Women in Insurance: Allison D. Elzer, Senior Director, Risk Solution Services, Markel Specialty

Women in Insurance - March 31 2021

In this interview series, we profile women who are shaping the future of insurance. This week, we’re pleased to connect with Allison D. Elzer, Senior Director, Risk Solution Services for Markel Specialty. Prior to joining Markel in 2019, Allison worked in various capacities in insurance, risk management, environmental consulting and market research for Chubb, Gallagher Bassett, and others. She has experience in a variety of areas including environmental, construction, professional, cyber, products liability, general liability, worker’s compensation, property, auto/fleet, oil & gas, medical, retail, real estate and more. Allison shares her career journey in insurance and discusses what the industry can do to ensure that women not only stay in the profession but advance in their careers.

Allison, tell us about your path to insurance. What attracted you to the profession?

My exposure to the insurance industry started when I was quite young. We moved across the country in my younger years and I watched as my father climbed through the ranks. My impression was that it was a challenging industry that rewards integrity and good decision-making. However, when I was old enough to decide on a career, my teenage self also saw it as a place where you had to “work in an office,” and this was not appealing to me. My path was one where I could “be outside,” so I went to school for Environmental Science at Delaware Valley University (Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture at the time). I spent five years after graduation working for a small environmental consulting firm where I honed my analytical skills for regulations and procedures. I enjoyed working on Philadelphia construction and demolition sites performing oversight, reviewing contracts, and performing related environmental reviews and activities.

At this time, we started a family and decided that it was better for one of us to have a more reliable schedule when my son was born. This spurred a series of years where I spent time working in a variety of areas finally landing in a market research firm where I got a healthy dose of data and analytics. It wasn’t in my chosen field, but at the time it was the best choice for my growing family. Finally, about five years later I had the pleasure of sharing a flight with a fascinating gentleman with whom I shared my thoughts on common-sense risk management consulting for corporations. He suggested I reach out to some of his contacts at Gallagher-Bassett Services and after two phone interviews, I was hired to be a Loss Control Specialist as an independent contractor. I was a full-time Sr. Loss Control Specialist after about a year – and from there my insurance career blossomed, taking me to Chubb, and finally landing at Markel as the Director of Risk Solution Services (RSS).

Loss control/risk management is such an interesting field. The variability of my day-to-day was most attractive to me. Because “everyone” needs insurance, I get to feed my curiosity every day with learning something new about the people and businesses that I work with. I describe it as my own personal “How It’s Made,” because to truly do the job well, you have to know what the client’s product is, how and why they produce it, as well as the personalities surrounding the work itself.

What do you find most fulfilling about the work you do?  

I have a strong desire to help people and find new ways to do things. I feel that my role at Markel allows me to do just that. As the Director of RSS, I have been given the opportunity to make an impact on the way things are done. I appreciate the free exchange of ideas and teamwork atmosphere. It is most fulfilling when a plan comes together and my team can truly take ownership of their accomplishments. Risk Solution Services is a unique group with a wide variety of experience and areas of expertise. We are constantly learning from one another. When we are able to harness the strengths of the team and bring that back to the corporation to support our overarching goals, that’s gold.

The insurance industry is in the midst of massive change, and the pace of change is accelerating. If you had to pick one technology trend that will fundamentally transform insurance over the next 5-10 years, what would it be?

I think there are many ways that technology is transforming the insurance landscape. I do believe that smart phone technology will come into play with the way insurance companies do business. It seems an inevitable future at this point. From reporting to risk management offerings to the policy document access – as long as privacy can be maintained, I think people will lean toward easier ways of doing business.

The insurance industry faces a recruitment challenge with millennials choosing professions they deem to be more progressive, challenging and fun. What can insurers do to entice new talent?

Insurance can be all of those things; I know it is at Markel! Companies could make an effort to highlight the diversity of processes that go into underwriting and managing policies and claims. Here’s a fun experiment to illustrate my point: Ask someone who works in insurance what their major was in college. We have everyone from fine arts to engineering and everything in between. I think a successful recruitment strategy would harness social media and focus on the breadth of opportunity the company provides.

What programs and initiatives does Markel have in place to encourage inclusivity and diversity?

Markel has been making great efforts to encourage inclusivity and diversity. Our D&I Steering Committee is active and visible to the company as a whole. We have had important conversations and round tables touching on all areas of the D&I spectrum. Our Employee Resource Groups are actively engaged in helping create our inclusive culture through their efforts to inform, educate, and engage all employees. I am proud to be able to work in a place where it is so clearly important to upper management that everyone feels valued for who they are and what they bring to the table as an individual. Most recently, we have announced a new Managing Director of Talent, Diversity and Inclusion, Trevor Gandy. I’m familiar with his work and excited to see him joining Markel.

What advice would you give the next generation of women considering a career in insurance?

I’ve been asked this question many times and I always have the same answer: Find your champion. Everyone needs a little help to get where they want to be. Find someone you feel safe with, who shares your values and your vision, someone who knows what you are capable of and is willing to advocate for you. Make sure you foster that relationship and give back as much as you receive. Insurance is a relationship business. We need to be able to see the value that others bring to the table. Finally, it is just as important to be someone else’s champion when they need it.

I’d also say, keep your eye out for opportunity and communicate with confidence. Don’t be afraid to push yourself to meet different people and try something new. Opportunity can knock when you least expect it. (If I had decided to read my new book instead of speak with that gentleman on the airplane years ago, I would not be where I am today.) I think too many allow the fear of the unknown to keep them from taking a leap to try something different or more challenging. Just because it’s “scary” doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Do your research and give it a try!

AllisonElzerAllison D. Elzer is the Senior Director of Risk Solution Services for Markel Specialty. Allison is a proud mother of four – two biological children and two step-children ranging in ages from early teens to early 20s. Allison lives in Southeastern Pennsylvania with her husband Bob, an elementary school teacher and her two teenagers. They enjoy music, travel and anything that sounds like a fun time! Most of their “free” time is spent supporting the children’s various activities including cheer, baseball, soccer, photography, theater and music. Allison and Bob also enjoy supporting local charities and make time to volunteer for Wings of Hope, a local organization that supports families dealing with cancer.

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