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A Q&A with Suzanne Scatliffe, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility

Through innovative thinking and effective leverage of business expertise, commercial carriers have a powerful role to play in building stronger, safer societies.

As employers, investors, and financial protectors for a wide range of industries, commercial insurers act as linchpins in economically stable societies.

But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. With the resources to enact positive change on both local and global levels, large corporations have an ethical obligation to address challenges in the communities they serve.

But those challenges keep shifting. As global environmental, social and economic issues continue to evolve, so too does the definition of a socially responsible corporate citizen.
We sat down with Suzanne Scatliffe, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), to talk about how AXA XL’s CSR goals and initiatives have changed over the years, and the many ways they drive positive – and sustainable – progress on the world’s biggest problems.

Q: How did you get into the world of corporate responsibility?
It started when I was at university in the UK. At the time, the government was pushing to get more young people from under-represented backgrounds into higher education – people from different ethnic minorities, of lower socioeconomic status, young people with disabilities, etc. I started working for that program part-time, going into schools and sharing my university experience.

Very quickly I came out of my naïve cocoon as I met more and more young people and their families who had had different experiences of the education system then me. There was a common belief that there was only limited pathways for these young people, and it was very rewarding to help them see a wider set of opportunities for their futures.

So that’s how I got the bug for social responsibility. I eventually moved into the corporate world and spent a few years working on CSR programs for IBM before my husband and I moved to Bermuda for his job. That’s where I first came across XL.

I helped them for a few months on a big, annual volunteering event called the Global Day of Giving. I offered to work on some other CSR projects and, long story short, they were never able to get rid of me! My contract position turned into a full-time job and here I am almost 8 years later.

Q: How did you develop the core components of AXA XL’s corporate responsibility strategy?
We did a survey of both internal and external stakeholders to determine what they thought were the most significant environmental, social and governance issues facing our business. What issues are going to affect the success and sustainability of our company over time? Where should we direct our resources? What types of initiatives should we support?

We took the results and narrowed it down to three pillars: climate change, access to water and financial resilience.

As an insurer, we’ve long thought about how to reduce our exposure to climate risks, but we also have a part to play in minimizing our carbon footprint and environmental impact across our entire organization. Water resilience is also quickly becoming a global risk not limited to emerging economies. There are more than 2 million people in the U.S. who don’t have access to clean water, for example.

When it comes to financial resilience, this is already at the center of what we do as an insurer. Our job is to make our clients more financially resilient in the face of emergencies, but we have to do the same for our communities – especially the unemployed or underemployed. Financial resilience is basically future-proofing society so it can remain stable and productive even in crisis.

As an insurer, we’ve long thought about how to reduce our exposure to climate risks, but we also have a part to play in minimizing our carbon footprint and environmental impact across our entire organization.

Q: What are the some of the projects or initiatives you are working on?
In India, we have a program focused on youth unemployment, which is a growing issue. India is a very young country, so we believe we must play our part to ensure the next generation is ready for the working world. We’re partnering with Plan India to provide work readiness and vocational training, with the goal of having two-thirds of the cohort employed at the end of the course.

That program is focused particularly on girls, because we know how important it is for young women to be equipped to be self-sufficient. Interestingly also research has shown that when girls in a developing market are more educated, they tend to have a smaller carbon footprint. Working women tend to have fewer children and the income to make more sustainable choices. So, it creates a positive impact on both social and environmental fronts.

In the U.S., we are working with United Way of Western Connecticut (UWWC) on a program called ALICE – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – for members of our community who do not earn enough to afford basic necessities. We’re helping UWWC develop a digital marketplace where local businesses can offer discounted services specifically for people who qualify for the ALICE program.

We also learned that emotional resilience is an important factor in financial resilience. Obviously, managing month to month with an inadequate budget can be enormously stressful, and that becomes infectious in the home and can impact the wider family. So we’re exploring how our HR team can help in terms of developing materials around personal resiliency as well.

In the UK we’ve recently begun supporting a refugee support centre run by the British Red Cross (BRC). Helping the humanitarian sector respond to disasters is a natural fit for our industry, and we’re now going one step further by considering communities displaced as a result of disasters. The BRC Centre is providing services three days a week but is heavily oversubscribed. Our funding will enable the Centre to expand its operations to five days a week, helping clients with emergency accommodation, access to local support services and education programs, and mental health support.

Q: AXA has a well-known climate policy. How does it factor into our CSR programs?
AXA has taken some bold steps in its climate commitments. It was one of the first insurers to make certain types of exclusions in underwriting coal and oil businesses. Our company has also worked really hard on considering the impact of our investment portfolio, making sure we’re focusing on sustainable businesses and shifting dollars away from industries with a negative environmental impact.

Within AXA XL we are shortly launching an ambitious Carbon Reduction strategy, and we’re also exploring how we can apply the concept of a “circular economy” to the insurance value chain. Creating a circular economy with goods is a tangible concept: If you think about the circular economy of plastic water bottles, the goal would be to make sure the empty bottle is recycled and enters back into the manufacturing process to make something new. We’re trying to apply that idea to our services. If there is waste involved in a loss, how can we make sure that waste is handled sustainably? We’re currently exploring different lines of business for opportunities to manage insurance-related waste; examining the carbon value of the material, its monetary value as scrap, and the potential for reuse. If we nail down an effective working model, it could be applied across multiple lines of business and become an organization-wide endeavor.

We’ll be sharing our climate actions with AXA XL colleagues during AXA’s 10th CR Week this week, through a program of webinars with our nonprofit partners, virtual volunteering activities and local challenges organized by our colleague-led Green Committees.

Q: Where does Hearts in Action fit in?
Hearts in Action is the program through which we support more traditional CSR activities such as employee volunteering and charitable giving, which is fundamental to any CSR program in any industry.

Even though we’re a global company with these big, corporate partnerships, we also know that our colleagues want to support the needs of their own neighborhoods. We have charity committees who distribute grants to charities that serve their local communities, and of course we have our Global Day of Giving, as well as a series of local volunteering programs. Our goal with Hearts in Action is to enable and support our people to respond to the immediate needs where they live and work.

Q: How have CSR programs evolved over your career?
When I first started, the terms “corporate responsibility” and “philanthropy” were interchangeable, and there was this idea that we must give back. To some CSR folks, it suggests that you’ve taken something from society, and you need to compensate for it. Corporations aren’t trying to make up for something necessarily, but rather play a role in building a more sustainable future.

The reality is that philanthropy doesn’t always create long-term change in the same way that a strategic partnership with a charitable organization does. When we build something together, it brings more long-term value to both organizations as well as the communities we are trying to reach.

We’ve kept philanthropy as one aspect of our CSR approach, but it’s bigger than that. CSR should be intrinsic in the way we do business, embedded into our products and services, how we partner with our brokers and clients, and the way we engage our current, and future, colleagues.


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US- and Canada-Issued Insurance Policies

In the US, the AXA XL insurance companies are: AXA Insurance Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., XL Specialty Insurance Company and T.H.E. Insurance Company. In Canada, coverages are underwritten by XL Specialty Insurance Company - Canadian Branch and AXA Insurance Company - Canadian branch. Coverages may also be underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003. Coverages underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003 are placed on behalf of the member of Syndicate #2003 by Catlin Canada Inc. Lloyd’s ratings are independent of AXA XL.
US domiciled insurance policies can be written by the following AXA XL surplus lines insurers: XL Catlin Insurance Company UK Limited, Syndicates managed by Catlin Underwriting Agencies Limited and Indian Harbor Insurance Company. Enquires from US residents should be directed to a local insurance agent or broker permitted to write business in the relevant state.