Avis Budget Group’s risk manager, Suzanne Panicoe, outlines the risks she sees facing the travel industry in 2022.
R&I: What was your first job?
My first job out of college was as an accountant at Alliance Capital, which was actually owned by AXA. I was responsible for the investments in the insurance products and am an auditor by profession.
R&I: How did you get to your current position?
I actually joined Avis in 2003 as an accountant. At that time, Avis had its own property and casualty insurance. I was hired to work on the NAIC filings, the legal documents.
While I was in this role, because the person responsible for budgeting and forecasting was leaving, someone from the risk management department approached me and asked if I would be interested in the position.
In my position in insurance accounting, I worked closely with the risk management department. So in 2005 I switched to risk management.
R&I: What has been the biggest change in risk management and the insurance industry since you have been there?
I would say cyber – cyber attacks didn’t really exist when I got into risk management – and cyber insurance wasn’t a cover that a lot of other companies were buying, including us.
However, it has become such a critical branch of insurance and a focus area for companies of all sizes and industries.
R&I: What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career?
There have been many challenges over the years, but the biggest challenge I have faced in my career came at the beginning of the pandemic.
The travel industry came to a full stop and we were faced with a large concentration of fleets lying idle.
“The biggest challenge I have faced in my career happened at the beginning of the pandemic. The travel industry came to a standstill.” —Suzanne Panicoe, Senior Director, Global Risk Management & Claims, Avis Budget Group
We then suffered several asset losses as we were in the middle of negotiating renewal terms.
As a result, I was forced to look at different structures while also leveraging the relationships with insurers that had grown over many, many years.
R&I: Who was/are your mentor(s) and why?
I’ve had the privilege of reporting directly to female executives since 2007 – Barbara Vitale, Rochelle Tarlowe, Lynn Finkel and Izzy Martins.
All of these women are smart, strong business women and amazing moms. As a working mother, I’ve learned that being a mother can also have a fulfilling career. I see them all as mentors.
However, I would like to highlight one in particular – Barbara Vitale, the former risk manager of Avis.
Barbara taught me so much about risk management by sharing her own knowledge and experience with me and inviting me to attend almost all meetings with her so I could learn all aspects of risk management rather than just seeing the financial side of the role .
R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?
I would say the risk management community is focusing on the next generations so this industry can continue to have really talented workers. We bring more awareness to the industry as a whole.
I would say a decade ago there was no such thing as a risk management degree. And now several universities have it, and we’re cultivating new talent right out of college.
R&I: What could the risk management community do better?
I struggle with this question because in some ways we’ve gotten better.
But I think alternative options for traditional insurance will continue to pose a challenge as premiums continue to rise. The losses keep getting worse.
But presenting risk managers with alternative structures rather than just buying the traditional market, insurance and paying a flat premium is something that could be improved.
R&I: How do you think technology has impacted the risk management profession?
Well, it certainly offers much better analytics. I think people got stuck with the insurance they bought and compared it to a wider range of industries.
Now you can drill into the data at such a granular level and really compare your company to similar companies and see where your risks lie – whether geographically or in a specific line of insurance.
R&I: What risks do you think the travel industry will face as the pandemic moves into an endemic phase and people travel more?
I think the travel industry is already facing more demand than supply.
Whether it’s airlines or rental cars, we’ve seen this resurgence in pent-up demand for travel. It’s great to have demand, but it drives up prices.
R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
This is difficult in the sense that it is difficult to pinpoint one. I thought, ‘Well, how do you define favorite?’ Because favorite is a positive word for me.
So my choice is a bit odd in that sense, but it’s really more about which book I read was most moving or disturbing or had the biggest impact on me. And I would say it is before we were yours by Lisa Wingate.
R&I: What is your favorite drink?
So my favorite non-alcoholic drink would be tea – and that’s hot or iced, black or green. I like tea. As for alcoholic beverages, I’d say a nice, well-chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
R&I: What have you achieved that you are most proud of?
Advancement to Global Risk Manager role. I took on this role during the pandemic, which is possibly the most difficult time for our company. I also lead the liability team. So really, my proudest achievement is where I am today.
R&I: What was the riskiest activity you have ever undertaken?
I’m not a very risky person. I can’t think of anything. I don’t even have a tattoo. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle. And I certainly didn’t jump! &