In celebration of International Women’s Day, we wanted to spotlight women leaders in insurance, and the incredible work they’re doing to drive our industry forward. We teamed up with Insurance Specialist, Darlene Sagolili, to conduct a series of interviews with trailblazing women in our field.
In these interviews, we ask women leaders about how they got started and grew their careers in insurance. Keep reading to learn how Carolyn McAvinn, Director of Business Development, MIB Inc., made a lasting impact at some of North America’s most reputable insurance companies, overcame adversity, and how she sees technology shaping the future of insurance.
Carolyn joined MIB in early 2019 as the Director of Business Development with a long history of underwriting experience for several carriers. Her role at MIB is focused on integrating data into the life insurance risk assessment process in an effort to provide value and cost savings for member carriers. She also serves as a board member of the Metropolitan Underwriting Discussion (MUD) group in NYC, NY.
Carolyn is a graduate of UMASS/Amherst and lives south of Boston with her husband and two children.
Q: How did you get started in your career in insurance, and more specifically, underwriting solutions?
I was introduced to insurance by accident. I was searching for a job and applied to a disability insurance company through the newspaper. I started working there and was later introduced to the underwriting function within the company. I was fortunate to be identified as someone they thought would be the best candidate to invest in, in terms of time and training.
Specializing in underwriting provided a great foundation for me that enabled me to continue to grow and gain exposure to various roles within the company. Over time, I found that the specific disability product wasn’t proving to be sustainable, so I wanted to learn the life insurance side as well.
Q: So you found yourself in an industry that you didn’t initially see yourself pursuing! What has your experience been like so far?
In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, people used to join companies and rarely leave. I always thought to myself that people should be trying new jobs and exploring new opportunities. Oftentimes, you had to leave companies to make good financial gains within underwriting departments.
My role at MIB has been mainly focused on the data (providers) as opposed to technology (electronic health records). However, underwriting is still ingrained in my current role and I see the need for it to keep evolving. We need new ideas and a larger workforce. It’s an exciting field, but I think there will be a big gap in underwriting talent in the next 5–10 years.
Q: What are some of the trends you’re seeing? What excites you about the industry?
My work in business development is really around helping our members make better decisions. This can be done through ID verification products, criminal history checks, motor vehicle violations; essentially relying less on client application entry.
As people spend more and more time in the digital world, the data lake is only going to get bigger. We’re working on making the use of data easier for our members. It’s an exciting problem to solve.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your experience working at different insurance companies? What was the culture like? Were there clear differences and/or similarities?
The places I’ve worked at have been so different in terms of culture and opportunities. I’ve stayed longer at companies when I’ve had supportive leadership, had more exposure to other departments, and have been presented with more opportunities.
I’ve learned that in some environments, you need to explicitly ask to be included in projects or invited to meetings. You also have to be very clear about wanting more. Your manager won’t know what you want if you don’t ask; and you have to put in the time to show it, not just say it. The best place for these conversations are in your reviews; I always tried to come away with suggestions of how to drive the next 6–12 months and reach my next milestone.
I also found that, sometimes, I had to be at the office at the end of the day because that’s when most of the informal conversations and relationship building happens. Unfortunately, the “social aspect” still comes into play at times. Navigating the politics of the workplace is important; I had to learn how to build that skill and watch who does it well. It’s the little things that help you build connections with people. Business relationships take effort, just like personal relationships, which might be difficult for natural introverts. Buzzwords aside, an “inclusive” workspace takes these things into consideration and provides equal opportunity for everyone.
I published an article on LinkedIn about succeeding in the workplace which adds a bit more depth to the conversation.
Q: Did you experience any unique or specific challenges in your career so far that you are willing to share?
At one point in my career, I decided to take a break. I felt like I was working around the clock and everything I was earning was going to daycare. So, I reduced my time in the office to two days a week. I was lucky that I had a leader who was willing to support me. She recognized that by being adaptable to my needs and creating a space for me to do my best work, she was getting as much productivity from me part-time as someone else full-time. I was working A LOT, and I was cost-effective for her. I was doing whatever I needed to do to stay in the game, and she rewarded me for that.
Q: What advice would you give women who are exploring a career in insurance or technology?
One thing that has helped me in my career was keeping my skills broad, but also having a niche. It pays off to be able to “specialize” in something.
On the other end, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that sometimes the “need to be right” paralyzes people. Sometimes we end up chasing a battle to prove that we’re right, but we end up losing the war in the long-run. It’s difficult to recover from that.
30 years ago, there were very few women in the industry. It’s getting better. The number of women is drastically improving, although board seats are still lagging behind. I think as women, we could do a better job of supporting each other. It’s important that we lift each other up. I would love to see more celebration of other women doing amazing things.