Elizabeth Riczko never dreamed of a career in insurance. She first stumbled onto the actuarial world as a senior at Muhlenberg College. Majoring in math and physics, she eyed a Ph.D. in nuclear physics as her next step after school. But Riczko’s educational background presented the then newly engaged college graduate with a different career choice.
“Many who have ended up in the industry have a story like mine,” she says. “In the 1980s, it was not common to say ‘I want to graduate and go into insurance.’”
Twenty-nine years later, Riczko is business leader of underwriting and analytics at Westfield Insurance Group, and a member of the insurer's enterprise leadership group. With her at the helm, the Ohio-based outfit has transformed its business intelligence program, renovated claims processing and created an analytics resource center. Riczko and her team of underwriters have also achieved annual premium growth rates of 3.7 percent for Westfield’s property & casualty operations over the past five years. The division is up to $1.8 billion in net written premium, thanks to a shift in P&C business strategy Riczko helped initiate. That shift: To create an organization that combines the best of human intuition and technological power.
“The future role of an underwriter in any organization requires data and analytics, but also needs to bring forward the human element,” says Riczko. “We spend a lot of time finding the middle ground, creating the optimal mix between man and machine.”
In 2007, Riczko spearheaded Westfield’s $60 million business intelligence project, her proudest accomplishment, she says. By 2011, the insurer built out an enterprise warehouse that provides data and analytics to employees for daily use. To support Westfield’s new platform, Riczko created a team of analytics and BI experienced professionals, beginning first by recruiting in-house through various departments—looking for anyone with technical experience before venturing out.
Riczko recently embarked on a leadership role in a transformation of Westfield’s small commercial lines underwriting capabilities. She also has a passion for mentoring the company’s potential future leaders. Riczko works with individuals in actuarial, claims, IT and underwriting on their strategic agility and business acumen.
“At the end of the day, the most value I can provide is helping other people help the company,” she said. “In leadership roles our responsibility is to support and develop talent around us. I spend a lot of time on developing leaders around me.”
She adds that mentoring is her way of giving back and following the industry’s long-standing apprenticeship model.
“This is an industry that believes in mentoring,” Riczko explains. “Underwriters are often trained by being assigned to expert underwriters. There is some formal learning done, but experiential learning is most important. I think back on my career and remember how great the people that mentored me have been.”
With any project she leads, Riczko’s main goal is to modernize and change the way Westfield delivers products to customers for greater value, she says. Some of the industry’s new emerging technologies fit right in line with her motto.
“I am excited by the possibility to combine the Internet of Things and digital capabilities, which are more prevalent, with transformative technology on the legacy side.”
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