Women in Insurance: Lauren Karagozian, SVP and Contractual Risk Practice Leader, IMA, Inc.

Women in Insurance - October 7 2020

In this interview series, we profile women who are shaping the future of insurance. This week, we’re pleased to connect with Lauren Karagozian, Senior Vice President and Contractual Risk Practice Leader at IMA Financial Group, Inc. Lauren shares why she has stayed in the insurance industry, the impact of COVID-19, and how insurance needs to change and modernize in order to attract new talent.

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

I don’t believe that my introduction to insurance was that interesting. Ultimately, I applied for a job at a brokerage company and was impressed by my interviewer who then became my mentor. The better question is, “Why have I stayed in the insurance industry for 12+ years?” I think the answer is that the industry is dynamic, and it is always changing. I have to continuously re-educate myself to keep up with the changes. I am consistently impressed with the knowledge of the professionals that I work with and their expertise allows me to continue to learn and develop. I also have been drawn to continue to further my career in this industry because of my ability to utilize my unique set of skills. I have been able, through my company, to utilize my legal education and knowledge and my insurance expertise. My unique expertise has allowed me to provide creative solutions to clients. Client interaction is one of my favorite aspects of my job.

COVID-19 has disrupted the entire insurance value chain including traditional distribution channels and producers – and in a sense, it has made everyone risk managers. What do customers want – or need – from their insurance agents, brokers, and carriers during the pandemic?

The idea of providing risk management has always been an important aspect to IMA. I have always believed that we provide many services/resources to mitigate risk outside of insurance coverage. Our CEO has been known to say that insurance should be the last resort in managing risk. COVID has placed a particular spotlight on IMA’s ability to provide risk management in addition to insurance solutions. Although our customers have continuously utilized some of our ancillary risk management services there really has been a focus on services outside of insurance since the pandemic arose. Without much insurance coverage solutions there has been a shift of focus on loss control and contracts. Safe work environments and associated procedures and protocols have been a particular focus of clients. In addition, clients have spent a lot of time understanding their contractual obligations and certain provisions, such as force majeure, that should be considered prior to signing agreements. In today’s environment, it is the responsibility of brokers to provide solutions outside of insurance. Insurance is not able to provide the stability for certain exposures as related to COVID, therefore brokers need to find solutions to help clients run their business. A broker needs to be a member of client’s risk management team and help drive results for the client. A client needs to be able to look to a broker or agent an understand the exposures and then the options to mitigate those exposures. Insurance should not be the only option and it is the duty of a broker/agent to introduce and then vet those potential solutions.

With the global pandemic, some of the changes we’ve had to adapt to overnight are likely to be permanent. What will insurance look like post-COVID?

The insurance industry has had to make some updates during the pandemic. In the past, the insurance industry as a whole has been resistant to change and new technologies. Much of the business interaction was in person or through antiquated systems. Social distancing forced the industry to begin to use technologies available to connect with clients. I believe there was a lot of hesitancy in trusting that remote work and virtual meetings would have the same impact. I know that we have proven that clients can get the same exceptional service regardless of the physical connection or workplace. That being said, the hesitancy of the industry to transition to a more progressive work environment and way to service clients has been reduced. This has opened the door to be willing to accept new technologies and new ways to meeting clients needs. In the future, I believe that the insurance industry will be open to – and find creative new ways to – provide better service and more efficiencies in providing that service to clients.

P&C insurers are under pressure from regulators and the public to pay business interruption (BI) insurance claims resulting from COVID-19. How are insurers responding to this pressure and to the coronavirus crisis in general?

We are in unprecedented times. I don’t believe that clients, carriers, brokers, or even the courts have a clear or consistent answer about BI insurance claims and if there is coverage or if the risk was properly addressed in current policies. Carriers are responding appropriately by providing interpretation and information regarding the policy language and coverage. Just as when other new exposures have risen in the past, I believe we will see more express coverage language or exclusionary language in policies in the near future.

Insurance carriers and brokers collect mountains of data, but they still struggle to gain the insights needed to accurately assess and price risk. If you had to give the industry a report card, how well do insurers manage risk today?

There are some things the industry does well and areas where there can be improvement. I think that, given the information that they have, insurers do a good job of assessing risk. I do think, however, that there is lack of shared data that is easily accessible and could be used and added to cumulatively that would benefit the industry as a whole.

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

Digitization of information from submittals, to policies, to compliance. The quicker information can be shared the more effective and efficient the industry will be. Furthermore, as information is saved digitally it will be easier to share and access data which will lead to more accurate benchmarking

According to a 2017 study, just 12 percent of insurance companies’ top corporate officers are women. Why do you think there are so few women in senior leadership roles in the insurance industry, and how can be done to promote greater equity and diversity?

I believe that the financial services industry has been slow to change because of established precedents that had led to past successes. This includes male leadership, lack of work/life balance and, at least in the past, a failure to focus on developing talent, which has led to a potential talent gap. Unfortunately, these precedents have led to preconceived notions that deterred women from looking to the insurance industry for careers. Furthermore, there has been a lack of women leaders in C-suite positions at insurance companies. Without positive role models and mentors, women may feel that the industry is not women friendly. I do, however, think this is changing. The insurance industry has been facing the problem of replacing the talent that is retiring for a number of years. In order to attract new talent to develop, the industry has had to change and modernize, this not only includes technology but how to attract and retain talent. The focus on non-salary benefits has extended the talent pool but also there is a push for at work committees and groups that promote the values of diversity, equality and mentorship. I think involvement in these types of groups and mentor programs is the key to promoting this change in how the industry is viewed an ultimately how it is run. Having women in a leadership position that are approachable and willing to share their knowledge and expertise sets an example while also developing talent.

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

I do think the insurance industry is changing and modernizing. With this comes new and unique career opportunities. Brokers and agents have to act as risk managers, and this leads to exciting work through finding creative solutions for clients. It is important that women in insurance right now remember the affect that they can have on newer associates or even potential talent. Being a positive role model by being open and willing to share knowledge and expertise is key to the success of the industry in the future.

 


 

Lauren-KaragozianLauren Karagozian is Senior Vice President and Practice Leader for Contractual Risk at IMA, Inc. Currently, Lauren Karagozian leads the Contract Review, Certificate Compliance, and Certificate Issuance Units at IMA, Inc. Having been with IMA for approximately 12 years, Lauren is responsible for the team of legal and insurance professionals that aid clients in the review of contracts, identification and communication of risk exposures, trainings, compliance, certificate requests, and certificate issuance. Lauren conceptualized and developed the IMA Certificate Compliance Service (IMACC), providing a solution to clients to determine insurance requirements for vendors, ensure compliance aligned with exposure, and administration of collecting and review of certificates. Prior to IMA, Lauren earned a B.S. in Business from Wake Forest University then continued to the University of Denver to receive her J.D. and M.B.A. Lauren uses both her education and insurance designations such as ARM and CRIS to specialize in understanding construction contracts and subcontracts, oil and gas industry agreements, and a multitude of other legal documents from different industries.

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