RIMS President Jennifer Santiago on Her Initiatives for the Role and Why She’s Stayed in the Risk Management Space
R&I: What was your first job?
My first role was an internship as a medical liability representative in medical malpractice, which led me to my first big risk management break at NYU Medical Center. It was an entry-level position. However, within two years I was promoted to director. It was a big responsibility that included managing a team, working with our captive insurance company, and getting amazing exposure and experience to the health care risk management industry.
R&I: How did you come to your current position as president of the RIMS Society?
I have been heavily involved and committed to RIMS for many years. It started with me serving on a few different committees and councils as a member, vice chair and ultimately chair. These are great opportunities to not only develop your leadership skills but to get a better understanding of the Society’s operations.
With a passion for risk management, I had met my match in RIMS. The Society is built by and is home to amazing, talented professionals. And it was the people who hooked me and made me feel like I belonged.
Fast forward to 2014, and I was nominated to join the board. I served through 2016 and rejoined the board in 2018. In 2020, I was elected to join the executive committee (EC) and served successive roles within the EC (secretary, treasurer, vice president) and into my current position as president effective January 1.
R&I: What are your key initiatives as you assume your new role?
RIMS has a remarkable history — and has been led by some remarkable risk leaders. The RIMS president’s primary objective is to support and elevate RIMS strategy and keep the momentum moving in the right direction.
My priorities are two-fold: First, I want to ensure we remain resilient as a profession and as a risk management society. The road to resilience starts with the leadership of the risk management professional, and it’s through that leadership that we can build stronger, more resilient organizations. I want to make sure that RIMS continues to grow, evolve and remain resilient. We have a tremendous network of super-dedicated volunteers who run RIMS chapters, committees, councils and the board. Together, we will continue to advance the risk management profession, keep RIMS relevant and pave the road to greater resilience.
My second priority is to continue to focus on delivering the world-class risk management events, education and advocating for the risk management profession that this business community has come to expect. As president, in these challenging times, I want to make sure we are reconnecting as a community and supporting one another; we are more powerful together than apart. I also want to make sure that opportunities are there for everyone with all our different backgrounds and experiences.
The key to advancing this profession is drawing from its exceptionally diverse, inclusive and talented community, and I want to see more risk professionals in C-suite roles and serving on public, private and not-for-profit boards.
R&I: What most excites you about this new role? What do you think will challenge you?
I have gained so much because of my involvement with RIMS. I am excited to be able to give back at this level and to help create opportunities for our diverse community. I am very focused on creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive profession and supporting and listening to our next generation of risk professionals through mentoring and reverse mentoring.
R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?
I don’t know of any other profession that is as connected and supportive of one another as the risk management profession. At a moment’s notice, I can text or email a risk management colleague about a specific risk issue, strategy or resource need. I have found risk professionals are generous and always willing to share. That collaboration is unmatched and has helped our community address some of the most complex, global risks. The pandemic is no exception and really highlighted the need for the risk management profession.
R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
I believe risk professionals need to expect and require more from their organizations, business partners and community around diversity, equity and inclusion. We know we are better and stronger when this community works together, and we need to celebrate and recognize the true value in our differences.
We also need to think big and be bold. We should aspire to be part of the C-suite and serving on boards. To get there, risk professionals need to be continuous learners and take advantage of all the opportunities out there to enhance their skills and grow their networks. You can’t expect to advance in your career if you are not challenging yourself to grow as a professional.
R&I: What is your risk management philosophy?
At its core, my focus is always on maximizing opportunities while keeping a close eye on potential adverse risks and outcomes. Balancing the risks with the rewards has always been my priority.
To be successful, risk professionals can’t stand still and become complacent. We need to get out from behind our desks and drive intelligent risk taking within our organizations. We need to build capabilities around risk assessment and scenario planning so that we can strengthen organizational resiliency. We must build in resiliency and asset protection while also supporting opportunities that spur growth and innovation.
R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
I think with every profession, you will come up against a big, brick wall that is preventing you from being successful. There are people who will turn back and give up due to circumstances and feel frustrated. And then, there are others that try to push their way through the wall. Some are successful and some are not. For me, I have always been the person to push myself out of my comfort zone, embrace a challenge and, therefore, knew that the only way forward was to climb as high as I could to get past that wall and not give up.
R&I: How would you say technology has impacted the risk management profession?
Technology has dramatically changed our world and has certainly impacted every profession. Roughly 10 years ago, the Insurtech start-ups began popping up to support processes and efficiencies in the insurance industry. I love all the possibilities that these new technologies and AI are delivering to the risk management community — from forecasting, managing data, building out scenarios, keeping businesses compliant and so much more. Technology has been integral to helping risk professionals along this challenging journey to strengthen organizational resiliency and I don’t see any signs of that slowing down.
R&I: What are the most pressing risks for the risk management industry to keep their eyes on?
We continue to be critically focused on climate change, cyber risk and the talent gap, but we have learned through the pandemic and the ongoing war in the Ukraine about the increasing frequency and high impact of geopolitical, civil and social unrest. It’s a feeling of being in continuous crisis response mode; fight or flight.
R&I: What advice would you give a young risk manager just embarking on their career?
My advice for anyone in their career has always been to stay true to yourself.
The world, and life, has a way of taking you down different paths due to circumstances and challenges. That said, it’s your personal resilience, self-discipline, and integrity that will always steer you in the right direction.