Katie Lennon, recently appointed as head of ESG for the UK and Lloyd’s at Axa XL, outlines her priorities in her new role.

Katie Lennon Axa XL

What do you see as key priorities as you look to strengthen the ESG agenda at Axa XL?

Our UK and Lloyd’s business has gone through a very strong turnaround in recent years, so my immediate priority is helping to bring the Axa ESG agenda to the forefront for our colleagues to ensure we all appreciate that, under Axa’s guidance, we’re already acting with an incredible purpose. More importantly, it is about making sure we’re all prepared to support our clients as they go through the impending major socioeconomic shift which is required to get us to net zero. We must act as enablers for clients in achieving their own transformation goals through developing new products and services, so that we’re ready for those conversations as soon as our clients are.

How has your training and career path led you to this role?

I started my career on a gold mine in the highlands of Ethiopia and I think that prepared me for pretty much anything. From an insurance perspective, I benefited from C-suite and boardroom exposure from an early stage in my career, a stint in property cat underwriting and also a strategy role supporting our CEO, before turning my focus to portfolio management. That experience has given me a very broad understanding of the products our clients look for and how they might need to change in future. And through my co-chair position on the Lloyd’s Product Innovation Facility I’ve been surrounded by great thinkers and executors in product innovation. I’ve always wanted to make a difference and, over the past few years, have thrown myself into a range of ESG projects. In creating this position, our UK and Lloyd’s business is demonstrating real commitment to our ESG leadership and I am thrilled to take on this new challenge.

How do you ensure all stakeholders are represented when creating an ESG strategy?

For our UK and Lloyd’s business, we’re creating both an ESG council – a subset of our leadership team with accountability for our ESG strategy – and an ESG network, which is open to colleagues who want to be part of driving change within our business and delivering on our purpose. Every idea will be listened to and that’s incredibly important; no one can pretend to have all of the solutions on ESG action, or we wouldn’t have so much of a focus on it now. The collaboration we’re seeing, both within Axa XL and within the wider insurance industry, is truly exciting and I cannot wait to see what we can deliver.

How would you like to see the industry work together to address these challenges?

Collaboration is key to all of this. We’re not going to be able to serve industries in solving the most complex risks of our time, such as the energy transition and social discontent, alone. Through the sharing of knowledge and engaging diverse skill sets and expertise, the industry has a far greater chance in playing the role of ‘enabler’ rather than being perceived to be a ‘blocker’. As individuals we all have a role to play, and as organisations and an entire industry we have a shared responsibility and opportunity in addressing ESG challenges.

What steps can a company take to make diversity part of its DNA?

How can you manage what you don’t measure? The increasing quality and completeness of diversity, equity and inclusion data is supporting organisations to further their actions on diversity and hold themselves and others accountable. Having a policy is no longer good enough; companies must be able to demonstrate progress year on year and data is a great enabler for that in order to help drive open and honest conversations. Just as, if not more, important, we need to ensure inclusion is part of our DNA and learn to be ok with being uncomfortable, with self-reflection. Then, through openness and honesty, organisations can become truly inclusive, which in my opinion, is key to improving their diversity.

How does Axa XL integrate ESG thinking into its underwriting and investment strategies?

Our strategy on moving from claim payer to risk partner has long been part of our ESG strategy in ensuring we understand our clients’ actions and risks. As part of Axa, we already have strong underwriting and investment ESG strategies, with commitments on coal restrictions and also on €25bn of green investments by 2023. Having these solid ESG frameworks already part of our DNA means we’re more easily able to shift our thinking to the ESG opportunities ahead and ensure we’re offering the right support to clients, asking the right questions and providing new products and services. As the ESG data ecosystem quality and completeness accelerates, we’re also looking at how to harness this data to make better risk-based investment and underwriting decisions and support our engagement with clients on our priority ESG topics.

What role would you like to see the industry play in the upcoming COP26 climate talks?

COP26 is a great opportunity for the industry to showcase its expertise in being an enabler and accelerator for climate action. There is incredible hesitancy on climate action because it comes with heightened risk and risk of the unknown. We cannot forget that risk is what we do – it’s where our expertise lies and so we have a key role to play in action against climate change, making sure we’re at the table early and that world leaders hear that, so we can accelerate their actions over new commitments.