CNA. I can’t say enough good things about them. We have many unique needs, and they’ve stepped up to partner with us on meeting all of them.
R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?
We place all our coverage though our amazing partners, Aon and Lockton.
We’re all holding our breath on cyber risk. It’s still so unknowable, and anything can happen that you’re not prepared for, even with the coverage that’s out there.
R&I: Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic, and why?
Very optimistic. We have a lower unemployment rate than we’ve had in many years and more job creation. And let’s not forget about the gas prices!
R&I: Who is your mentor and why?
My mom was my mentor. My dad died young and she was left raising four kids at the age of 40. She was a businesswoman in the 1960s and taught me the value of standing on my own two feet as a woman. Most importantly, she was the kindest woman I ever met.
R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?
I’m very proud of my excellent team. I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring them and “boring” them with my business philosophy, but I tell them that if I were to get hit by a bus on any given day, they could jump in and do my job on that first, sad day.
R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
“Madame Bovary.” I met my husband at Rutgers in a French literature class, and we were reading that book at the time, so it’s my favorite.
R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?
It’s a toss-up between Israel and Egypt; the pyramids were so exciting but so was Bethlehem and Masada.
R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?
Talking back to the Sisters of Charity; like O’Reilly, I was a bold, fresh article!
R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?
I really admire Pope Francis. He’s trying to be an enlightened pope who embraces all people and religions, and he brings some needed change to Catholicism.
R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?
Every day is a new challenge and it never gets boring.
R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?
They think I meet with brokers and carriers and buy insurance and handle big insurance claims and that’s it. If they only knew!