Providing Counsel to a Virtual Audience
Without missing a beat for their clients, earlier this year Heather Steinmiller ’97 pivoted her division of team members in risk management to a virtual environment. Not an easy feat when your team provides risk assessment and assistance on claims for industries that are grappling with new coronavirus realities and an unpredictable economic environment. Because her clients were wrestling with apprehension and a fear of the unknown, Steinmiller understood her team needed to provide a reassuring voice. As managing director of claims services and general counsel for insurance brokerage giant Conner, Strong & Buckelew in Camden, Steinmiller nimbly identified ways in which her team could assist their clients in this new space. Today, several months into the pandemic, she continues providing daily advice on coverage issues and legal trends that have cropped-up during this time.
We can’t help but wonder what it’s been like for her during COVID-19, and what she sees for the future. We checked in with her to find out:
Saint Mary’s College: Where do things stand today at Conner, Strong, & Buckelew? What is life like today for you and your team?
Heather Steinmiller: We are beginning to transition back to the office in some form. Although we have been able to provide superior service to our customers while remote working, there is no doubt we miss the collaborative team environment that makes working at Conner, Strong & Buckelew special. In the long term there is no doubt our junior team members’ career would suffer from a long term remote work environment. We will accommodate those team members who will be unable to return at this time and ensure they remain connected to the team.
"I found that even in challenging times,
if you provide people with an opportunity, they will take it.”
SMC: How do you empower your team under these circumstances?
HS: At first they needed grace to come to grips with the reality and the impact this was having on them professionally and personally. Then I looked for opportunities for them to lead as members of a task force to look at the benefits of our new virtual work and identify ways to be more efficient and better use technology now and for the future. I found that even in challenging times, if you provide people with an opportunity, they will take it, and my team members proved that time and time again over the past few months.
SMC: What is different for the insurance/risk management industry than for others in this environment?
HS: What is different for members of the insurance industry is that insurance intersects with everything we do — it is the way people and businesses finance risk. This caused insurance to be front and center during the crisis. In the beginning, many believed that the insurance industry would shoulder the financial consequence of lost business income and increased cost of clean-up and operations as a result of COVID-19. So for many in the industry, we became busier than ever. Answering questions and concerns and while also handling the day-to-day needs unrelated to COVID-19. In addition, due to the intersection of insurance with business, many new laws or executive orders directly impacted us and our clients. So we had to add in following legislation at the federal and all 50 states levels. It was a non-stop challenge and continues to be as businesses begin to open.
"Saint Mary's reinforced my faith in God, and my faith in myself.
I learned to push beyond the things you cannot change.”
SMC: How has SMC prepared you to lead?
HS: Saint Mary's reinforced my faith in God and my faith in myself. Moreover, my Saint Mary's values taught me to always think of the larger community. As you climb the ladder, you should be reaching down to the person on the wrung below you to pull them up, not just at Conner, Strong & Buckelew, but in my neighborhood and my community. I learned to push beyond the things you cannot change. Find your comfort zone and focus on the impact you can make and use that to champion through a crisis.
SMC: What have you discovered about yourself as a leader?
HS: I have had to challenge myself. My management style is very "in person and drop by your desk." I have had to be creative as a team for the same meaningful interaction. . .virtually. My responsibility is to help people manage a crisis in the moment, be compassionate with grace, but provide stability to stay focused on long term goals.
SMC: Name one unanticipated "win."
HS: One unanticipated win was applying my skill to narrow down complex information into succinct clear statements to help us and our clients in this crisis. People are desperate for clear answers. This skill has proven valuable at this time.
SMC: Your company places great value on community service. How have you been able to serve during this time?
HS: There are a lot of businesses and people in need. I feel fortunate COVID-19 has not impacted my personal salary. Therefore, I have looked for ways to contribute financially to organizations providing assistance to people — members of the hospitality and theater community. In addition, I have checked on my elderly neighbors and dropped off groceries so they did not have to venture out. For my team at work, I sent inspirational emails. We are a community and when one falls, we all fall. I tried to give what I felt I needed –- love, compassion, encouragement, and positivity.
SMC: What does the future look like for you?
HS: Busy! COVID-19 has impacted the insurance marketplace and our clients. I am focused on leading the way through it as I know we will come out stronger than before. On a personal level, I hope TRAVEL! I love to travel to new places and meet new people. . .but that will have to wait until it is safe.