A Day in the Life of…

Adena Edwards

Assistant Vice President Environmental Claims
Starr Adjustment Services, Inc.

Ms. Edwards is based in New York and serves as an Assistant Vice President overseeing Environmental Claims for Starr Adjustment Services, Inc., a member of Starr Companies. Ms. Edwards joined Starr in January 2015. Ms. Edwards is an attorney licensed to practice law in New York and New Jersey and holds numerous adjuster licenses throughout the United States. Ms. Edwards has more than 22 years of experience handling and overseeing environmental, toxic tort and construction claims, both domestically and internationally. Prior to joining Starr, Ms. Edwards was a law clerk for 4 years before becoming a practicing attorney for 7 years specializing in environmental, toxic tort and mass litigation cases and has held environmental claims positions at AIG, AIU and Zurich for more than 8 years. Ms. Edwards also has approximately 12 years of experience handling and overseeing environmental emergency response and crisis management claims. Ms. Edwards holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School.

RISE founder, Amy Cooper spent some time with Adena to find out more about what a day in her life really looks like and this is what she said...

What is your morning routine?

I'm up at 5:30 am to workout. After my workout, I make a protein shake and a pot of coffee and start checking email until I get on the train.

What is your commute like?

I take the train in to the city which is about 40 minutes. My husband drops me off at the train station or, if it’s a nice day, I walk. Once I get to Grand Central Station, there it is only about a 5 block walk to the office.

What is the first thing you do when you start your work day?

I start reading and responding to emails from the second I wake up. 

How do you balance meetings, email, solving problems, and your own tasks?

I am very type A, so I’m guilty of trying to take on everything, which is not good.  I do realize I need to learn to delegate tasks better to my team and gain more balance between work and home. I find it hard to disconnect.  So much so that my husband and I specifically picked a place for our honeymoon where there is no cell service and minimal email service, to make sure that I disconnected. I keep up by being very good at multitasking.  I also have a crazy memory and remember details of almost every claim I’ve ever touched. It helps because I am able to recall things quickly during meetings and remember situations from the past that are applicable to current claims.  

Lunch?

I make myself go out to get lunch, so I can take a break from my desk and walk around the block. Otherwise, I'd never take a break the whole day.  

You never get through a day without ______.

My coffee in the morning.  I have a lot of natural energy but that one cup of coffee in the morning just gets me started.

Who do you work most closely with?

I work most closely with the person who is my underwriting counterpart. I sit right next to them, so I end up talking to the head of environmental underwriting 50 times a day. It’s actually the most effective set up of any company I’ve ever worked for.  Because he and I work so closely together, there is constant communication and very little in the way of surprises.  When we have a bad claim, he knows about it; if we don’t like the way something is worded due to claims experience, we discuss it and work on better language together. If we need a change endorsement on policy, we deal with it together right away.  I also work closely with my team.  I oversee two people in New York, one in Philadelphia, and one in Chicago. Most of my communication with my team outside of New York is email, phone, and Skype but I do travel to Philly and Chicago periodically for face-time with my team. Having my team spread out in other locations helps us to waste less time on travel to claim-related activities around the country but it is hard to oversee people who I don’t see every day in person.

Who is home waiting for you at the end of your day?

My husband and two dogs.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Helping people and teaching people.  When an insured has a claim, it’s basically their worst day.  We deal with claims every day but an insured may only have one claim ever in the history of their business. I like helping insured’s going through their worst day to make that day not so bad.  I try to help alleviate their fears and anxiety by taking things off their plate but also explaining things to them every step of the way. I enjoy taking time to coach my team and my adjusters.  When I see a mistake or an error, I take it as an opportunity for them to learn and pause to discuss and explain why what they did was wrong and how to incorporate this learning experience into their knowledge base to improve in the future.

What changes in the role of technology have you noticed in your department? Does this change the skills you hire for?

Communication is the biggest change – how to communicate not just internally but also with insureds. I’ve been doing this a long time, so I remember back when they had paper files 12 years ago to now being paperless, both in notes and files. We never print anymore. Also, as my team is spread out among 3 offices around the country, we hold team meetings mostly via conference call and Skype. It was hard to get used to at first and it is not without its issues. When someone works in an office where their boss is not, they tend to work more independently.  I do thing we lose something by not all being in one place – electronic communication feels less personal and there is a bit of a disconnect from those not located in New York.

I hire good people no matter what level.  Some are techy and some are not.  Most all of our admins are millennials, so when someone doesn’t know or I don’t know how to handle something technical, generally, they know and can help. Unfortunately, due to the claims technical nature of Environmental Claims, my team all has at least 15 years experience, which is necessary for what we do.  This makes it harder for millennials to break into Environmental claims. Back when I started, AIG had 7 or 8 Environmental claims departments and a formal training program.  They hired who departments of people without any experience and trained them from scratch.  That doesn’t exist anymore.  Environmental claims departments are shrinking so the hiring criteria is more stringent. Less jobs has caused many people with experience to no longer be able to stay within this specialty area. That makes it even harder to start if you don’t have any experience.

What advice would you give to other women who might be considering a career in insurance?

Do it! Not enough women are in insurance. We need more women leaders who are strong and won’t take any nonsense. The more women in this industry, there will be a greater chance for equality in the long term. There is so much opportunity in the industry for leaders and there is plenty of opportunity for those who want to rise, especially in claims! My advice is to work hard! You will stand out if you are creative, take initiative and think outside the box.

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