Features

Kathy Card Beckles – Verisk

Ready to lower insurance industry risk

Preparing for extreme events is business as usual at Verisk, which its chief legal officer, Kathy Card Beckles, describes as “the best company that nobody has ever heard of.” Only that may not hold true for much longer.

What used to be called extreme events seem to be happening with more frequency, and these acts of God or wayward man raise Verisk’s profile as a mitigating factor for the insurance industry’s undertaking of high-stakes risk.

Kathy Card Beckles | Executive VP, Chief Legal Officer, Corporate Secretary | Verisk

Kathy Card Beckles | Executive VP, Chief Legal Officer, Corporate Secretary | Verisk

There are the western wildfires that have been expanding eastward. And the Atlantic and Gulf coasts hurricanes which might be growing in intensity (NOAA is forecasting as many as 17 named storms for the 2023 season).

And the earthquakes and tsunamis on the other side of the world. And the foreign coups and strife whose effects also aren’t confined to one country. And whatever pandemics follow COVID-19.

Such crises are of much concern to the insurance industry, so its companies look for probabilistic models to assess how they’ll be impacted financially when the inevitable occurs. For that they can turn to Verisk, a New Jersey-based multinational noted for its data sets, technology and industry expertise for predictive analytics.

The complexity of its business model notwithstanding, Card Beckles puts in understandable terms what the firm has to offer insurers and re-insurers: “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.”

Vigilant Verisk

Assisting Verisk’s clientele in staying ready has Card Beckles mixing the legal, business and technological smarts she brought to the firm in April 2021 after in-house roles with financial institutions. Asked how that experience benefits her, she replies it’s all about dealing with the unexpected.

Verisk previously served a larger clientele that included energy and finance. About a year into Card Beckles’ tenure at Verisk, the firm was onboarding several new directors and refocusing solely on the insurance industry, with its Extreme Event Solutions division advising on the so-called 1-percent disasters or force majeures that could destabilize even the most comprehensive liability carrier. Verisk covering all bases, it has models for less-intense events too.

Kathy Card Beckles | Executive VP, Chief Legal Officer, Corporate Secretary | Verisk

“When our customers ask how they can offload risk, I want to make sure we have the right systems and processes in place to give them the answers and results they expect,” she says.

A Verisk strength, she goes on to say, is taking as much off a client’s plate as possible, and that necessitates a customer-by-customer approach, asking each about its unique need, safeguarding yet integrating the data, and getting the products and solutions approved jurisdiction by jurisdiction.

Compliance thus becomes a prime concern, and Card Beckles explains how Verisk’s approach gives it an advantage.

“Because we amass people behind our services, when regulators want to make changes or have questions, they come to us as a trusted source,” she says. “We are able to go to the regulators and vice-versa.”

Doris saves days

Detail-intense as compliance might be, Card Beckles says it’s been streamlined by her first personnel move, the promotion of former portfolio manager Doris Heras to head of legal operations in April 2021.

Prior to then, Card Beckles says an in-house survey revealed that staffers needed two days just to respond to routine questions and requests. With Heras accessing workflow tools that include a common mailbox with back-end automation, Card Beckles says the process is much more orderly.

“Doris magically created two more days in our work week by taking the onus off the legal staff to handle the routine,” Card Beckles says. “We’re not just redlining agreements. We’re defending the firm, building trust and becoming full partners.”

Kathy Card Beckles | Executive VP, Chief Legal Officer, Corporate Secretary | Verisk

And that’s what in-house legal must be, she says, especially at tech-intense Verisk where cybersecurity and data privacy are so central to the mission. She sees it only getting more intense as the firm explores the benefits of artificial intelligence, machine learning and whatever else the wired world will offer.

“We need to establish the rules of the road because there’s a lot of good that can be done,” Card Beckles says. “Everybody wants to do the right thing, but there are no standards or guidelines in some cases.”

Good chemistry

But it’s not like she and her colleagues are working without a net. Verisk’s the standard-setter for insurance industry numbers-crunching, she says, and it’s been doing so for more than a half-century, originally as a nonprofit. Its prominence should only increase vis-a-vis the risk exposure for extreme events.

And Card Beckles—she certainly brings the capacity for critical thinking to her role. Time was when she envisioned doing so in other capacities.

A lifelong “Star Trek” fan, she entertained youthful fantasies about being an astronaut, taking inspiration from Mae Carol Jemison who in 1992, as a crew member aboard the Endeavour, became the first Black woman to ascend into space. Card Beckles not blessed with 20/20 vision—“When I take my glasses off, everything disappears”—settled for chemical engineering as a University of Delaware undergrad and made her mark in aerospace through adhesive R&D.

Kathy Card Beckles | Executive VP, Chief Legal Officer, Corporate Secretary | Verisk

“But airplane glue wasn’t as sexy as I thought,” she says with a laugh.

The George Washington University Law School had more appeal and she enrolled in 1999 after a couple years in labs. Upon graduating in 2002, she needed just a couple years as a Kenyon & Kenyon associate before spending 2004 to 2015 in New York with JPMorgan Chase as managing director and associate general counsel of IP and technology. Then came nearly six years at Chase, also in New York, and finally to Verisk.

Though she’s moved on from chemical engineering, she credits that rigid discipline with her ability to tackle other complex subjects. Another benefit came from her early involvement with the National Society of Black Engineers, and meeting her husband, Kevin Beckles, a network engineer for Verizon. The couple is raising twin 16-year-old daughters and a 15-year-old son.

At least one of those youngsters, a daughter, seems to have caught the engineering bug for bioresearch. Whether she too transitions to law, her mother says she’ll have the background to tackle anything.

“Engineering teaches you to be disciplined and solution-oriented,” Card Beckles says. “You learn to take apart a problem and solve it. Look at me: I’m still solving problems, only with words instead of chemicals and reactors.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer IV 2023 Edition here.

Published on: August 18, 2023

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