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.

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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.”

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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 staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Scenario

The Betrayal of Elizabeth

In this Risk Scenario, Risk & Insurance explores what might happen in the event a telemedicine or similar home health visit violates a patient's privacy. What consequences await when a young girl's tele visit goes viral?
By: | October 12, 2020
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

PART ONE: CRACKS IN THE FOUNDATION

Elizabeth Cunningham seemingly had it all. The daughter of two well-established professionals — her father was a personal injury attorney, her mother, also an attorney, had her own estate planning practice — she grew up in a house in Maryland horse country with lots of love and the financial security that can iron out at least some of life’s problems.

Tall, good-looking and talented, Elizabeth was moving through her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania in seemingly good order; check that, very good order, by all appearances.

Her pre-med grades were outstanding. Despite the heavy load of her course work, she’d even managed to place in the Penn Relays in the mile, in the spring of her sophomore season, in May of 2019.

But the winter of 2019/2020 brought challenges, challenges that festered below the surface, known only to her and a couple of close friends.

First came betrayal at the hands of her boyfriend, Tom, right around Thanksgiving. She saw a message pop up on his phone from Rebecca, a young woman she thought was their friend. As it turned out, Rebecca and Tom had been intimate together, and both seemed game to do it again.

Reeling, her holiday mood shattered and her relationship with Tom fractured, Elizabeth was beset by deep feelings of anxiety. As the winter gray became more dense and forbidding, the anxiety grew.

Fed up, she broke up with Tom just after Christmas. What looked like a promising start to 2020 now didn’t feel as joyous.

Right around the end of the year, she plucked a copy of her father’s New York Times from the table in his study. A budding physician, her eyes were drawn to a piece about an outbreak of a highly contagious virus in Wuhan, China.

“Sounds dreadful,” she said to herself.

Within three months, anxiety gnawed at Elizabeth daily as she sat cloistered in her family’s house in Bel Air, Maryland.

It didn’t help matters that her brother, Billy, a high school senior and a constant thorn in her side, was cloistered with her.

She felt like she was suffocating.

One night in early May, feeling shutdown and unable to bring herself to tell her parents about her true condition, Elizabeth reached out to her family physician for help.

Dr. Johnson had been Elizabeth’s doctor for a number of years and, being from a small town, Elizabeth had grown up and gone to school with Dr. Johnson’s son Evan. In fact, back in high school, Evan had asked Elizabeth out once. Not interested, Elizabeth had declined Evan’s advances and did not give this a second thought.

Dr. Johnson’s practice had recently been acquired by a Virginia-based hospital system, Medwell, so when Elizabeth called the office, she was first patched through to Medwell’s receptionist/scheduling service. Within 30 minutes, an online Telehealth consult had been arranged for her to speak directly with Dr. Johnson.

Due to the pandemic, Dr. Johnson called from the office in her home. The doctor was kind. She was practiced.

“So can you tell me what’s going on?” she said.

Elizabeth took a deep breath. She tried to fight what was happening. But she could not. Tears started streaming down her face.

“It’s just… It’s just…” she managed to stammer.

The doctor waited patiently. “It’s okay,” she said. “Just take your time.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “It’s like I can’t manage my own mind anymore. It’s nonstop. It won’t turn off…”

More tears streamed down her face.

Patiently, with compassion, the doctor walked Elizabeth through what she might be experiencing. The doctor recommended a follow-up with Medwell’s psychology department.

“Okay,” Elizabeth said, some semblance of relief passing through her.

Unbeknownst to Dr. Johnson, her office door had not been completely closed. During the telehealth call, Evan stopped by his mother’s office to ask her a question. Before knocking he overheard Elizabeth talking and decided to listen in.

PART TWO: BETRAYAL

As Elizabeth was finding the courage to open up to Dr. Johnson about her psychological condition, Evan was recording her with his smartphone through a crack in the doorway.

Spurred by who knows what — his attraction to her, his irritation at being rejected, the idleness of the COVID quarantine — it really didn’t matter. Evan posted his recording of Elizabeth to his Instagram feed.

#CantManageMyMind, #CrazyGirl, #HelpMeDoctorImBeautiful is just some of what followed.

Elizabeth and Evan were both well-liked and very well connected on social media. The posts, shares and reactions that followed Evan’s digital betrayal numbered in the hundreds. Each one of them a knife into the already troubled soul of Elizabeth Cunningham.

By noon of the following day, her well-connected father unleashed the dogs of war.

Rand Davis, the risk manager for the Medwell Health System, a 15-hospital health care company based in Alexandria, Virginia was just finishing lunch when he got a call from the company’s general counsel, Emily Vittorio.

“Yes?” Rand said. He and Emily were accustomed to being quick and blunt with each other. They didn’t have time for much else.

“I just picked up a notice of intent to sue from a personal injury attorney in Bel Air, Maryland. It seems his daughter was in a teleconference with one of our docs. She was experiencing anxiety, the daughter that is. The doctor’s son recorded the call and posted it to social media.”

“Great. Thanks, kid,” Rand said.

“His attorneys want to initiate a discovery dialogue on Monday,” Emily said.

It was Thursday. Rand’s dreams of slipping onto his fishing boat over the weekend evaporated, just like that. He closed his eyes and tilted his face up to the heavens.

Wasn’t it enough that he and the other members of the C-suite fought tooth and nail to keep thousands of people safe and treat them during the COVID-crisis?

He’d watched the explosion in the use of telemedicine with a mixture of awe and alarm. On the one hand, they were saving lives. On the other hand, they were opening themselves to exposures under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. He just knew it.

He and his colleagues tried to do the right thing. But what they were doing, overwhelmed as they were, was simply not enough.

PART THREE: FALLING DOMINOES

Within the space of two weeks, the torture suffered by Elizabeth Cunningham grew into a class action against Medwell.

In addition to the violation of her privacy, the investigation by Mr. Cunningham’s attorneys revealed the following:

Medwell’s telemedicine component, as needed and well-intended as it was, lacked a viable informed consent protocol.

The consultation with Elizabeth, and as it turned out, hundreds of additional patients in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, violated telemedicine regulations in all three states.

Numerous practitioners in the system took part in teleconferences with patients in states in which they were not credentialed to provide that service.

Even if Evan hadn’t cracked open Dr. Johnson’s door and surreptitiously recorded her conversation with Elizabeth, the Medwell telehealth system was found to be insecure — yet another violation of HIPAA.

The amount sought in the class action was $100 million. In an era of social inflation, with jury awards that were once unthinkable becoming commonplace, Medwell was standing squarely in the crosshairs of a liability jury decision that was going to devour entire towers of its insurance program.

Adding another layer of certain pain to the equation was that the case would be heard in Baltimore, a jurisdiction where plaintiffs’ attorneys tended to dance out of courtrooms with millions in their pockets.

That fall, Rand sat with his broker on a call with a specialty insurer, talking about renewals of the group’s general liability, cyber and professional liability programs.

“Yeah, we were kind of hoping to keep the increases on all three at less than 25%,” the broker said breezily.

There was a long silence from the underwriters at the other end of the phone.

“To be honest, we’re borderline about being able to offer you any cover at all,” one of the lead underwriters said.

Rand just sat silently and waited for another shoe to drop.

“Well, what can you do?” the broker said, with hope draining from his voice.

The conversation that followed would propel Rand and his broker on the difficult, next to impossible path of trying to find coverage, with general liability underwriters in full retreat, professional liability underwriters looking for double digit increases and cyber underwriters asking very pointed questions about the health system’s risk management.

Elizabeth, a strong young woman with a good support network, would eventually recover from the damage done to her.

Medwell’s relationships with the insurance markets looked like it almost never would. &

Bar-Lessons-Learned---Partner's-Content-V1b

Risk & Insurance® partnered with Allied World to produce this scenario. Below are Allied World’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.®.

The use of telehealth has exponentially accelerated with the advent of COVID-19. Few health care providers were prepared for this shift. Health care organizations should confirm that Telehealth coverage is included in their Medical Professional, General Liability and Cyber policies, and to what extent. Concerns around Telehealth focus on HIPAA compliance and the internal policies in place to meet the federal and state standards and best practices for privacy and quality care. As states open businesses and the crisis abates, will pre-COVID-19 telehealth policies and regulations once again be enforced?

Risk Management Considerations:

The same ethical and standard of care issues around caring for patients face-to-face in an office apply in telehealth settings:

  • maintain a strong patient-physician relationship;
  • protect patient privacy; and
  • seek the best possible outcome.

Telehealth can create challenges around “informed consent.” It is critical to inform patients of the potential benefits and risks of telehealth (including privacy and security), ensure the use of HIPAA compliant platforms and make sure there is a good level of understanding of the scope of telehealth. Providers must be aware of the regulatory and licensure requirements in the state where the patient is located, as well as those of the state in which they are licensed.

A professional and private environment should be maintained for patient privacy and confidentiality. Best practices must be in place and followed. Medical professionals who engage in telehealth should be fully trained in operating the technology. Patients must also be instructed in its use and provided instructions on what to do if there are technical difficulties.

This case study is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be a summary of, and does not in any way vary, the actual coverage available to a policyholder under any insurance policy. Actual coverage for specific claims will be determined by the actual policy language and will be based on the specific facts and circumstances of the claim. Consult your insurance advisors or legal counsel for guidance on your organization’s policies and coverage matters and other issues specific to your organization.

This information is provided as a general overview for agents and brokers. Coverage will be underwritten by an insurance subsidiary of Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, Ltd, a Fairfax company (“Allied World”). Such subsidiaries currently carry an A.M. Best rating of “A” (Excellent), a Moody’s rating of “A3” (Good) and a Standard & Poor’s rating of “A-” (Strong), as applicable. Coverage is offered only through licensed agents and brokers. Actual coverage may vary and is subject to policy language as issued. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions. Risk management services are provided or arranged through AWAC Services Company, a member company of Allied World. © 2020 Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, Ltd. All rights reserved.




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]