Q&A with Jeff Yao, Chief Claims Officer

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As Chief Claims Officer, Jeff oversees Berkley Select’s claims team – both the Professional and Management Liability lines of business. With a robust background in law including 25+ years in the commercial insurance industry, Jeff talks to us about his career trajectory, how claims are handled at Berkley Select and the importance of investing in Employment Law Insurance. Jeff also gives us his perspective of why insurance is such a rewarding career for just about every profession out there.


“At Berkley Select we understand that it is the claims department that fulfills the promises that our underwriters make to our insureds. From the time a claim is submitted we let our insureds know how their policy responds, and if the claim is covered we work with them to bring it to conclusion. We utilize exemplary professionals, using the best defense attorneys in the country to get the most desirable outcome for them and their company.”


Jeff, you have had an impressive 25+ year career in commercial insurance. How did you come to choose Management & Professional Liability as your area of expertise?


Honestly, when I went to law school it was never my intention to get into insurance. Back when I was in school a career in insurance wasn’t at the top of most people’s career list. I think that most people who choose to attend law school envision themselves being in a courtroom, doing big business deals or being social justice warriors – a lot like what we view on television and in the movies. The media has a huge impact on what people think lawyers do and how they do it. For almost a decade I lived in that litigator world and it wasn’t until I was approached by a carrier to manage Director and Officer claims that I even gave a career in insurance a thought.

My first job in insurance was handling Director and Officer claims as an examiner. I was assigned different types of matters, public and private D&O, employment, non-profit, fiduciary and errors and omissions. I’m glad that I started as an Examiner and had that experience. I eventually got into the management side of insurance and have been there since. My experience handling claims is the cornerstone of my experience and has had a huge impact on how I manage my department and employees.

I’ve experienced acquisitions and I’ve watched the industry change through the decades. Though I didn’t actively choose management liability and professional liability, I fell into it after private practice and I immediately loved the challenge. Every claim is different – it is both challenging and rewarding work. It feels good to help our insureds.


Tell us about the claims team at Berkley Select. How does the team handle claims, what are their educational backgrounds, and what sets Berkley Select claims apart from other carriers?


I’ve been lucky to work with great claims professionals throughout my career and my current team are some of the absolute best. At Berkley Select we understand that it is the claims department that fulfills the promises that we make to our insureds. We take our responsibility seriously. We understand the stress and anxiety that a claim can cause an insured. Claims of discrimination, harassment and negligence against our insureds often feel like personal attacks against them. This is especially true of our smaller insureds and for those who’ve never experienced a claim before.

We understand how a claim impacts our insured’s business and how disruptive the litigation process is for them. From the time a claim is submitted we let our insureds know how their policy responds, and if the claim is covered we work with them to bring it to conclusion. We utilize exemplary professionals, using the best defense attorneys in the country to get the most desired outcome for them and their company.

Our claims team at Berkley Select is comprised of seasoned claims professionals and licensed and practiced attorneys. Our Examiners specialize in specific policies and areas of practice and have developed, over the years, a remarkable depth of resolving claims for our insureds. Our defense panel attorneys are not run of the mill insurance defense firms. Our firms are individually selected by us for their reputation, service and geographic influence in their respective areas of practice.


What is the best way for small businesses to protect themselves from employment liability claims?


I’ve had multiple business owners tell me that they don’t need Employment Liability (EPL) insurance because they are a small company and they’ve been working with the same people for years. I think they believe that an employee filing an EPL claim can’t happen to them because it never has – hence, many businesses cannot grasp what could cause them to get sued. When people who run a business with employees ask me if they need EPL insurance I tell them it’s not a matter of IF you get sued but WHEN you get sued. It can happen to any business. I see things through a different lens given my experience. It just makes sense in today’s society to be protected and make the investment in EPL insurance to further protect their business.

Today’s economic and social atmosphere is different than it was a few years ago. The social constructs of what is appropriate today – generational differences, heightened sensitivities, an increase in distrust of companies and employers can create the perfect storm for employment claims. If you have a company it’s important to make sure that you take all the necessary precautions to protect yourself from employment claims. It’s also important for Human Resource professionals to follow the law, conduct thorough and independent investigations, engage in interactive processes when required and to DOCUMENT everything.


To minimize an employment claim, my suggestion for businesses is to:


1). Know the laws and regulations where you do business. 2). Buy insurance from a reputable and financially sound carrier. 3). Treat everyone the same. 4). Document and relay performance issues timely and accurately. 5). Require mandatory training on sexual harassment/discrimination and finally because it’s worth repeating; 6). DOCUMENT everything.


We don’t always talk about opportunities for the next generation to get involved in the insurance industry– claims to be specific. What would you suggest to someone graduating who is interested in pursuing a career in this field?


Insurance careers can cover anything from finance, marketing, underwriting, claims, actuarial, operations, legal, human resources, training and education, sales, risk management and just about every other business discipline you can think of.

If you’re starting out in college don’t overlook and discount getting into the insurance sector. Regardless of your major, there’s most likely a fit for you with an insurance carrier. If you are currently enrolled in college and think you might be interested in insurance, I’d encourage you to try and get an internship to learn more about the industry.

For someone who’s graduating law school or someone’s who already tried the private practice route, I’d encourage them to explore a possible claims position with a professional liability or management liability carrier. You’ll work with some of the best law firms, manage the complexities of litigation and work with insureds on a wide array of different issues. You never stop learning when handling professional and management liability claims – every day is different and every claim presents new challenges. For those with law degrees who don’t want to chase the billable hours that come with being an attorney, an insurance claims position can be a rewarding career choice.


Lots of great info, here, Jeff. Thank you! What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?


I’m always into something new – my hobbies and interests change so often. Sometimes I’m a photographer, a golfer, learning Korean, shooting, reading or listening to audio books. It just depends on what’s grabbed my interest. I love visiting Nashville, honkytonks (and bourbon), Marvel and getting together with my college fraternity brothers every year. My favorite past time is spending time with my wife and sons, even when we’re not doing anything it’s just great being with them!

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