The Profession

Elisa Atwell

Drawn to the industry since college, Elisa Atwell, the risk manager for a Fortune 500 company, is at the pinnacle of her career.
By: | February 20, 2017 • 4 min read


R&I What was your first job?

I started my career in property broking at Aon in New York. I spent five years there and [then] relocated to Tampa for one year as a Lean Six Sigma facilitator.

R&I How did you come to work in risk management?

I studied risk management and insurance in college. As a freshman at Florida State University, I wanted to attend the business school and secure accounting and finance degrees. On a whim, I took the Introduction to Risk Management course and the professor suggested that I take her next course, Employee Benefits. If I didn’t like it, I could use it as an elective toward my other majors. I knew very quickly that risk management was the right career for me, and I never looked back! I was very involved in the RIM program and Insurance Society at Florida State, and was even awarded a scholarship to the PRIMA conference in Las Vegas my senior year.

R&I What is the risk management community doing right?

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The risk management community is wonderful at encouraging networking and professional development. There are many designations, conferences and continuing education opportunities available to risk managers at all levels. The community has also done a good job of elevating the profile of risk management as a strategic finance discipline both in the industry and within companies.

R&I What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

Talent retention and recruitment of new college graduates. A handful of colleagues that I started with in the industry have left insurance for other careers in the finance sector. There were also very few entry level risk management positions available when I graduated in 2007, although I have seen improvements in this area over the last 10 years.

R&I What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say with respect to the overall insurance market, for better or for worse, there really hasn’t been much change. I started in the industry at the beginning of the financial crisis, and since then the insurance market has been relatively stable.

R&I What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

Chubb. In my opinion, the ACE/Chubb acquisition was seamless. Both companies did a great job of communicating the changes in a clear and professional manner. I also enjoyed working with both carriers and members of the various underwriting teams prior to the acquisition.

R&I Who is your mentor and why?

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I have had a few mentors … in different stages of my career development. Dr. Cole and Dr. McCullough at Florida State University helped me with internships, interview skills, career placement and preparing my resume. Vincent Flood, Joan Jakowski and Janine Smith at Aon guided me through my first years in the industry, and I still seek advice from all three.

R&I What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Getting to the position that I am currently in. I have worked, since college, with the goal of becoming a risk manager. I am proud to have advanced my career to this level.

R&I If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

Malala Yousafzai. Her life story is incredible and inspiring. As such a young girl she had the strength to stand up for what she believed to be right. Not only has she been strong enough to persevere through all that she has had to endure, but she has actually thrived and continued her mission with the Malala Fund. Worldwide access to education should be a basic human right and the work she is doing to improve these circumstances for girls is unparalleled.

R&I What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

This is a tough question since I love travelling and trying new restaurants. But, Eleven Madison Park [in New York City] was a memorable treat; I went for lunch and have been meaning to go back for dinner. The service is exceptional and the menu is creative and fun.

I would say with respect to the overall insurance market, for better or for worse, there really hasn’t been much change. I started in the industry at the beginning of the financial crisis, and since then the insurance market has been relatively stable.

R&I What is your favorite drink?

The Stoli Doli from the Capital Grille is my favorite cocktail (paired with a Kona crusted filet, of course).

R&I What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

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Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui, Hawaii. My husband and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon and we were surprised that the beach consisted of smooth lava rocks instead of fluffy, powdery sand. We had never seen anything like it.

R&I What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Driving to work every day on I-95. Joking aside, zip lining and rappelling in Belize.

R&I What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

The partnership and relationships that I have built with my brokers, insurance carriers and team members. They are wonderful to work with and I am thankful that I am surrounded by talented, thoughtful people. We all work together with a common goal of reducing risk and losses.

R&I What do your friends and family think you do?

Most people think that I work in personal lines insurance and I have had family members ask me to review their home and auto policies.

The views represented here are the views of Elisa Atwell, not those of her employer.




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]