Igniting Next Gen: A Day in the Life of A Chief Risk Officer
Karen Caterino interviews Betty Coulter, Chief Risk Officer for the City of Charlotte. Betty shares her career journey, how she got into risk management and why she chose to work in the public sector. She discusses the skills necessary to succeed in the field, her typical day as a Chief Risk Officer and how her law degree will fit into her role.
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You're listening to a special episode of In The Public Eye Podcast, Igniting Next Gen for Careers and Risk Management, where we explore all the exciting career opportunities and possibilities within the insurance industry. Here is your host, Karen Caterino.
Karen Caterino (00:18):
Welcome to Igniting Next Gen for Careers and Risk Management in insurance. Our podcast series focuses on enlightening students and young career professionals about all the exciting possibilities in the insurance industry. I am your host, Karen Caterino, Senior Vice President with Alliant Insurance Services, and our guest today is Betty Coulter, Chief Risk Officer for the City of Charlotte. I call her our everyday hero, risk management hero. Welcome to the show, Betty.
Betty Coulter (00:45):
Hi Karen, how are you today?
Karen Caterino (00:48):
I'm doing great. So glad you're here. So, Betty, tell us about yourself. How did you get started working in risk management and why did you pick public sector as your preferred career track?
Betty Coulter (01:00):
Well, as you know Karen, I've been working in risk management for over 30 years. Well, in the beginning I did not pick public sector as my career track. I was fresh out of school and looking for a job, and I had already worked in the banking industry, and I'd worked in private industry in the areas of handling workers' comp, human resources and health insurance. And I really became engaged in working with people and engaged with looking at policies and engaged with implementing changes. During that time, I thought I would be in that job for quite some time. However, the economy slowed down and the company did a layoff, and I was caught in the last phase of the layoff. So, there was a position that was available at a local municipality that talked about working with policy, working with safety, and I applied, and I was hired. In that position, I was able to dig deep into creating safety policy and then implementing safety policy and making a change.
And as I progressed through various municipalities, my responsibilities increased. From there, I was able to grow into more of a changemaker role and a broader role. And I'm at the place that I am now, which is at the city of Charlotte. As a chief risk manager, I am responsible for a city, a county and a school system, and overseeing their insurance and risk management programs. I also became engaged as a public servant, as an elected official and served on a school board, which also helped me in guiding my pathway and my career in risk management. Because risk management is a job of influences and if you can influence and connect with people, that's what makes you successful.
Karen Caterino (03:15):
Really exciting. Thanks for sharing this story of how you grew into a role. It sounds like what you enjoy most is that you get to work with a variety of people. You have been able to create and grow your department, so maybe speak to the audience on some of the skills needed to be a risk manager. What are some of the things that you feel are important in the role and what employers look for in the role and why those skills excite you about staying in the role?
Betty Coulter (03:47):
Well, first of all, you have to listen. You really have to listen to the people in your organization and you'll understand their needs. And then you have to be able to learn and become an expert in your area, whether it's insurance, safety, worker's comp, you have to be a good project manager. You have to be able to communicate effectively, public speaking is a skill, to take a key message and communicate that message at all levels and be effective so everyone can understand it, and everyone understands how their levels make your goal attainable.
Karen Caterino (04:41):
Well, you know, it's interesting because, you and I probably always hear in our business that, a lot of people fell into what we're doing and certainly people always mention, "oh, insurance is so boring." What you've just described, and certainly the relationship building and the departments you get to work with is not boring. I think NextGen looks to be more entrepreneurial-ish, and this is really an exciting field for them to really embrace that kind of thinking because it isn't boring. What would you say, is a typical day for you?
Betty Coulter (05:15):
Well, first, as I always say, get a good cup of coffee or some kind of caffeine because you are going to be on the move all day. But you know, I typically start my day by opening emails, reading information from our brokers, from our employees, and from my staff. I meet with employees, I meet with customers, I meet with vendors, citizens, I have meetings with management executive teams, and with supervisory management. I review and evaluate claims. I have teams’ meetings with my constituents. I write policies, review policies and read more and more emails. There's a lot of communication that happens in a day and you have to be engaged and attuned to what the organization needs in order to be effective. But I love it. I love the excitement of the day. I love the challenges of the day. I love the variety of the day, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Karen Caterino (06:15):
It's coffee but fueled by passion. Well, you're also studying to earn your law degree. How do you see being a lawyer fitting into your role?
Betty Coulter (06:25):
So, I see my graduate education as growing in knowledge and overall, it can only continue to deepen my knowledge and be able to support my organization. In my own personal career path and educational growth, because I work with a number of attorneys, I have a group of attorneys currently that work internal to my organization, both in the liability area and in the workers' compensation area. A number of times I receive documents that I must read and understand. Now that doesn't mean I give legal advice, but I have to understand the legal advice that is given to me. Communication is a two-way street and if an attorney is telling you to do something, you have to understand why they're telling you to do that. I'm a consummate learner and that is one thing I would encourage any student to do, whether you're in this profession or any other profession, always continue to learn because you never know what the next opportunity is going to be about.
Karen Caterino (07:34):
Indeed. Betty, the old adage of it's never too late to learn - I think you're a perfect example of that. How can students or early career professionals pursue opportunities to work in risk management for a city such as yours?
Betty Coulter (07:50):
Well, I will tell you this, cities are becoming more and more engaged in risk management. So, a student with a financial degree in risk management could enter into the workforce in the finance area and implement ERM through the controls in an internal control setting, and then develop your knowledge about enterprise risk management and what does it mean? You can support the financial manager, you can support the internal controls manager and you can support the risk manager, if there's a risk manager. If there's not a risk manager and you're looking at an organization that's asking for a safety manager, look at that description carefully because there's opportunities to do insurance management, workers' compensation and safety because they all tie together in some way. So, I would say to a student, get a strong foundation in something you enjoy in finance or risk management or insurance, and all of those can transcend into becoming attractive for a public entity to hire you. Currently, we are searching for claims adjusters, we're searching for insurance managers, we're searching for support staff, and it's challenging finding someone that we can bring in. And one other important thing currently, is that most risk managers, in a number of organizations, are nearing the end of their career. So, this is an opportune time to start seeking out risk management safety in an organization because the opportunities to grow are high.
Karen Caterino (09:40):
And certainly, thinking about risk management in insurance, one thing it seems, Betty, is that it's always a guaranteed position. Meaning it's recession proof, it's pandemic proof. You always seem to find a career or something to do as it relates to risk in insurance. It sure has been a pleasure talking with you, Betty, and thank you so much for all you do and certainly sharing your expertise, experiences and enthusiasm with some coffee for risk management.
Betty Coulter (10:09):
Thank you, Karen. This has been wonderful to share my experiences with you. If you're a student, any time you would like to reach out, I'm always available. I do mentor students. I have done that in the past and I continue to do that. So, my door is always open.
Thanks for your message.
We’ll be in touch shortly.
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