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Industry Spotlight: Stephen Zera, AIG Property Casualty

by ~ Alexander Henlin (Email) (Web Site)

Midway through our rolling conversation, Steve Zera stopped. He looked me straight in the eye, and said: “Reinsurance is more than just business. It’s a people business; it’s about the contract, yes, but also the business context and relationships.” With those words, this twenty-year industry veteran and reinsurance claims manager for AIG Property Casualty in Boston spelled out what it is that inspires his work each day.

Steve entered the industry in 1990’s, fresh out of Boston University. A native of Connecticut, his first insurance industry job was handling direct environmental claims for Travelers at its office in Hartford. He credits that experience, and the talented professionals with whom he worked, with instilling in him a practical appreciation for claims handling – from intake, through adjustment, and ultimately to resolution. “Claims is an apprenticeship, both an art and a science,” Steve says. “You need to find professionals within and without your company with experience, willing to pass along the skill set. In turn hopefully you pass that along as you progress your career.”

A little over three years into his tenure at Travelers, Steve accepted an opportunity to move from direct claims to a reinsurance desk. Having become acquainted with reinsurance while responding to claim audits, he found the new position a natural fit. It was there that he began to appreciate how reinsurance supports direct insurance, and how his own work with a small team of professionals allowed the larger company to write and respond to a wide variety of risks.

In the late 1990’s, Steve moved from Travelers to what was then CGU in Boston, where his responsibilities included handling ceded environmental reinsurance claims. “That job gave me a deeper understanding of ceded facultative and ceded treaty reinsurance, including more work in the London market.” There was also Third Party Administrator work, running-off the CGU environmental book.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August 2005, an opportunity arose for Steve to take a position with Lexington Insurance Company in Boston on a predominately commercial property ceded reinsurance desk. From there, he moved into a position that allows him to manage a team as part of Lexington and AIG’s worldwide ceded and assumed reinsurance group.

Steve understands that life is a series of learning experiences and that one must invest time and energy to learn skills and methods that bring about optimal results. Throughout his career in reinsurance, Steve has consistently attempted to identify and implement best practices, even while he works to pass along those practices to others. “Along the way, I learned that it was important to add value,” Steve explained, “because that is what allows a practice to really get a job done for its customers. Ask yourself, your internal clients, your external trading partners: ‘How may I help?’ Essentially, how can we enhance production? They may be asking you the same question. The key is good communication.” It is a lesson he has never forgotten.

Why? Because “[o]ur product is a set of services,” he says. To be successful, Steve favors a reinsurance claims practice with a strong inter-disciplinary team approach that has the skills necessary to understand why particular risks were underwritten, how the underlying claim was handled, and how the reinsurance claim will be handled. “It’s all part of an effort to bring the right resources to bear,” Steve emphasizes. “It’s a contextual approach . . . because claims don’t generally happen in a vacuum. Something as simple as the relationship of the parties involved in the claim is fundamental – such as a run-off position or an on-going business relationship – which can influence the tenor of the claim or a whole book of business. This can influence short and long term goals as well.”

Steve credits some of his outlook on the industry with the formative experiences he had while studying Literature as an undergraduate at Boston University, and during his time abroad at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. The one-on-one style of instruction at Oxford, he tells me, sharpened his critical faculty. The teaching method required Steve’s instructors to invest in him, and in turn, that focused attention helped Steve to appreciate that skills are not transmitted and learned by osmosis. In time, he found it to be an excellent precursor to a successful learning and mentoring style in the insurance claims world.

The conversation ends with an easy smile as Steve opens up about community work he has done mentoring youth. Like his day job, this community mentoring involves an investment of time and energy, all focused on a single end. A focus on results is good, but it is also important to understanding why a result is good. Steve explains that he likes to reinforce the lesson that decisions should not be made simply because of the short-term reward they might bring. “In the end, we do something because it is the right thing to do.”

Steve Zera is a reinsurance claims manager at AIG Property Casualty in Boston. He may be reached at steve.zera@aig.com. The views expressed in this article are his own, and are not necessarily those of AIG or Lexington Insurance Company, or any of their affiliates, or of any of Mr. Zera’s previous employers. Alexander Henlin is an associate in the Insurance & Reinsurance Department in the Boston office of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP. He may be reached at ahenlin@edwardswildman.com.

© 2013 Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP. All rights reserved
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