Travelers addresses social issues through institutional collaboration

Institute’s head honcho discusses some of its initiatives to empower its policyholders

Travelers addresses social issues through institutional collaboration

Insurance News

By Allie Sanchez

Interviewer’s Note: As one insurance executive put it, it makes business sense to have an empowered market, because from a cost standpoint, an empowered and informed market means less risk and a lower loss impact on the insurer.  One company that is tapping into the benefits of empowerment is Travelers, which has established the Travelers Institute to advance and address social issues through multi-sectoral collaboration initiatives.  Joan Woodward, president of Travelers Institute and executive vice president of Public Policy at Travelers, answered some of Insurance Business’s questions.

IB: How has Travelers Institute helped the company lend its voice to shaping public policy, both in broad strokes as well as in the finer details?

JW: Travelers Institute was launched in 2009 as the company’s thought leadership platform and a way to participate in public policy matters important to our industry. We leverage the expertise of our senior leadership and risk management professionals to provide information and analysis to policymakers. We also work across sectors to provide educational opportunities for entrepreneurs, business owners, consumers and many other groups.

A number of our public policy initiatives are in the disaster preparedness and resilience space. Our first initiative was the Travelers Coastal Wind Zone Plan, which addressed availability and affordability of homeowners insurance along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Since then, we’ve hosted an annual “Kicking Off Hurricane Preparedness Season” symposium in collaboration with policymakers, emergency responders, meteorologists and others, to help communities prepare for the season. Working with the Travelers Foundation, we later extended the program to include the annual $100,000 Excellence in Community Resilience Award.

Another issue that we have tackled is how the national debt affects our country. A few years ago, we developed a nonpartisan documentary with Public Broadcasting Service called “Overdraft,” which examined the US national debt and its impact on American opportunities. The national debt can be hard to conceptualize. As a data-driven company, we wanted to help people reach their own conclusions about public policies that would preserve economic opportunities for the next generation.

We also have major initiatives focusing on small business advocacy and cybersecurity education.

IB: The Institute also collaborates with educational institutions. What are the specific mutual benefits that have been culled from this partnership?

JW: We worked with a number of independent insurance agents to bring the film to their alma maters and engaged our University Relations team to help get students thinking about possible careers in insurance.

IB: What is the process for identifying focus areas for the Institute?

JW: We engage with the company’s senior leadership, employees, agents and brokers, as well as our external networks in the public and private sectors, to examine public policy issues facing our industry, customers, communities and families.

One example is our concern about the increase in fatalities due to distracted driving. You may have seen statistics from the National Safety Council showing that the number of highway fatalities during 2015 and 2016 experienced the largest percentage increase in more than 50 years. We know part of the increase is due to Americans driving more as the economy improves, but another component is distracted driving. With lives on the line, we are committed to increasing awareness for safe driving.

IB: What brought about your efforts to empower small and midsized businesses? What are your specific goals for engaging this sector? How far have you come in achieving these goals?

JW: As one of the country’s largest insurers of small businesses, we saw businesses struggle after the financial crisis, and we wanted to help them thrive. Since introducing our Small Business – Big Opportunity symposium series in 2011, we have focused on examining solutions to challenges including regulation, access to capital and cybersecurity. Small and midsized businesses often lack business continuity planning strategies to handle unforeseen events that can affect operations. Through our events that include speakers from the Federal Reserve Banks, the US Small Business Administration, the US Department of Homeland Security and others, we provide free resources and thoughtful dialogue on business resiliency. To date, we have held more than 300 events across the US and recently expanded into international markets.

IB: How are you leveraging the information and data culled from the Institute’s partnerships to benefit Travelers policyholders?

JW: The information we share benefits families, businesses and communities at large, not just our customers. Our partnerships are valuable in educating and engaging consumers and business owners, many of whom are Travelers policyholders, helping them to make informed decisions to protect their families, properties and businesses.

Additionally, we survey attendees during our forums on various public policy issues. The responses serve as strong benchmarks on topics such as small business optimism and cybersecurity readiness. We compare the results across regions and use the data to enhance future educational opportunities.

IB: The insurance industry is undergoing massive change as a result of technology adoption. How is this changing the policy requirements of the industry?

JW: The rapid adoption of new technologies has changed how industries respond to their customers. Insurtech, for example, has jolted the property and casualty industry into moving rapidly to increase efficiency and adapt to customer needs. Customers are demanding more innovation, and Travelers is always looking for ways to best meet those needs.

IB: In what way is it best to respond to these changes from the Institute’s collaborative standpoint?

JW: We collaborate with our partners to provide forums where people learn the effects and risks of technological advances, and what they can do to protect their homes and businesses. For example, our Cyber: Prepare, Prevent, Mitigate, Restore℠ education initiative was launched last year to help leaders prepare for and respond to growing cyber threats. We have hosted dozens of cyber-focused events throughout the US and published an educational cybersecurity guide on our website. Travelers also recently announced that it is making pre-breach cybersecurity services from Symantec available to eligible Travelers cyber policyholders.

IB: What are your plans for the Travelers Institute moving forward?

JW: There is so much work to be done on topics that affect our customers and communities. For one thing, we are always looking to expand the reach of our programming to new regions and build new governmental partnerships that help advance learning and evolve these important conversations. In 2017 and beyond, part of our expansion will be international.

IB: What are the sectors you plan to establish collaborative relationships with?

JW: We continue to form partnerships with both public and private-sector organizations, but we are particularly proud of our relationships with federal government entities. For example, the US Small Business Administration has been a tremendous partner on our small business advocacy initiative. As we expanded into cybersecurity education, we featured speakers from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We also value our work with the US Federal Reserve Banks and have engaged with them on more than a dozen events exploring economic issues facing communities.

We also have broad regional and community relationships with organizations such as the National Association of Women Business Owners, the network of Small Business Development Centers, chambers of commerce and other business organizations.

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