Risk Management

The Profession

Cheryl Feltgen on the importance of analytics, the inspiration of Nelson Mandela and the appropriateness of champagne for any occasion.
By: | September 14, 2015 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first job during high school was as a salesperson at the department store, Montgomery Ward. After college, my first career job was as a commercial real estate lender at Continental Bank in Chicago, which was then the seventh largest bank in the country.

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

In 1997, I became chief risk officer of GE Capital’s railcar leasing business, GE Capital Railcar Services.

090152015_24_profession_sidebarA headhunter reached out to me in late 1996. The chief risk officer of GE Capital liked my analytical skills and banking background, and the CEO of the railcar leasing business liked that I had been an entrepreneur investing my own money in real estate transactions. At GE, I learned how to use data and analytics to make better business decisions.

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

Risk management has become an integral part of the business processes and strategic planning of companies. In forward-thinking companies like Arch, risk management has a seat at the table.

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

It could better convey to everybody in a company that they all have a role in risk management. There’s an inclination to think risk management is only done by the risk management department, but actually everybody has a role in risk management. Embracing that concept drives an appropriate risk culture and ensures resiliency.

Cyber risk is an emerging risk that gets a lot of attention, but in the mortgage industry, I am concerned that as the housing crisis recedes, the industry may allow some undisciplined practices to slip back in.

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


Better analytics and an understanding of the importance of stress-testing your portfolio to make sure your company can withstand extreme events.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber risk is an emerging risk that gets a lot of attention, but in the mortgage industry, I am concerned that as the housing crisis recedes, the industry may allow some undisciplined practices to slip back in. A healthy housing market and economy requires that we not let that happen.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

We originate all our business directly with our customers who are banks, credit unions and mortgage companies.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic and why?

Cheryl Feltgen, Executive Vice President, Chief Risk Officer, Arch Mortgage Insurance Co.

Cheryl Feltgen, Executive Vice President, Chief Risk Officer, Arch Mortgage Insurance Co.

I am cautiously optimistic since No. 1, the economy has created three million net new jobs over the past 12 months and going forward, another two to three million jobs could be created over the next year. No. 2, consumers have been saving more of their extra pocket money, but spending is likely to pick up with employment growing.

And No. 3, residential construction will likely rise 10 to 15 percent a year over the next few years.

My caution is external shocks like conflicts and an economic slowdown could set things back, at least temporarily. As Warren Buffet once said: “It’s never paid to bet against America. We come through things, but it’s not aways a smooth ride.”

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I’ve had teachers who taught me the importance of a good education and managers, particularly at GE, who taught me great leadership skills and to have the courage to stretch myself and try new things.

Also my father, who was legally blind but accomplished many things in his life, taught me to never give up and to find joy in life. Finally, my husband and partner who’s been enormously supportive of me and my careeer.

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

In my 36-year career I have successfully navigated several economic cycles and have been able to mentor many young women, all while achieving a balance between my professional and personal lives.

R&I: How many emails do you get in a day?

More than I would like.

R&I: How many do you answer?

The important ones.

R&I: What’s your favorite book?

“Personal History,” the autobiography of former “Washington Post” publisher Katharine Graham. The book provides a great example of courage and doing things she never thought possible. I had the good fortune of meeting Ben Bradlee, the former editor of the “Washington Post” under her leadership, and he gave me additional insight into the extraordinary person that she was.

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


It’s called Rock House on Harbour Island in the Bahamas.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Champagne. It’s right for every occasion.

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

My great-grandfather on my father’s side emigrated from Luxembourg in the late 1800s. After my father died a few years ago, I traveled to Luxembourg to meet my father’s second cousin.

He introduced me to my whole extended family and brought me to the town where my great-grandfather was born and to the church where he was baptized. It was very special.

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

I once skied with my colleagues down a double Black Diamond slope as only a novice skier — and I survived.

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

Nelson Mandela. He is an inspiration on the healing power of forgiveness and of strong leadership.

Janet Aschkenasy is a freelance financial writer based in New York. 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.


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.


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]