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 Nichole Myers, SVP, Underwriting Propositions Lead for the Americas, Swiss Re., 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.
Nichole Myers has a truly unique position in insurance, operating at the forefront of industry-leading underwriting technology. She recently joined Swiss Re as SVP, Underwriting Propositions Lead for the Americas. Prior to returning to Swiss Re, Nichole held the title of Director, Business Development — EHR, MIB Solutions, where she was responsible for launching their new Electronic Health Record initiative into the market.
Nichole has held a diverse set of roles throughout her insurance career, including Underwriting and Sales Operations at a direct carrier and a reinsurer. While Nichole’s background and formal training is in Life Underwriting, she has spent the last years focused on underwriting technology, new product and application development and process improvements.
Nichole is passionate about using her unique insight to enhance the end-to-end customer experience in order to drive meaningful solutions to the market.
Q: How did you get started in your career in insurance, and more specifically, underwriting solutions?
I grew up in Connecticut when it was the insurance capital of the world. However, I initially set out to be a social worker. I wanted to change the world by contributing to mental health, drug and alcohol treatment. I found myself a few years out of university, on-call 24 hours a day, 355 days a year. It was at that point I decided it was time to go back to school to complete my master’s degree and move on to the next level. A friend offered me “normal hours” working for an insurance company — MetLife — to help pay my way through school.
Within a few months, I had fallen in love with the insurance industry. I stayed with MetLife for almost 10 years, before joining Swiss Re. Which gave me a well-rounded perspective of the industry.
Q: One common theme in your career path is exploring new solutions and technology. Was this something you proactively chose to get into? Or was this the direction insurance was headed, in general?
Originally, I thought I’d stay on what would be considered a very “traditional” path. There are designations I set my sites on and I thought eventually I’d become Chief Underwriter. In this field, typically you put the time and effort in to learn, progress to new approval limits, and work your way up to multi-million dollar cases.
Yet again, a unique offer came my way. I joined a direct-to-consumer sales operations team as the field underwriter. When you become an underwriter, you don’t usually expect to end up in sales. However, in that role, I really stepped out of the traditional path and ended up connecting with an incredible team.
I learned how to train and grow salespeople to think with underwriting in mind. I was exposed to the technology being used for both sales agents and underwriters. The technology that was being used had to be optimized, and that really fired up my passion. The changes we were making had a profound impact on the entire ecosystem. In this industry, if you can change a screen in someone’s world, you can change everything.
Q: What was the transition into insurtech like for you?
I feel I officially transitioned into insurtech when I accepted a great opportunity to join Swiss Re’s automated underwriting rules engine team, in a design/implementation role. I know the word “technology” may intimidate some people; it’s scary to step outside of your comfort zone, but you don’t need to write code to be in insurtech. I’m not a technologist, but I have experience and opinions that are very valuable. I understood the challenges the carriers were facing, and I was able to translate that into the language of technology in order for our teams to build out the platforms.
Technology or product-related roles are great for women that have good communication skills. If you’ve sat in roles that involved problem-solving or leading a team or being truly cross-functional, it could be a great fit for you.
Another realization I had is that I had to stop asking myself where I want to be in five years. You really can’t answer that question anymore, and you don’t want to end up boxing yourself in. By embracing something new, I ended up working with Swiss Re’s global team. I had the opportunity to build experience across different regions. That never would have happened if I stayed the course.
Q: What excites you about the future of the industry and the role technology plays in shaping insurance?
What really excites me is our ability to reshape the customer experience. Attending conferences like InsurTech Connect, I’ve noticed there’s a huge focus on innovating digital health data and expediting that process. Ultimately, we have to keep reorienting to the north star and asking ourselves “Who is the customer? What do they want?”.
If someone is cared for, you have a customer for life. Although technology has a large role to play in insurance, we still need humans, we need agents and salespeople. There is ample opportunity to completely reimagine what the customer experience looks like — and a lot of really smart people working on solving these problems. I get excited about thinking about what else we’re going to try, what hasn’t been done yet.
These days at conferences, everything is about artificial intelligence (AI). In my opinion, the customer doesn’t care how they get health data — they just care that it’s faster. They don’t care if it’s AI, OCR or PDF, they just want it in a reasonable amount of time. I actually think that distribution is where most of the opportunity exists.
Q: Did you experience any unique or specific challenges in your career so far that you are willing to share?
Working in Sales Ops, you run into some unpopular opinions related to commission structures. Some of the people you come across in sales display the worst possible behaviour because of monetary incentives. I always encourage teams to take a critical look at commission structures and incentives to ensure they are fair and ethical.
We also need to be more transparent in the sales industry. We can’t come off as creepy salespeople anymore — it’s become damaging to our reputation and has created a lack of trust. The products we sell are so important, and all that innovation has to be transparent.
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?
Culture can change drastically across companies and even across teams. Especially in insurance which is more of a “traditional” industry; it can be very male-dominated. I recall being in some rooms and looking around like “Where are the women?”.
Swiss Re does a great job of ensuring female representation across the company, but not all organizations are like that.
I will say that the women leaders I’ve worked with in my career left a clear impact on me. They inspired me and gave me something to strive for. There were exceptional male leaders as well who offered me valuable guidance, but when it came from a woman, I’d often find myself looking up and saying “Wow, who is this person?”.
This is why I’m super happy that you reached out about this interview. We have to be able to change the perception that there is a lack of qualified women in our industry. It’s important for us to move the needle forward and create more opportunities.
Q: What advice would you give women who are exploring a career in insurance or technology?
My hope for younger women in the industry is that soon they’ll be able to walk into a room and not be the only woman at the table. My advice would be to remember that you are valued, and it’s important to recognize that you have your own skills.
I also want to encourage women to be there for each other. Let’s leave the “Queen bee” syndrome behind — there is enough room and leadership roles for all of us. Women need an outlet, and we have to support each other.