Joy Huibonhoa acknowledges the insurance industry has a glamour deficit. Insurance wasn’t her first choice for a career path. Yet she finds within the industry many interesting and inspiring people, challenges, and opportunities that hold great appeal—once people know about it. Today, the senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Arch Capital Services—which is part of the Arch Capital Group companies that write insurance, reinsurance, and mortgage insurance globally—advocates for persons of color, women, and people from underprivileged backgrounds to look at the insurance industry as a great place to have a career.
The numbers back her up. The Insurance Information Institute cites US Bureau of Labor statistics posted in 2019 that show strong job gains in health insurance carriers (16 percent growth from 2016 to 2019) and with agents and brokers (9 percent gain). The job hunt website Monster.com further advises candidates to look to the insurance industry for job openings as Baby Boomers retire. Moreover, the types of positions being created in insurance mean that new employees are recruited from the healthcare, financial services, call center, sales, and marketing industries—as well as the legal field, as Huibonhoa’s case shows.
The job with Arch Capital found her more than the other way around. She spent five years as outside counsel, first at a large and then a smaller firm, and then a couple years in a venture capital firm before joining Arch in 2002. What she recognized early on is both her family history and her own personal preferences pulled her toward business and going in-house.
This was somewhat evident even before she went to law school. Upon completion of her undergraduate degree at Harvard College, she tried journalism as a Hong Kong correspondent for Fortune magazine and an intern at the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in Washington, DC. A subsequent pivot to law school (Northwestern University) was “a reasonable choice to make, though I quickly learned that being a lawyer in a law firm setting wasn’t for me.”
While all of these experiences took her far from home in Malibu, California, it really took her on a familiar path to working in business, albeit from a lawyer’s perspective. Her parents were entrepreneurs and real estate investors, so she had an early grounding in it.
“My parents believed in owning your future through education and economic security,” she says. “They strove for economic independence through their entrepreneurial endeavors.” That natural affinity for enterprise, with all the twists and turns involved, proved time and time again to be an asset.
The stint in venture capital (Katalyst Ventures), which she describes as part incubator and part accelerator, was a great training ground. “I had to jump into many projects and develop skills as a service provider,” she says. “It required me to communicate effectively, not just as a lawyer, but as a businessperson.”
She says it was there she got a taste of pitching to investors and working as colleagues with experts outside of the legal arena, including IT, marketing, and finance. Still, when recruited to work at Arch, she wasn’t interested in the litigation side of insurance. As it happened, the company was undergoing a major recapitalization and shift in business strategy. “It felt entrepreneurial,” she says, “though minus the matter of obtaining early round funding. We had an ‘all hands on deck’ sensibility and a real sense of purpose.”
“Here’s my two cents to the human resources people in this industry. We should create awareness about where good jobs are. And we can make it more interesting to a broader audience.”
Her career has ascended with the company ever since, and she is grateful to Arch for the opportunities she’s had to stretch both her legal and business skills. Over time, the presence of women and people of color has increased, but by her estimation, the industry overall can do better. Leadership and governance bodies still skew to the status quo, though she is proud of Arch’s efforts to move the needle.
“Here’s my two cents to the human resources people in this industry,” she offers. “We should create awareness about where good jobs are. And we can make it more interesting to a broader audience.” She also believes that leadership can be more proactive in encouraging professional development at the ground level and elevating the careers of those who may not typically get a shot at rising up the ranks. “Opportunities for diversity and inclusion are right in our backyard.”
Huibonhoa has learned that no one is immune to unconscious bias, including herself. As a result, “I try harder to look at people as individuals first,” she says. Her future goals include providing more encouragement to women and people of color to look into careers in insurance. Her nearly two decades with the industry indicate it’s a great place to land—and stay.
“Joy manages an impressive portfolio of legal matters without ever breaking a sweat – crafting business-oriented solutions while seamlessly melding her passion for diversity. Cahill is proud to be her partner.”
–Kimberly C. Petillo-Décossard, Partner