Inside Risk: Joni Mason
Wells Fargo Insurance Services' Vice President, Professional Risk Practice, provides constant guidance for complex liability claims.
By Eric Gilkey
Wells Fargo Insurance Services specializes in professional liability insurance and examining executive liability risk issues across a number of industries, and CLM Fellow Joni Mason is responsible for client advocacy, coverage, and legal matters relating to complex management liability claims. See how she works to remain as a constant guide for her clients.
Q. Tell us about your career.
A. My career has been less of a planned path and more of a winding road, and has included both hard work and serendipity. After graduating law school, I had my sights set on being an environmental attorney. I took a slight detour, however, and I ended up working with a small law firm that handled environmental insurance coverage cases. While I did learn a lot about various Superfund sites, my experience grew more around insurance coverage and defense litigation than as an environmental attorney. Insurance was never even on my radar as a career prior to that.
After practicing law for several years, I decided to go in-house, landing a position at a major insurance carrier on the financial lines claims side, which had a strong focus on directors and officers and employment liability claims. I worked in various claims roles and spent time on the underwriting side, as well. It was during this period that I met my current boss at Wells Fargo Insurance Services, but I had no idea that one day, years later, we would work together.
I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to engage in different roles in the insurance industry. My current role affords me a new opportunity to help our clients as their claims advocate. I am able to guide them through the claims process and provide them with a unique perspective as their advocate, based upon my own experiences working at a carrier.
Q. What is your day-to-day life like?
A. There is no typical day. One day I may be advocating for a client in connection with an insurance coverage issue, or I might be walking them through a policy. On another day, I may meet with internal partners regarding a review of legal documents or a carrier position letter. I also review policy language and stay current on claims and litigation trends so I can explain risk exposures to internal and external partners. Every day is different, and there is always plenty to do.
Q. You spoke on a recent CLM web seminar about professional liability risks. Can you give us some insights into emerging issues?
A. Even with updated card protections, cybersecurity is an ever-increasing risk. Likewise, we have seen an increased number of imposter-fraud matters. The rapid changes in technology also have created a new class of website accessibility discrimination claims, which we spoke about for CLM’s web seminar series. There also is increased regulation, which creates compliance issues for clients and leads to increased claims.
Q. Describe some of the risks you manage.
A. Class-action claims are some of the largest exposures for clients because of the potential damages, as well as the cost to defend. Defense costs, in general, have increased in connection with litigated claims now that e-discovery is part and parcel of most litigation defense and can be quite costly. Attorney’s fees are higher today and courts are backed up, which means that cases take longer to litigate. Cybersecurity claims are on the rise and also have potential to have a large financial impact on an organization.
Q. What kinds of claims do you typically encounter? Any memorable moments?
A. One of the great things about my current role is that the management liability claims that I work on can run the gamut from director and officer securities class action, cybersecurity, errors and omissions, transactional representations and warranty, regulatory, employment practices violations, imposter fraud matters, ERISA, or fidelity crime matters.
Society paints the insurance industry as “boring,” but my experience has been far from that. There is not one day that I don’t learn something new. It also has given me the opportunity to meet high-profile litigators in the course of my career, including Johnny Cochran. That was quite interesting.
Q. Do you think the world is becoming more or less risky?
Both. In some respects, there are developments that make us safer, faster, and our processes easier. However, with the use of technology in almost every aspect of our lives, it creates new areas of vulnerability to risk. The biggest risk is the one that we don’t see coming. We don’t know what we don’t know. So the challenge for the insurance industry and risk managers is to try and anticipate the unanticipated.