Women in Insurance: Engineering Transformation

Katie Partington Howarth helped start Ariel Re in Bermuda more than a decade ago. Now she’s group head of ceded reinsurance for Argo Group.

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You can’t keep a risk-taker down.

When Katie Partington Howarth moved to Bermuda in 2005 to help start Ariel Re, the company wasn’t even capitalized. But then again, Howarth is drawn to challenges.

During her senior year at UCLA, where she was studying toward an engineering degree, Howarth worked in the R&D department of a carbon-engineering firm.

“I worked in the research and development department on carbon-based chip coolers for computers,” she says. “They were used on the space shuttle and in high-performance brakes for NASCAR.”

However, she was really looking for a career that provided more travel opportunities and a more dynamic social environment. So after graduation, when the engineering firm closed the plant where she worked, Howarth chose to move with friends to London. She didn’t have a job lined up or even a place to live, but she saw the move as a means of pushing herself.

“It’s important, if you have the opportunity, to do something different and push out of your comfort zone,” Howarth says. “It helps you realize you’re quite strong and can do so much more than you thought.”

From learning the business to insuring its future

While in the U.K., Howarth began her insurance career as a risk analyst for a broking house. It wasn’t the career path she’d expected: “If you’d told me then that I’d end up in insurance or reinsurance, I would have been surprised. I thought I’d be a biomedical engineer someday.”

After moving to San Francisco for a broker position, the one-two punch of hurricanes Katrina and Rita hitting the U.S. led to the next step in her career path. She saw an opportunity in Bermuda to be an underwriter and moved to the island to take it.

“It had such a good blend of analytics, business and some cool international travel opportunities,” she says. “I met clients from across the globe and learned different business customs and tactics while writing reinsurance on a worldwide basis.”

Now, as the head of ceded reinsurance for Argo Group, Howarth is responsible for the strategy and execution of all of Argo’s reinsurance and retrocession placements on a worldwide basis. Or as she sums it up, her team is helping protect Argo’s insurance business from volatility.

She accepted the position in the summer of 2018, shortly after returning from maternity leave, and was impressed by the response from other Argo leaders.

“I’ve had several women and men reach out to tell me how excited they are to see me in this role,” Howarth says. “I was really encouraged by that support.”

How industries can support women in insurance

Her experience has been a good one, but Howarth knows that many other women in business – especially mothers – have a more difficult time.

“There are still some people who look at a woman in her 20s and wonder if they should hire her because she might decide to have children,” she says. “I think offering family leave when a child is born, for men and women, will help to lessen the influence of the foregone conclusion that a woman will interrupt her career in order to be the primary caregiver.

“Industries that offer policies that support families – not just women – will change how we view women in the workforce.”

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