19 June 2024

Sustainability in focus: Rachel Delhaise

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Antony Williams, managing director at Arthur, talks to Rachel Delhaise about her role as group head of sustainability at Convex Insurance and how the sector can help build resilience and aid the low-carbon transition

Antony: Your position as Group Head of Sustainability is a relatively new one in the insurance sector. Can you outline your role and responsibilities?

Rachel: I joined Convex three years ago, when the company was two years old. At the time, not many insurers had a head of sustainability, and even then their focus tended to be the asset side. So I had a relatively clean sheet to define the role, working with Convex management team to develop the sustainability strategy and put a framework around how we implement it. My role reaches across all aspects of the business: operations, investments and underwriting. The challenges are developing fast. For example, reporting requirements have come on apace in the last two to three years. That has occupied quite a lot of my time, but increasingly we work with the finance team to ensure this gets embedded across the firm.

Antony: You have held a variety of senior roles in the insurance sector, including as an aviation reinsurance broker, in capital markets solutions, and as a chief risk officer (CRO). What attracted you to your sustainability role?

Rachel: I thought it was a role that needed to be done. Three years ago, insurers were looking at sustainability from the asset side, but there wasn't much attention across the whole of a firm. I also wanted a role where I could have a real impact. I knew we all needed to be doing something about sustainability – in particular climate change – and where I could be most effective is in the insurance world where my skills and experience lie. As with a CRO, it's an enterprise-level role, which I enjoy: you have to know what's going on across the whole company.

Antony: When building your sustainability team, has it been challenging to find people with the appropriate skills?

Rachel DelhaiseRachel: It's definitely challenging. There is a small field of people with insurance and sustainability expertise. It's good to have either experience but I would probably lean towards hiring people with insurance skills because it's easier to learn sustainability.

The person needs to be engaged in the subject and be adept at taking in a lot of information and prioritising what's relevant. They must be a good communicator: you have to engage a lot within the company and externally with stakeholders. They should be a creative thinker, because there isn't much of a blueprint for what we're doing. They can't be too rigid: while it's good to have personal conviction, you have got to go with what the company wants to do.

Antony: What is Convex doing to address sustainability? Can you give any examples of good sustainability practices at Convex?

Rachel: Our strategy is built around three pillars: building resilience, leading from our culture, and advancing transition.

"Building resilience" is about how we're managing risks and opportunities. For example, we have established a climate change risk assessment framework that allows us to focus on how we are thinking about climate risk. This has led to specific projects on short-term physical risk impacts, and a deep-dive on climate change litigation; the latter is not a particular concern at the moment, but it could become a systemic risk.

Antony WilliamsOn the "culture" side, one thing we have organised is speakers' evenings with inspiring people talking about sustainability issues as broad as plastics in the ocean, to a brewer that makes beer from waste bread.

Our "advancing transition" agenda focuses on the opportunity and how we can have a real impact on sustainability. For example, Convex is devoting 1.5-2% of its assets to impact investments, which make a commercial return as well as promoting sustainability. So far we have invested in sustainable marine and environmental technologies funds.

Another example is our backing with insurance capacity of Skyrisks, a new managing general agency specialising in advanced air mobility, an emerging sector of transportation that will enable the sustainable movement of people and goods.

And of course we have sponsored the Convex Seascape Survey, a five-year research programme led by the University of Exeter that is quantifying the carbon sequestered in the seabed. The seabed has had little attention compared to terrestrial carbon, and our support of this programme will really advance this work. When you hear about their discoveries, it helps you think about climate and carbon in a different way. It's also been a fantastic way to engage employees.

Antony: Can you suggest one step the insurance industry needs to take to better tackle sustainability and climate change?

Rachel: We need to engage seriously with our clients about what getting to a 1.5°C or 2°C limit on global warming really means. Insurance is an important resilience partner and financial actor, and we need to be there to help industries with their transition, in a way that will make commercial sense to them and us. We need to engage early – with that comes opportunity.

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