An AIG ally says golf can be good for business
AIG’s Allison Cooper shares why she’s recruiting more women to learn and play golf.
If the term birdie means nothing to you, you almost certainly don’t know what a bogey is. It’s also a safe bet that you don’t think about your golf swing – and likely haven’t met a client or trading partner on the golf course. If that’s the case, Allison Cooper, Head of AIG North America Financial Lines, would like to persuade you that learning the game of golf can be good for business – and your professional development.
Allison, who began playing golf regularly in her twenties, understands the advantage of the course as a business setting, especially in insurance, where a round of 18 holes to connect is a mainstay. “I remember when I was growing up in the industry, I was one of the only women in the office who did play, so I was asked to often. That provided me the opportunity to meet and interact with a number of decision makers early on in my career,” she says.
Today, as she leads AIG’s North America Financial Lines business, a flagship franchise in growth mode with $2 billion-plus in premium, Allison has come to see that far from a good walk spoiled, golf provides a meaningful amount of time and camaraderie to communicate with clients and brokers on the issues most important to the relationship. This is good perspective for all client-facing professionals, but Allison is particularly committed to helping more women in the industry pick up the game and join those conversations.
Much to Discuss
For Allison, a key topic among clients and brokers these days is the state of the Financial Lines market. She has seen elevated rates draw in new entrants, which has increased competition despite sustained loss trends that include record derivative settlements and unabating security class action lawsuits threatening corporate officers and boards. And there’s the constantly evolving threat of cyber and ransomware attacks.
“Financial Lines is one of the most dynamic markets in insurance,” Allison says. “We’re competing against insurers that don't have our legacy portfolio. But we’re able to differentiate ourselves because of that legacy, as well as provide insights to clients that are meaningful and stand on a long record of claim experience. It's that interaction – that give and take – to be able to say, ‘This is what we're seeing in a portfolio of our size and scale; this is how it can help your business be better; and we can ultimately be stronger partners because our interests are better aligned.’”
These may not be the only things Allison will speak about on the golf course, but the business relationship is a priority topic of discussion. “When you play a round of golf, it’s four or five hours – you really get to know someone. You build respect and trust, you get to speak about issues that matter – it’s an important way to build relationships. I rely on the relationships that I’ve built on the golf course all the time. We discuss issues on the course, even the tough ones.”
In 2018, it was a series of other conversations that led Allison to create an organization dedicated to female advancement in Financial Lines. Along with other senior women in the industry, Allison founded The Bridge, a not-for-profit networking organization whose mission is to develop and advance women in the business.
“We felt that there was a community of women that wasn’t yet connected,” Allison says. “With so many talented women in Financial Lines, we wanted to create an environment where we could learn from each other, bringing a vulnerability and openness to the conversation, building community – and really just harnessing what was already here.”
The Bridge has grown fast to over 700 members and received broad-based support from Financial Lines companies throughout the industry, which Allison credits to its inclusive approach. “It’s about the industry supporting women; not just women supporting women. We have men who are allies on our board of directors and at every event,” she says. “That has differentiated us. People seem to be happy to support us because we’re doing the right thing with no agenda other than diversifying and strengthening the industry.”
Early on, Allison saw an opportunity with The Bridge to incorporate golf. By providing an opportunity for women to learn golf in a supportive environment, it would help bypass the high barrier to entry for the game. “Even if you’re an athlete, golf is not something that necessarily comes naturally,” she says. “Aside from the physical aspect, if you didn’t grow up playing or understanding that courses and clubs have specific rules and decorum, it can be intimidating. We provide women that have never played, haven't played much, or are nervous about playing in front of their male colleagues, a safe space to learn and grow in the game.”
A number of women at AIG have taken Allison up on the opportunity to join in – two on her team, in fact.
Recruiting Allies: Carrie and Kim
Kim McLaughlin, Head of Directors and Officers Liability Products (D&O), and Carrie Kurzon, Head of Employment Practices Liability Products (EPLI) share Allison’s love of the game and understanding of the importance it can play in a business and a career.
For Kim, golf gave her an important leg up on the challenges of a new job, as she focuses on a range of areas, including how shifting legal and regulatory landscape will affect clients, concerns around new exposures relating to SPAC activity, and helping D&Os understand and manage ESG risk. She picked up golf during COVID, just as she was taking on a more external facing role within Financial Lines.
Kim says golf outings were a lifeline during the lonely pandemic stretch, as she could meet people and develop new relationships when most interactions were limited to virtual events.
“Golf was one of the first things that felt safe to do during COVID. It was hard to develop relationships at that time, but with golf, early on, you could have events and gather and meet people at outings. That was really how I started to develop significant relationships on the underwriting side because that was where you could meet with people.”
Carrie, who played golf recreationally in college, and as a plaintiff’s attorney to help network and generate business, just recently picked up her clubs again, inspired by Allison. She says her time on the course has helped her communicate with clients and brokers on the developments she is seeing post COVID on the EPLI front, on matters as broad reaching as the #Metoo movement and Return to Work policies as the workforce emerges from the pandemic. Carrie notes that our trading partners are so busy, often making it a challenge to connect with them for more than a few minutes. Golf affords an opportunity to really be present with them and build meaningful relationships.
“There are certain conversations that for some reason are delivered easier on the golf course, especially between broker and carrier, where something is said and then there's time to digest it and discuss further; it's not the same on a phone call,” Carrie says.
Kim agrees from experience, summing up with an anecdote about a critical conversation she had with a broker recently during a golf round: “We were working on a renewal last year and it was widely thought at AIG that it was going to be difficult. During the round, the broker told me that everything was fine; he said, ‘We’re happy with you. You’re going to get the layer.’ I don't know if I would've gotten that kind of candor except for the fact that I was playing golf that day with the broker. We were on the course, and he was just very honest about where we were.”
It’s a dynamic that Allison knows well and hopes to see more of. For her part, in early August, she hosted important trading partners at a Pro-Am golf tournament as part of AIG’s sponsorship of the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield in Scotland. “They are partners who have really helped us considerably achieve the strong growth we’ve had over the past couple of years,” she said. “It’s a terrific combination of business, social time, and playing golf.”
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