In the C-Suite: Nick Conca
An interview with Alterra Capital’s Chief Claims Officer.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Westport, Conn. It was a wonderful, close-knit community with a great school system. I have one brother, who is younger than I am. My father owned a local furniture store.
Did anyone in your family work in insurance?
I’m the first person in my family to attend college and law school. My brother also went to law school and ultimately worked at the law firm I did, but not at the time I was there.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a business executive. When I was a child, I loved the thought of going to an office tower and wearing a suit. The whole idea of being in business was very interesting to me, though to be honest, I don’t know that I ever actually defined what that would look like.
Where did you go to college?
I wanted to extend my education after my undergraduate degree and was always fascinated by law, so I pursued law school and was fortunate enough to get into St. John’s University School of Law.
Tell me more about your first job.
I joined the Wilson Elser law firm in 1988 when they were at about 300 attorneys. I was placed in the directors and officers coverage unit, and that’s where I got my professional start. While at Wilson Elser, I worked for some great attorneys who really mentored me. The primary focus of the group was to represent large insurance carriers, monitor claims activity, and other related engagements. I learned how to distill facts and research, and how to analyze the law surrounding those facts. I also learned how to handle claims, deal with our customers, and manage people.
What did you enjoy most about that first job?
I enjoyed immersing myself in the law, first and foremost. I worked on some very large cases involving millions of dollars. I enjoyed interacting with litigation counsel and our clients.
Why did you decide to move from Wilson Elser to a role with an insurance company?
After about five years with Wilson Elser, I was ready for a change. One of our clients, Reliance National, approached me about working within their organization as claims counsel. They made me a tremendous offer and I accepted the job. The move to Reliance had an additional benefit in that I had a great mentor who helped me grow in my career.
When did you move into management?
Shortly after I joined Reliance, I started managing four or five people. I learned how to listen to people, instruct them, set objectives, and to help them reach their ultimate potential.
What would you tell new managers to avoid when working with their staff?
Avoid adopting the attitude that your subordinates are only there for you. It’s important to not assume the role of an imperial manager. The best managers convey that they are also there to work for the people who work for them. Part of their role is to assist in the development of the careers of the people who work for them.
How do you help get new ideas moving their way up the company?
Open lines of communication are key. It’s very important to create a culture where people are free to elevate their ideas to their managers and, ultimately, the chief claims officer. The chief claims officer has to be open and willing to listen to ideas that are presented. If an idea is worth pursuing, it’s important to build a process around the implementation. I believe it’s important to use project management methodologies to develop the idea. In short, someone needs to be the champion of the process and make sure it’s seen through.
What’s the most challenging aspect of managing a large organization?
When I was with Liberty International Underwriters, I had about 450 people on my staff. I think the reality is that an executive in an extremely large organization is only able to influence directly about 20-25 people. You can set policy, communicate broadly, and instill a culture, but at the end of the day, you have a limited ability to directly affect a broader range of individuals. Because of that, goals and objectives become very important. It is ultimately important to communicate clearly to your direct reports what your goals and objectives are for the organization and to make them understand that they will be judged not only on their own performance, but also on the performance of those who work for them.
In your role with Liberty International Underwriters, you oversaw all operations, not just claims. How did that affect your perception of the role claims plays in the larger organization?
In my view, claims is the most important aspect of any insurance organization. It is the team that provides the ultimate customer service and the group that protects the company’s bottom line. I think I may have concluded that even if I had only managed the claims team; however, managing other groups in large organizations has reinforced that.
Are there things a chief claims officer can do to elevate the perception of the claims department?
The chief claims officer’s role should include a focus on ensuring that the underwriting function and company’s leadership overall understand that claims is an integral part of the company. We need to be part of the senior management team and be seen as a crucial part of the organization’s leadership.
When running a large claims organization, do you as a chief claims officer become involved in addressing individual claims?
While the role is primarily about running the organization as a whole, I think the best chief claims officers do involve themselves in the details. They should be able to and want to involve themselves in the highest exposure and most difficult claims. It’s a multifaceted goal I have in this area. One, I want to show my folks that I’m willing to get my hands dirty with them. Two, I like to mentor them in the context of a claims situation. Three, I want to keep myself sharp with the technical aspects of the job.
You’ve mentioned a few important mentors in your career. Do you think it’s important for young professionals to have a mentor?
Yes. People need at least one person to help guide them in their career, to assist them in taking the steps necessary to build their careers. People need to put forth the building blocks that will give them the tools to succeed. One of the things I see often is that folks want things too quickly. They want to expand in their career before they’ve developed the tools they need to succeed in their next role. In the first five years, they need to take the time to learn as much about the coverages they are involved in as possible and seek out as many networking and educational events as they can. Mentors can help them with that along the way. I don’t know any successful people who did not have a mentor to guide them along the way. Conversely, it’s really the role of senior claims officers to seek out and find the right candidates who have taken the time to build this foundation in their careers.
Are there challenges in finding people with the right talents in the industry today?
Yes and no. I think the talent is definitely there; there are great people in the industry. However, the industry needs to do a better job of telling younger people that a career in claims can be fulfilling, that the financial rewards are there for those who are willing to invest the time to build their career in the right way. We have to do a better job in conveying that a claims role is a wonderful avenue to meeting all those objectives.
Tell me about your family.
I have been married for nearly 24 years. My wife and I met in college, and we were in a marketing class together during our senior year in college. We were together for about five years before we got married. We have a son, Jack, who is 17, and a daughter, Nicole, who is 14. Jack is a very good distance runner, and Nicole is a wonderful volleyball player.
Is there something that relatively few people know about you that you’d be willing to share with our readers?
It’s not a secret, but I’m passionate about golf. I’ve been playing since I was 11. I was captain of my high school team. It’s been good for my career. Frankly, I’d recommend that young professionals learn to play golf. Insurance is a relationship business, and you can develop great relationships on the golf course. I’m also a history buff, particularly World War II.