Throughout her nearly two decades of experience in primary casualty and excess liability claims, Monica Chu has always actively sought learning and growth opportunities. “I would take the initiative to periodically search for continuing studies programs, professional or graduate courses, and/or advanced degree programs that would enable me to sharpen my mind, expand my knowledge base, and strengthen my skills,” she says. That’s what led her to discover Columbia’s Insurance Management M.P.S. program. She is now part of the first student cohort, actively applying the part-time, online coursework to her role at Crum & Forster. Monica reflected on her experience with the program so far.
Tell us about your career.
I am an Executive Specialist managing excess liability claims involving actual or potential multi-million dollar exposures. I direct defense counsel on how and when to proceed with various activities during the entire course of litigation, negotiate settlements, manage expenses, analyze coverage, investigate the facts required to assess liability and damages, and strategize with counsel and the underlying carrier(s). Overall, I evaluate the exposure presented to the excess policy, strategize on ways to best resolve those claims, and then execute those strategies. I also handle ocean marine claims.
Whether I am primary or excess on a file, or if I am the lead underwriter on an ocean marine claim, I’m responsible for proactively managing all aspects and stages of a claim, from inception all the way to the ultimate resolution. The ultimate resolution typically looks like one of several potential solutions, including but not limited to directly negotiating with opposing counsel at any time during a pre-suit claim or one that is in litigation; collaborating with defense counsel when negotiating settlements at mediations; trying a case all the way to a jury verdict; transferring risk to other parties; and in some situations, I “hammer” the primary carrier to settle the case within its limit to protect my layer of coverage and the insured’s best interests.
In Claims, I have some interaction with other areas like Underwriting and Reinsurance, but those interactions and the opportunity to learn from them are limited... Seeing what else is out there, and learning how each discipline collaborates with each other, will hopefully help me to expand my career and advancement opportunities."
Why did you enroll in Columbia’s Insurance Management M.P.S. program in particular?
I’ve been in Claims my entire career. Unfortunately, the only route for advancement — at least according to every insurance company’s organization chart I’ve seen so far — is to first make one’s way up to a supervisor before ever having the option of becoming an AVP, VP or SVP. The traditional path (i.e. becoming a supervisor of a unit comprising five to six adjusters who would report directly to me) has never really appealed to me. This rigidity can feel quite discouraging and has stunted my growth for a long time. I’m looking to see what else is out there, and to advance in my career so that I’m not necessarily required to work as a traditional Claims Supervisor first.
In Claims, I have some interaction with other areas like Underwriting and Reinsurance, but those interactions and the opportunity to learn from them are limited. I want to have meaningful interactions with other disciplines and specialties. Seeing what else is out there, and learning how each discipline collaborates with each other, will hopefully help me to expand my career and advancement opportunities.
(Pictured above): Monica (seated third from the left) attends a banquet at the Marine Insurance Association of Seattle.
What has surprised you the most about your student cohort?
I’m surprised there is such a vast range of experience among the students in my cohort; it ranges from five years to more than 20 years of insurance experience. I’m impressed that I’m learning alongside professionals who already have advanced degrees, CPCUs, and are already high-level managers and executives; it’s inspiring to get to know professionals who have the motivation to continue their professional studies outside of work.
My peers and I are fostering connections and new opportunities via communications through group projects. The group projects present an opportunity for students to engage with each other at least on a weekly basis if not more. We’re using all of the platforms — Zoom, Big Blue Button, and/or text messaging and e-mail!
You’re now halfway through the Insurance Management curriculum. What’s been the most interesting course so far and why?
The most interesting course so far has been Claims Management. I got to get into the mind of Rick Woollams, a lecturer who is one of the best and most experienced in the crazy world of Claims. As a former AIG claims examiner in their Excess Claims Department, I recall how big of a deal Rick was! And obviously, he only went on to become a bigger deal after I left AIG, when he later rose to the level of Chief Claims Officer. He has professionally lived through claims involving some of the stickiest situations, messiest politics, highest-profile accounts, very complex circumstances, and the most extraordinary stakes possible. There is a lot of valuable insight to be gleaned from a person who has held that role.
(Pictured above): Monica shared her experiences with the program at Crum & Forster's Women's History Month Lunch & Learn webinar in March 2021.
Outside of the coursework, how are you staying engaged with the wider Columbia and insurance community?
I’m staying engaged with prospective students by speaking at public, company-wide events, such as a recent Lunch and Learn at Crum & Forster this month. I was fortunate enough to share my experiences alongside the program’s Academic Director, Teresa Chan.