Jami Willingham is a risk manager at Southern Co., an electric and gas utility in Atlanta, and president of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.’s Atlanta chapter, which is hosting the 2023 RIMS Conference and Exposition. She recently spoke with Business insurance Deputy Editor Claire Wilkinson on the highlights of this year’s event and the strength of the risk management community. Edited excerpts follow.
Riskworld is in your hometown. What can risk professionals expect?
The last time the RIMS annual conference was in Atlanta was in 2001. For people who have been here and maybe only visited the one time, it will be exciting to see the change in Atlanta because there has been so much development. It will be a great opportunity to learn about the industry and connect with people, while exploring the changes that have taken place in the city. We have a new football arena. We have the Georgia Aquarium, where opening night will be held. There̵7;s the College Football Hall of Fame, the World of Coca-Cola, right there near the World Congress Center, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
How does the RIMS Atlanta Chapter support the risk management community?
We try to offer educational opportunities as well as a network, similar to what RIMS does for its members nationally. Our risk manager-only lunches give our community an opportunity to come together to share ideas and talk about things that are high on the risk management radar. In February we hold an annual educational conference. We offer classes and we give students the opportunity to come and meet venture professionals because we want to make sure we’re doing our part to continue developing the next generation of industry talent. We have strong partnerships with the University of Georgia and Georgia State University, and with the Spencer Educational Foundation, which was founded by the Atlanta Chapter of RIMS in 1979. Much of our efforts revolve around fundraising, which we donate to these schools and to the Spencer Educational Foundation.
What are some of the biggest risks facing risk professionals?
For most risk professionals, cyber is probably one of the biggest challenges right now. We continue to see an increase in cyber activity, and it’s a challenge to wrap our hands around it. Technology is advancing, so how do you mitigate the risks that come with it, and what do you do about it from the perspective of your insurance program? The cyber and technology sessions at Riskworld are likely to get a lot of traction from attendees because the environment is changing so much and cyber risk is such a challenge. The Risk Manager for Colonial Pipeline Inc. will attend one of the sessions.
How do risk professionals navigate increased disaster risks?
It’s a challenge because you don’t know when it will happen. One of the things we’ve been thinking about lately is how we continue to do business in an environment where these things happen. You have to balance that with what the insurance companies are doing, how the markets are changing, and get a handle on the terms and conditions of policies. It’s a tough time, but this is the fun part too, because if you just sit there and everything stays the same, it can get very boring. As much as I complain when I see changes in our policy, it keeps me on my toes.
What strategies help in the challenging insurance market?
Establishing good relationships with your insurance companies helps. Southern Co. is somewhat unique in the energy field because we have joint industrial companies that we trust and use. The one thing I’ve learned is that by building these relationships with carriers and brokers, you have a partner when the going gets tough. It speaks to the importance of partnership and making sure you establish good relationships, because these insurers will go and help you when things change, to the extent they can.