The 2020 Insurance Executives to Watch: Travelers’ Yafit Cohn

In the newly created chief sustainability officer position, Yafit Cohn will be responsible for overseeing the company’s ESG efforts and communicating their values to the public.
By: | November 25, 2019

In this world of conscious capitalism and heightened awareness of reputational risk, it’s no secret that a company’s values matter both to consumers and shareholders.

It should be no surprise, then, that a new position, chief sustainability officer, is entering the C-suite lexicon. Travelers Companies announced that attorney Yafit Cohn would be stepping into the new position at their company after two years of serving as their associate group general counsel. During that time, she helped lead the company through changes to their sustainability reporting processes.

In her position, Cohn is responsible for reinforcing the company’s 16 sustainability drivers, which include climate strategy, community, diversity and inclusion, data privacy and cyber security, and disaster preparedness and response, among other priorities.

The drivers integrate a variety of business topics, such as business strategy and capital and risk management, with environment, social and governance (ESG) factors, such as public policy and community.

Cohn will be charged with communicating the company’s sustained value creation efforts to the company’s stakeholders and the public.

“One of the things that we’re seeing today is that sustainability as a discipline is gaining more attention from investors, but other stakeholders as well,” Cohn said.

“Sustainability at Travelers means performing today, transforming for tomorrow, fulfilling our promise to our customers, communities and employees.”

Defining Sustainability

Though climate strategy is a part of Travelers’ sustainability plan, the company does not just use the term to talk about sustained value creation within the company.

“Sustainability is ultimately about long-term value creation. It’s a term at Travelers that recognizes our ability to create long-term value that does not depend solely on our financial or business strategy, but also on the way that we manage various economic, environmental, social and governance factors,” Cohn said.

“I helped to lead the company through the process of enhancing, significantly enhancing I would say, our sustainability reporting.” — Yafit Cohn

Prior to taking on this role, Cohn worked to understand the ESG efforts that make up their sustainability initiatives both at Travelers and in her role at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP where she served as counsel and member of their Public Company Advisory Practice.

She also currently serves as chair of the Society for Corporate Governance’s Sustainability Practices Committee.

“I have spent the vast majority of my time really becoming intimately familiar with the ESG ecosystem, both through research and conversations with many shareholders and stakeholders, governance professionals, sustainability leaders. Once I felt that I really understood them very well, I helped to lead the company through the process of enhancing, significantly enhancing I would say, our sustainability reporting,” Cohn said.

“I have been heavily involved in the public policy dialogue around sustainability and I plan to continue to contribute to that dialogue and remain active as a thought leader in this space.”

Using the Past to Inform the Future

Part of Cohn’s role will involve communicating the company’s definition of sustainability and their efforts in each of the 16 areas to both stakeholders and the public. To do this, she helped the company launch a website in May that focuses on the company’s sustainability values.

“We have been engaging more deeply with our shareholders and other stakeholders regarding our sustainability efforts and regarding how those efforts are really integrated into our business strategy,” she said.

The site, which catalogs the company’s current initiatives, will also serve as a place for the company to post future reports on their progress towards meeting their sustainability goals. During the process of creating the site, Cohn engaged nearly half of Travelers’ investor base.

While the site and the company’s messaging around sustainability are new, creating and sustaining ESG values has long been a priority a priority for Travelers.

“Sustainability is not new at Travelers,” Cohn said.

“It’s something that’s been ingrained in our company for decades, but the new position really formalizes all the work that we’ve been doing and it will enable us to deepen the sophistication of our sustainability efforts.”

Many of the initiatives on the site capture Travelers’ long-standing commitment to sustained value creation. Nearly every project on the site was already in-progress before the site went live, and many had been running for several years.

“Everything you see on our website was already in place before we put together the website,” Cohn said.

“We want to tell our story more effectively, and engage more broadly as a thought leader in the evolving public policy dialogue around sustainability.”

These initiatives include the company’s She Travels program, which focuses on helping women advance their careers in insurance; its climate strategy, which focuses in part on building resilient communities, and its data protection and cyber security programs.

The site will also serve as a place where future projects and reports on their progress towards meeting their sustainability goals will be published. The site’s sustainability charting and reports were developed with input from key stakeholders and they reflect the standards of several leading sustainability disclosure frameworks.

The site also includes standalone reports that respond to the standards for insurance companies set by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

“To us, sustainability encompasses the whole category of risks and opportunities that accompany running a business. It’s about managing those risks, and taking advantage of those opportunities for the purpose of ensuring the company’s long-term economic sustainability and our ability to create long-term value,” she said. &


For the full list of Insurance Executives to Watch in 2020, click here.

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

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