As part of its Year of the Insurance Professional, ANZIIF is celebrating women in insurance throughout September.
The headline event is a virtual panel to be held 30 September, which will explore insurance innovation.
We sat down with our valued panel sponsor VMIA for a discussion about women’s contribution to innovation in insurance and the barriers we still need to overcome.
A CLEAR SENSE OF PURPOSE
Irrespective of which industry Elana Rubin has been employed in, she has always been attracted to organisations with a clear sense of purpose.
It was the case when she started out her career in industrial relations and social policy in the early 2000s and has remained so right up to her present role as Chairperson of Victorian Managed Insurance Authority (VMIA).
VMIA is the Victorian Government’s insurer and risk adviser, but Rubin says the organisation’s aims extend well beyond simply providing insurance.
‘VMIA seeks to build a conﬁdent and resilient Victoria,’ she says. ‘It leads harm prevention and recovery initiatives, which is really about helping the state in times when help is most needed, and to help the Victorian community recover well in the event that insurance is needed.
‘It has a sense of purpose that makes it an interesting place to be, but also a real privilege to be involved in.’
SHED THE STEREOTYPE
Rubin says her involvement with VMIA over the past ﬁve years has reinforced her belief that, contrary to public perception, the insurance industry is a hotbed of innovation.
‘When you think about the products that have been developed around business disruption, and the environment around pandemics and natural disasters, the support provided by the sector has been really dynamic,’ she says
As the state’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out progresses and society begins to adapt to living with COVID-19 and putting an end to lockdowns, an innovative response will be required by the insurance sector to ensure that businesses and the economy can thrive once again.
HIGH ON THE AGENDA
Innovation is high on the agenda for ANZIIF’s Women in Insurance Panel, which brings together industry leaders to discuss innovation and technology in an event to take place virtually on 30 September 2021.
For her part, Rubin says the adoption of new technology is having a transformative impact on the insurance industry, pointing to its role in developing our understanding of the risks posed by climate change and how best to respond and insure them.
The perception of insurers sitting around ‘in grey cardigans with very dusty folders on the bookshelf’ is obsolete, she adds.
‘With the use of technology such as artiﬁcial intelligence, which has the ability to assess trends, price risk and look forward based on comprehensive data, I think that insurance is deﬁnitely one of the more innovative sectors.
'And, most importantly, it shows the desire to continue to innovate.’
If the sector has a shortcoming, Rubin suggests, it is failing to communicate the value of this work and its impact on the wellbeing of the wider community.
This means that customers’ misconceptions remain unchanged, despite there being plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Kirsten Kruger is VMIA’s Head of Insurance and has been at the forefront of the organisation’s support for clients navigating emerging risks over the past 18 months.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to inform the way we live, work, and do business, she believes the industry should be concentrating its innovation efforts on evolving traditional insurance solutions so they remain ﬁt-for-purpose.
‘We know that some catastrophic risks are not going to improve, so how can the industry think about some of those risks to support business and government to maintain operations?’
‘At VMIA, we’re in the unique position of being able to get creative and innovate in areas of insurance that we know are important to our clients.’
She cites an example of the team supporting clients that were involved in providing the frontline response on behalf of the Victorian state COVID taskforce, which required devising solutions that were no longer available in the commercial sector.
‘The mass vaccination centres that are on the front line of Victoria’s pandemic response and vaccination effort are operated by the public hospitals, who are also our clients,’ Kruger explains.
‘Coordinating the insurance arrangements around the vaccine and its administration, and some of the arrangements around hotel quarantine for returned travellers, required a great deal of collaboration with clients and across many areas of VMIA, to make sure the appropriate risk management and insurance arrangements were in place.’
PAVING THE WAY
For the past 15 years, Rubin has served as a full-time non-executive director on a range of boards, which she says is a product of being ‘a naturally curious person’.
Her career started with a graduate role in the federal public sector, followed by a position with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) during the 1980s under the Hawke — Keating Government.
‘During that time, the government involved the ACTU and industry groups in a lot of the work around its economic and social policy agenda.
'I was incredibly fortunate to be working on some major initiatives that set up Australia for a period of amazing economic and social reform.’
She shifted her focus to superannuation as it was introduced in Australia as a universal scheme.
Rubin ran the investment program for an industry fund that went on to became AustralianSuper, now the country’s largest fund.
It was while she was working in superannuation that she joined the boards of some of her organisation’s investee companies and discovered a passion for governance and strategy.
In addition to chairing the board at VMIA, she also chairs the board of Australian ﬁntech Afterpay, which she describes as the fastest-growing organisation she has ever been involved with.
‘Afterpay is a fabulous example of purpose, because its purpose is to provide customers — in the ﬁrst instance, millennials and Gen Zs — with an alternative to expensive credit cards and the revolving cycle of debt,’ she says.
‘It’s been fascinating for me to see how people have responded to that alternative.’
ONLY FEMALE IN THE ROOM
In the early days of her career, Rubin says that being the only female in a room as an executive was ‘a lonely place to be’.
‘I've been fortunate to be able to translate my executive experience into a new career. And as a female I've been part of that early wave of women that were able to do that. It is pleasing is to see many more women taking the same path.’
She says that in her experience, women have traditionally been called upon to ‘deal with the soft issues or the people issues, which should be seen as organisational issues owned by the whole executive team.’
Recognition of the business case for diversity is encouraging, she adds, but there is much more to be done to remedy factors such as bias (unconscious or otherwise), outdated job design, attitudes to ﬂexibility and a lack of affordable childcare.
‘We need to address the barriers to achieving the real diversity we need in organisations. That's diversity at the very senior levels and right through the organisation,’ Rubin says.
‘Organisations with diverse boards, executive teams and pipelines of talent have proven to be better performers over time.’
BREAKING INTO BOYS’ CLUB
Kruger’s childhood growing up on a sheep and wheat farm in Hamilton, Victoria, gave her an early insight into the value of hard work, grit and perseverance.
‘While I moved off the land, I haven't lost that sort of appreciation for hard work or putting in the extra effort where it's needed,’ she says.
Her insurance career began as a data processor and plenty of on-the-job training followed before she completed a diploma through ANZIIF to achieve her senior associate membership.
She believes that helping other women to climb the professional ladder requires a conscious effort, because the structures in place are not egalitarian at heart.
‘I’ve felt like it's always been a bit of a boys’ club and women have had to put in extra work to gain respect and recognition, especially in technical roles.
'It's about promoting female talent and investing in their development, as well as supporting them with either education or professional qualiﬁcations, as well as on-the-job experience.’
EVOLVING INTO LEADERSHIP
She describes her own leadership style as evolving, and says the experience of professional leadership throughout the pandemic has brought new insights.
‘The sheer dynamism of the environment we’re operating in has influenced my leadership style, and I'm more likely to consider everyone’s broader context,' she says.
'It might be their experience of home schooling, living alone, or having family overseas that they haven’t been able to see for years.
'Whatever their experience, I’m more empathetic and understanding of the combination of factors that impact someone’s frame of mind as they log on for work every day.'