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February 14, 2024

Leah Cooper

Chattanooga, Tennessee-based chief digital officer, Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.

Chattanooga, Tennessee-based managing director of global consumer technology, Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.

As we move into a more digital world, we’re learning more about how to interact with claimants differently. In the last three years especially, interactions have become faster and more online, and claimants expect immediate fulfillment of their needs. Companies are struggling to keep up with that. As we move away from person-to-person conversations, the challenge for insurers becomes keeping the advocacy, the high-touch interface and the perspective of caring for people in a more digital world. I think our industry’s mission and outlook is to focus technology development so that the easy parts for claimants are handled efficiently, but claimants know they still have a partner to help them through the parts that worry them. There’s still a time and a place for that attentive guidance and advocacy, and we need to figure out where that line is.

I’m excited for the opportunity to establish new connections with our business partners and create interesting solutions that we haven’t been able to do before. One of the privileges in my role is bringing in new kinds of technology in creative ways. When you bring a new idea to a partner and show them how it can work for them, you see the recognition that it can transform their business in new ways. I’m super excited about that kind of partnership, one that conceptualizes new solutions and then iteratively tweaks the model until it works. People discredit how challenging it can be to find solutions, but for me and my team, we love a blank slate and a few amazing tools.

As a woman in a predominantly male tech space, I’m always thinking about industry progress in recognizing and elevating diverse talent. There’s always such a focus on the past, on the people who have been in this industry or in their position for a long time. That is valid, but I don’t want to overlook that people in charge are actively working to change and establish the next generation of the insurance industry, which includes new perspectives and new voices. … I’m so excited about the advent of generative AI – it’s going to have as big an impact on business as email was in the 1990s, when I was first starting my career. But AI is not going to replace the way we communicate or engage with claimants.

My first job was at Unum in their associate program. It was a rotational program to get an overview of how the whole company works. When I arrived at my first assignment in client services, they didn’t have anything for me to do. The only thing they needed was for someone in IT to run queries for them. I said, how hard can that be, and what’s a query? They sent me to query writing school for a week to learn structured query language. I came back, wrote the queries, and solved a problem that had plagued the business team for a while.

When I was younger, I was always worried about appearing like I had nothing to contribute to a conversation. I was usually the only woman in the room, and I was afraid of asking dumb questions. I’ve since learned that the smartest revelations can come from the simplest of questions. Yes, there might be dumb questions, but those are the ones that reveal the ideas and assumptions that had not yet been vocalized.

I am absolutely devoted to my rescue German shepherds Honey Girl and Dutch. Someday in the future, I will have an animal rescue. I own eight acres of farmland, and I want to build a farm there where I will take in dogs, horses and farm animals that need help. It’s not a dream job; it’s a goal I plan to achieve.

I was a double major in economics and theater at Vanderbilt University. I also studied Japanese and came very close to having enough credits for a minor.

I’m really looking forward to taking a different approach to culture- and team-building. I don’t like when businesses have one pipeline of people, all from the same industry, who rise through the ranks. I believe in looking at people outside of our industry who can come into the organization as creative thinkers and doers. I want to create a culture where my team can feel comfortable exploring their curiosity, tinkering with solutions, trying something different, all without the fear of failing.

Lobster is my favorite. Early in my career I traveled to Maine for work very frequently, and every day I had lobster for lunch for $13. Absolutely made the travel worthwhile. I also never say no to cheesecake.

I have two favorites. “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand – I like the idea that for the main character, there wasn’t anything she thought she couldn’t do. I also love “Lamb,” by Christopher Moore. I love his books in general but this one is truly hilarious and heartfelt.

I make furniture as a hobby, and I have a woodworking shop at home. Right now, I’m learning cabinet-making. I really love anything that’s creative and lets me work with my hands. It gives me an opportunity to play and get out of my head for a while, even if the result isn’t perfect.

“South Park.” It’s my favorite distraction in the world. Sometimes you need to let your brain fizzle out and laugh, and we just don’t do that enough.

Anything that gives me time to decompress and get back in touch with what matters most. I like to spend time in my garden – there’s something therapeutic about putting your hands and feet in the dirt every now and then. I might take a nap and then go have a nice cocktail hour with friends. Saturdays are all about doing something that grounds me.