Rising Star Ashley Walker on Environmental Broking and the Qualities that Make a Great Mentor

Aon Broker Ashley Walker believes she has her many mentors to thank for her successful career as an environmental broker.
By: | September 7, 2022


Come see the Stars! As part of our ongoing coverage of the best brokers in the commercial insurance space, Risk & Insurance®, with the sponsorship of Philadelphia Insurance, is expanding its coverage of the Rising Stars — those brokers who represent the next wave of insurance brokering talent.

Look for these expanded profiles on the Risk & Insurance website and in your social media feeds now and continuing into 2023.

Here’s a look at Ashley Walker, CPCU, director at Aon, and a 2022 Environmental Power Broker finalist and Rising Star.

Risk & Insurance: How would you describe your brokering philosophy? What factors have made you successful in the industry?

Ashley Walker: My philosophy and role as an insurance broker is to partner with clients to help identify, quantify and manage their risk exposure. In today’s macro-economic climate, clients are facing unprecedented business challenges. In order to be an effective broker, it is imperative to think outside the box and evolve the way we have traditionally addressed risk transfer.

My personal approach to brokering is to be proactive, responsive and to bring specialized insight on risk exposures to my clients. I do this by understanding the client’s needs, setting realistic expectations, getting out ahead of potential coverage changes, and communicating with the client throughout the process. Additional factors include actively seek further industry education and network to foster relationships; integrity, organization and going the extra mile to deliver value whenever possible; and always being prepared for meetings.

R&I: Who have been your mentors in your career?

AW: I’ve been fortunate to have countless mentors in my career, all of whom are passionate to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom with others.

One such person is Helen Eichmann, senior vice president at Allied World Environmental. Prior to becoming a broker at Aon, I was an underwriter at Allied World, where I had the pleasure of working with Helen. She is an industry leader who showed me what it takes to be successful within insurance. We worked on a lot of complex submissions together and those meetings were where I first learned the nuances of crafting policy language, along with how to effectively manuscript endorsements (which has served me on the broking side as well).

Catherine O’Leary Smith, chief broking officer at Aon Environmental, is another. Catherine was my first manager at Aon and is the one who provided me with the opportunity to try my hand at broking.

The transition to broking from the underwriting side can be daunting in the sense that during the course of an engagement, you are interacting with many more parties than you are accustomed to, including insurers, internal colleagues, clients, consultants and lenders. Catherine gave me the tools to succeed by showing me how to effectively communicate in our function — which is so crucial. Catherine also introduced me to the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF), where we have worked on a number of impactful community service projects together.

A third is Brian Finnegan, managing director at Aon Environmental. Brian is my current manager at Aon. He fosters the success of our region by consistently leading by example through the demonstration of how brokers support each other as a team in order to drive home the best results for our clients.

Brian was instrumental in my development when I first arrived at Aon, and he continues to mentor me through challenging situations. Although the post-COVID world has us working remotely for periods of time, Brian and I talk every day, and I learn a lot from his in-depth industry and technical knowledge.

Finally, Veronica Benzinger, chief executive officer at Aon Environmental. Veronica is Aon’s national practice leader and is one of the highest-regarded thought leaders in the environmental insurance industry. She puts a strong emphasis on continuous learning, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for a department with her at the helm.

One of the most remarkable experiences from my time as a broker has been working alongside Veronica on one of Aon Environmental’s prominent accounts. Even though she has a lot of responsibilities, Veronica always makes sure she is accessible to other team members and me.

R&I: What’s a standout piece of advice you’ve received about working in the insurance industry given you?

AW: Find good mentors, ask a lot of questions and share what you learn. In a fast-moving, competitive world, consistently learning new skills and staying up-to-date on changes in regulation is critical to success.

The beauty of the insurance industry is that you are not alone. Collaborating with colleagues and mentors will help you to better understand the industry and aid you in gaining invaluable experience.

R&I: What challenges have you faced as a broker in the environmental sector in the past year? How did you overcome them?

AW: At nearly 40-years-old, the environmental insurance market is constantly evolving.

2022 is no exception as the market responds to increased claim activity, emerging contaminants and a global pandemic. This year we have seen a global focus on climate change and social responsibility drive sociocultural, political and regulatory reform.

As a result, we have seen insurance carriers pull back capacity on certain risk classes and take a more diligent underwriting approach. While a broad number of markets may have an appetite for certain elements of a risk, not all will be equal when considering limits, exclusions, terms or potential changes during a multi-year policy term.

I overcame the market challenges this year by sharing our clients’ candid feedback, collected from our 35 brokers nationwide, on our market experience related to current sector challenges.

Aon brokers are experienced at navigating these coverage issues with carriers and working with clients to understand where limitations in coverage may apply.

Whenever possible, any exclusion proposed by a carrier is negotiated to be as limited as possible. It is my goal to navigate market conditions and design streamlined programs to support an insured’s business objectives. Despite the challenges, the environmental marketplace remains fairly robust, and I look forward to taking part of the sector’s continued development.

R&I: What have you accomplished in your career that you’re proudest of?

AW: The accomplishments I am most proud of are the times I am able to collaborate with other account team members at Aon to deliver an exemplary outcome to a client or prospect. When Aon colleagues come together to deliver best in class business results, we all win. &

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