In the C-Suite: Linette Ranieri

We chat with Berkley Life Sciences’ chief claims officer.

August 05, 2013 Photo

Berkley Life Sciences’ Chief Claims Officer discusses the importance of focusing on people over process, showcasing the benefits of a claims career to new professionals, and learning to be a public speaker.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Lake Mohawk section of Sparta, N.J., in Sussex County. Sparta was a small town in what was a very rural corner of northern New Jersey, even though it was not that far from New York City. It was a great place to grow up, as our activities were centered on the lake: swimming, water skiing, ice skating. I have so many fond memories of Sparta.

Were your parents in the insurance industry?

No. My mom was a homemaker, and my dad was an executive with a large public utility company. He worked there his entire career from 1950 until he retired in 1992. I had an uncle who worked for CIGNA, though, and that turned out to be important to me later.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Both of my grandfathers were police officers—one was a detective. That fascinated me, and I always had an interest in the idea of solving cases. I think a career in claims satisfied that part of me. I like being presented with a puzzle to solve. I enjoy having to work backwards to figure out how a claim occurred and who is responsible for the event.

Where did you go to college?

I went to East Carolina University. My bachelor’s degree is in environmental health. For the first two years out of school, I worked with an engineering and consulting company. I was looking at processes for efficiencies. I was literally the person on the roof performing stack tests to measure the particulates coming out of the stack. If they weren’t at the right level, we had to figure out why. As interesting as that sounds, I really thought I would enjoy doing something else even more.

How did you find your first job in claims?

My uncle worked for CIGNA, and he arranged an interview for me with Hanover Insurance Company. That’s how it started. I worked in the commercial lines division handling auto claims for the most part. It was a career I loved instantly because it was interesting, fast-paced, and no two claims were alike. It was the kind of job where I started the day and then when I looked up at the clock, the day was long over, and it was past time to go home.

How did you move into management?

I was made a supervisor relatively early in the process with Hanover. A number of years later I moved to Aetna, which was a good transition since it exposed me to more diverse claims and allowed me to expand my knowledge base. I left Aetna for a position at Chubb, which is where I began my career in life sciences. At Chubb, I held a number of management positions. I have always enjoyed being in management.

How has your management style changed over time?

That’s an interesting question. I think as a new manager, I was much more focused on the process and less on the people. I realize now that it is all about the people. I try to really get to know the people who work for me. I can be much more effective if I know what makes people tick and what is important to them. Everyone is different, and that has to be acknowledged and respected.

Did Hanover or Aetna provide you with good training?

They both did. I participated in extensive training programs with both companies, and I have greatly benefited from that training.

What are your thoughts about the training opportunities available for new professionals today?

I have thought a lot about this topic. About 15 years ago, there was a trend within the insurance industry to cut back on many of the training programs. Much of that seemed to be based upon the short-term desire to reduce costs; I don’t think anyone was looking at the implications for doing so long term. So now we seem to have a less consistently trained work force. Years ago, you knew that someone who had been through an insurance company training program would be able to dissect a policy and craft a coverage letter, and that they would understand the fundamentals of investigating a claim. Now, a lot of people are put into “silos” and, as a consequence, only know one area. It has become almost a “bowling alley” of training in terms of specialization. That certainly limits career opportunities.

Do you think there’s a role for independent training?

Certainly. The CLM’s Claims College is a great example of that. There are many options beyond in-house training. For example, we are sending staff to the Claims College. In my opinion, investing in your own employees is itself a retention tool because it shows employees that you care about their careers and their continued education. Part of the challenge is that many people don’t believe claims can be a career. We need to change that perception. We have to show people that they can have a diverse, interesting, exciting, and fulfilling career in claims.

What advice would you give claims trainees?

I’d say first and foremost to be very good at what you do and then seek out opportunities to do more. Find the opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone and push you to broaden your knowledge and skill set. Make it a goal to be always learning. I also am an avid supporter of becoming a public speaker. In my opinion, it is a key skill needed for success. It can open up numerous opportunities, no matter what your career.

How do you describe the role of a claims department to someone outside the industry?

We’re the “promise keepers” in that we’re the ones who deliver on the promises made for the premiums paid. We’re the face of the company when there’s a problem. We are charged with delivering high-quality professional service and support to make the policyholder whole as quickly as possible. Our goal is to help our insured get to the other side and say, “we learned something and our insurer handled that beautifully.”

Is there a strong role claims plays within the company?

I think the biggest mistake a company can make is to not involve claims personnel in the entire insurance process. At Berkley Life Sciences, we think it is imperative to make sure that everyone is exposed to all of the other departments and to understand the value each function brings to the table. We think that it is essential for making the best decisions, being an effective team, and staying ahead.

What type of claims do you handle in a life sciences company?

We handle all product lines with the exception of D&O. We handle domestic and international, primary and excess, and admitted and non-admitted. To put it simply, our definition of life sciences is everything that the FDA regulates except for food and tobacco. That includes pharmaceuticals, medical devices, supplements and clinical trials, and related businesses.

When you’re looking for someone to fill a management role, are there specific things you look for?

They have to have a passion for people and be a team player. They also must know how to communicate effectively. It’s the manager’s job to know how to speak effectively to each person, to understand what makes them tick, and to discover what kind of approach will work. You need to be able to motivate people to join you in your passion for the job and company.

Are there differences in managing people from the younger generations?

I think there are differences, and it is important that we acknowledge those differences. In my view, they can be more visual and fast-paced. Sometimes they want information in snapshot form. Recognizing how their communication skills differ is important to being effective as a manager. One thing I will say is that sometimes they may be more likely to send an email than to pick up the phone. My belief is that it’s important to coach them to use the phone more often, so they can have those personal interactions. My mantra is, “pick up the phone.” If you need to document it, you can do so in a follow-up email. Personal interactions are a much more effective means of communication when it comes to understanding and dealing with the nuances of a claim.

What role does technology play in claims management?

It is vital. It has given the industry the ability to respond more rapidly, to secure more information, and to do more with less. However, technology also can be overdone and over-relied upon. We can’t lose sight of the art of claims management and the role of the experienced professional, both in terms of analysis and in communicating with the insured. Those personal interactions are critical to the overall process. That being said, any technology that enables us to be better, faster, and more efficient and effective is a great addition.

You are hosting a CLM claims management intern this summer. How has that experience been?

The intern we have is wonderful. He’s very bright and enthusiastic, and he has a great attitude. We’ve thrown a lot at him to make sure he has the full breadth and depth of what we have to offer within the claims operation, while at the same time providing him with opportunities to sit with people from other areas of the company. He’s getting a high-level look at all of the other departments as well. This is our first intern, and it has been a great experience. I strongly believe that claims can be a great career path and that exposing younger people to that option is important to the industry.

Tell us something about you that few people know.

Not everyone may know that I’m a second-degree black belt in Isshinryu Karate. Isshinryu is more of a combat style of karate. It is one form taught to the Marines. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to learn karate, but my mom was against it. “Girls just don’t do that type of thing,” she said. As an adult, I just decided that it was time, and I’ve never looked back.  

About The Authors
Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith is president of Suite 200 Solutions.

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