Adaptive Leadership: A Conversation With Tracy Choka

By Christine Luzano

Reinsurance News, June 2021

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Tracy Choka is managing director and regional head business management at Swiss Re. Tracy has spent her career in L&H reinsurance, working across multiple areas that include pricing, valuation, operations, client solutions, deal development, and mortality and underwriting research. In her tenure, Tracy has headed Applied Research and Development, Products, and since 2014, Business Management for U.S., Canada and Latin America.

Tracy was recently featured in an SOA Leadership Development podcast. If you missed it, be sure to check it out: https://traffic.libsyn.com/secure/soapodcasts/SOA_Interview_with_Tracy_Choka.mp3

Christine Luzano (CL): How has working remotely due to the pandemic influenced your leadership style?

Tracy Choka (TC): Throughout my career, I've led teams through transformational change as well as significant L&H reinsurance market changes. COVID-19 is an event that has stretched and challenged my leadership style like never before. The pandemic pushed me to look for and rely upon new sources of leadership inspiration and mindset. For example, I connected with military experts in context of navigating long duration crisis situations.   

All of us are missing the value of human connection, face-to-face interactions and watercooler conversations. In our new normal, balancing professional and personal obligations has become even more challenging. Many of us had no choice but to learn different ways of working. Thankfully Swiss Re had a well-established "Own the Way You Work" program, and like many companies, we were able to quickly move thousands of employees around the world to be actively and effectively working from home. Our IT teams and technology platforms allowed for a seamless transition and we've remained fully operational. Amazingly enough, despite not being able to see our colleagues or clients in person, we have somehow deepened our professional relationships in a way that would probably never have happened. It's a silver lining that I want to hang on to as a leader post-pandemic.

Our mental health and wellbeing has also become an increasing concern for people because of COVID-19 and working remotely. To this end, I'm proud to be an executive sponsor of Pathways, Swiss Re's Mental Health & Wellbeing Network for its employees. Our mission at Pathways is simple: to raise awareness around mental health topics and diminish its associated stigma and taboos. We are focused on creating a safe zone for dialogue and providing education and tools easily assessable to all employees regarding mental health and wellbeing. Our physical and mental health are equally important, and now more than ever, we need to focus on both aspects for ourselves as leaders as well as for our teams.

CL: How has Swiss Re adapted to the changing competitive landscape to remain the number one global reinsurer?

TC: This is a pivotal moment for life insurers; never before has the opportunity been so great to close the $25 trillion protection gap. Now more than ever, clients need us and we need to be there for them, to let them know that we are here to listen, and together, learn from our collective experiences and challenges so that we can create the products, solutions, and services that consumers want.

Swiss Re is known for its strong client management and our relationship approach. One way we supported our clients at the height of the pandemic was by kicking off our Client Tender Loving Care (TLC) initiative, where we launched a 10-week flash survey series. The weekly survey topics ranged from underwriting, finance, products, pricing, marketing, in-force business, consumer engagement, and more, and highlighted virtual resources related to those topics to support our clients. 

CL: The phrase "accelerate the inevitable" has been catching on about insurance underwriting and catalyzed by COVID-19. How has Swiss Re helped its clients in this acceleration? 

TC: For life insurers, COVID precautions and restrictions meant that underwriters had to adapt quickly, finding new ways to gather health information in the absence of physical interactions. This is accelerating trends we were already seeing in underwriting and trends we at Swiss Re were already working on to help our insurance partners address. This includes looking for new ways to identify and understand risk using new forms of data and news ways to assess, automate and streamline the process. 

We have supported the use of digital health records, extensions of digital sales platforms and the expansion of underwriting methods that reduce or eliminate the need for face-to-face interactions. We've been building out our Magnum Automated Underwriting suite of solutions to make this easier for all insurers—those just looking to begin automation to those working on improving product design or continuously optimizing processes. Recently, we announced our partnership with Diameter Health. Through this exclusive partnership, Swiss Re breaks through one of the most difficult challenges our clients have identified: The need to be able to use electronic clinical health data that now comes in the forms of more than a million different codes and sometimes hundreds of different ways to express one specific health issue.

CL: With the rise of data science, what advice can you give to actuaries in early stage of their career?

TC: Actuaries have always been trained to predict outcomes by using one form of data or another, whether through probability, statistics, calculus or life contingencies. Now, advances in technology and data science are stretching our capabilities to a new level. My advice is simple: Continue learning new ways to extract knowledge from data to bring forward valuable risk insights as our industry evolves and transforms. The sustainability of our product offerings to reduce the protection gap depends upon both actuarial and data science.

 

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries, the editors, or the respective authors’ employers.


Tracy Choka is senior vice president, Regional Head L&H Business Management Americas. She can be contacted at tracy_choka@swissre.com.

Christine Luzano is vice president, senior marketing communications manager at Swiss Re. Christine has spent her career in communications for various industries building brands and driving communications campaigns. She can be contacted at christine_luzano@swissre.com.