12 Questions with Christine Sullivan, SVP, Risk Control Director at Sompo Global Risk Solutions
Welcome to 12 Questions, a Q&A series where we pose the same set of 12 questions to intriguing folks at the intersection of insurance, risk management, commercial real estate, and digital innovation.
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1. What is the most interesting idea you’ve encountered in your world lately?
I find drones and how they are being used in the insurance industry incredibly interesting. We've got clients that are using them to fly over buildings, for example, in hurricane-prone areas to survey their buildings prior to hurricane season, so if a significant storm occurs, they can better see the damage.
We have another client using drones to deliver food on the golf courses. It’s really an interesting and different exposure that we're seeing and having to pay attention to, from not just an insurance standpoint, but a risk control issue.
I've also seen people using drones to adjust claims. I think there's a lot of opportunity for expanded use and it’s only going to evolve.
2. Where do you think no one is looking right now?
I have a couple of thoughts here, starting with what we refer to in the U.S. as Total Worker Health. This “model” embraces employee health and wellness holistically, meaning we don’t just look at the body and physical injuries, but also the mind. Mental health, especially on the heels of the pandemic, is less taboo to talk about and proactively address. A recent example is Naomi Osaka, the tennis player who dropped out of the French Open due to her anxiety. We are seeing how the two – mind and body – are intertwined and their impact; we really need to be paying attention to this.
My other thought is that I still don’t think we focus enough on large-scale catastrophes – pandemics, cyberattacks, and natural catastrophes (NatCats). We had a pandemic that impacted every aspect of our personal and professional lives. We’re seeing an increase in cyberattacks and an expanded impact from those attacks – a gas shortage resulting in logistical nightmares, for example, and companies being held hostage until ransoms are paid. We have also seen an uptick in significant NatCats, occurring with greater severity and frequency. What used to be a 100-year storm, or a 500-year storm or event, has become a more regular event and how much of this is attributed to climate change? Why are we getting more hurricanes? Why are we getting more windstorms, typhoons? Where does that fall with climate change and what should the companies be doing to address that piece?
From a climate-change standpoint, I think some companies have done a really good job in looking at green buildings, for example, and changing how they're doing business using more clean fuels. But there's still a long way to go.
Overall, while many companies have business continuity plans, based on what we've seen the past year, they're not being updated or tested to address these “new” exposures.
3. If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your industry?
If I really had a magic wand, we'd have no claims. All injuries and everything would go away, but obviously, that's unrealistic. While I believe the insurance industry has started to embrace technology and artificial intelligence, we can still do better. When you look at it, we have a great deal of data, but what does that data tell us? We are investing in the AI, but need to interpret that data and develop sustainable and practical solutions. So, if I could wave my magic wand, it would be to have those solutions; to take all this data we have and predict the next storm or the next workplace injury. It’s really a matter of building out the technology and the infrastructure to be able to do that.
4. What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
I'm a risk control professional, so I work with employees and clients on their safety programs, both for worker safety, as well as securing their properties. So, for me, the most rewarding part is playing a role in ensuring that employees get home safely, that they get back to their families, and whatever it is they like to do. Also, if I can help our clients minimize their risks, then they could potentially be more profitable; so, we are contributing to their financial health too.
We currently have about 40 risk control professionals on staff, who work by industry specialty or vertical. When I hire people, I hire people that really have strong knowledge of the industry they are partnered with. We've continued to grow that team and look for folks with professional certifications too. Let’s use, for example, the hospitality industry which has really, really struggled over the last year with pandemic-related closures and layoffs. We've got several hospitality risk control experts on our team that are actively working with our clients on safely reopening their properties including securing the building and providing training for new and formerly furloughed staff to minimize the risk of injury.
The other piece that I really enjoy is being actively involved with the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP). I'm their incoming president for 2022, which is quite an honor. I like giving back to the profession that's done so much for me by mentoring younger professionals, and helping them find their way in this industry is incredibly important to me.
5. What do you envision the next 12 months will bring?
Well, it's interesting because everybody keeps talking about going back to normal. I don't think we're ever going to go back to the way it was pre-COVID; I do think a lot of it's going to depend on what happens with the variants. Are we going to continue to see strange variants impacting different countries? Do we have to be re-immunized and when? How many people are going to choose to get immunized? What about the countries that are really struggling to get immunized? We have employees in Latin America for whom the vaccination has not yet been made available. So, I do think we're going to see less business travel. I no longer need to hop on a flight to the West Coast for a 2-hour meeting. I think we've learned that we can do a lot of things virtually without sacrificing relationships or the bottom line.
6. What’s your favorite building?
I have a couple, but one of them is Sleeper House in Genesee, Colorado, built by Charles Deaton. I lived in Colorado until recently; I was there for 28 years. This building was featured in Sleeper, a film by Woody Allen, and also looks like something out of the cartoon, The Jetsons. For a long time, the house was vacant; however, the current owner is in the process of renovating to make it habitable. But it's a very cool-looking building when you drive by the Genesee mountains.
7. Please dispel a myth or misconception about your work.
I work in the risk control area, and a lot of people think we're inspectors, that we're just there to do inspections and find problems, and that's not true at all. Within the risk control world, particularly at Sompo GRS, our role is really to be an advocate and to be part of our clients’ risk management safety team. We are much more focused on consulting versus compliance. We work with our clients to make sure they've got a strong risk control program, whether it's a casualty program or a property program, that they've got leadership support and that the risk control program is embedded in the organization. We view ourselves as a business partner. We're not there to be checking off boxes – we are there to help our clients uncover potential issues before they become problems.
8. What are the tools, apps, or gadgets that you just can’t live without?
Well, my phone would be number one, for both personal and work life, because I think everybody needs their phones these days. From an app standpoint, I've got a couple that I use pretty regularly. I mentioned that we lived in Colorado before relocating this past summer back East. We used a hiking app called AllTrails, that provided directions and helped you to follow the path to get where you wanted. We still try and hike every Sunday – a thing we do as a family. This past winter there was a lot of snow on the ground, and while we were hiking, it began snowing, quickly covering our path. We’ve noticed that trails are not marked as well in the Northeast as they are in Colorado, so having this app really prevented us from getting lost.
Another that I've recently started to use is a chat app called Clubhouse, which hosts live discussions on different insurance, safety, and risk control topics. I’m pretty new to the app but have participated in some really interesting safety and risk discussions. There's a group of us from the ASSP, mentioned earlier, that spun off and we do a lot of discussions on Clubhouse. I think it's all part of making the world smaller in a good way.
9. What’s your biggest pleasant surprise related to remote work?
I've been a remote employee for a very long time, so I've never really been in an office on a regular basis. But for me, the surprise was the increased interaction with other people. I'd done a lot of calls with coworkers, but until COVID, I'd never actually seen them – I didn't know what they looked like or much about them outside of work. I think with video technology we're getting to know a lot more about each other – developing stronger relationships, really learning about one another as people, and getting to know each other’s families. For me, actually seeing people and really connecting is better than my former remote environment, where we were just on the phone, and that’s really been my biggest surprise.
10. What’s your favorite productivity tip for staying motivated and getting work done?
For me, it's having a schedule and sticking to it, because I've always been remote. I can't get up in the morning and just come downstairs in my PJs and try to work. You need to get up in the morning, get dressed like you're going to an office, even if you're not because then it's work time. For me, it's easier to focus from that standpoint. My other thought is to make sure you schedule personal time. Take a run or walk the dog. This type of tip is something we often provide to our clients, and we try to practice what we preach. We do newsletters, articles, and webinars on this exact topic. So, I think it's really important to have that personal time because it is very easy, particularly being remote, to be stuck sitting here for a lot longer than I need to be or should be.
11. What or who do you read/watch to keep informed?
I do a lot of reading for fun, as well as for business. We actually started a book club at Sompo International this past year. We just finished our second book called Never Enough by Mike Hayes. He's a former Seal, and his book is fantastic; it has a lot of really good life lessons, so I’ve enjoyed working through that. I also read the Wall Street Journal and other risk insurance publications – probably not very different from others in my industry. Also, I'm a Reddit person!
From a podcast point, there's a group called Safety Justice League, and I like to listen to their podcasts. I tend to listen while I'm watching my daughter at swim practice or when I have time to sit down and focus. They do a really nice job of offering different podcasts.
In my downtime, it's kind of that mindless television. Grey's Anatomy, which I've been watching forever. I'm not sure how many seasons it's been on at this point! Also, Chicago Fire. Just the kind of mindless TV at night to kind of break up my mind.
12. Please nominate folks who should answer this next.
The first person that instantly came to mind was Scott Allen, who is the Chief Risk Officer at Related Companies. They build all kinds of properties including Hudson Yards in New York City, which has what's called the Vessel and the Edge. I've worked with Scott since I've been at Sompo International, and the thought and care they put into their decisions, from a risk standpoint, is really incredible.
The second person I thought of is Ryan Nagy, who's with a company called Risk Control Technologies. They primarily work with insurance companies to help them from a management-of-process standpoint. We use their systems to generate our reports and to manage our workloads. Underwriters can get into the system and find all the information from a risk control perspective on a specific client. Their system can integrate with a lot of other insurance products. It's a little bit of a different approach, but I think he's got some really interesting insight into the industry.
Thank you to Victor J. Sordillo, EVP, Global Director of Risk Control Services, at Sompo International Insurance, for nominating Christine in his 12 Questions.
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