Andrew Mais could not have known what he was getting into when he accepted Gov. Ned Lamont’s appointment as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Insurance.
Mais was just settling into a comfort zone balancing industry needs with consumer protection when COVID-19 appeared.
The COVID-19 pandemic put many insurance commissioners on the spot over several insurer-consumer issues: whether auto insurers would grant premium refunds, whether business interruption policies were applicable and whether health insurers would extend benefits.
Connecticut is home to insurance giants including Aetna, Cigna, The Hartford and Travelers. Mais made the rounds, seeking concessions and claims he was never turned down for any ask.
He got health insurers to reopen insurance exchanges and offer a “premium payment holiday.”
When restaurants closed to in-person dining and switched to deliveries, Mais convinced auto insurers to allow food delivery workers to be covered by regular insurance.
“If your perception of the industry was of this conglomerate, this monolith that didn’t care about consumers, I do have to tell you it was heartwarming,” Mais said.
Mais took over the office in February 2019, becoming the top watchdog for one of the nation’s most significant insurance hubs. Connecticut is home to more than 100 domestic insurers, or companies chartered, incorporated, organized or constituted under state laws.
The state ranks No. 1 for insurance employment and payroll and has the highest concentration of actuaries in the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute.
With so many influential companies, Connecticut can rightly be called “the insurance capital of the world,” said state Rep. Sean Scanlon. With that comes a lot of pressure on the insurance commissioner to provide leadership and innovation.
“[Mais has] really been very effective in finding that sweet spot between being somebody who understands the importance of the industry but also understanding the importance of the consumer and protecting them when he or she can in that position,” said Scanlon, who previously chaired the Insurance and Real Estate Committee in the Connecticut General Assembly.
The pandemic was still in its early stages when George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020. Insurance regulators were handed an incendiary racial discrimination issue to address along with the unfolding COVID-19 crisis.
On this issue, regulators and insurers jumped in on the same side. Minneapolis is another U.S. insurance hub of sorts — home to UnitedHealth and Thrivent Financial, among others — and the industry responded almost immediately with initiatives to promote equality and eliminate racial bias.
Mais was named co-vice chairman of the Special Committee on Race and Insurance, set up by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. As a Black man, Mais can recall feeling unwanted at his own bank as well as having unpleasant experiences with the police.
“I think it’s hard to be a person of color in this society and experience discrimination,” he said. “Some people you are not going to change. But there are lots of good people out there that you can work with.”
Insurance has a long history of discriminatory underwriting policies. Although several courts have ruled against race-based policies, a 2018 study by Consumer Reports and ProPublica found disparities in auto insurance prices between minority and white neighborhoods that could not be explained by risk alone.
It’s the use of big-data, algorithmic-based underwriting models that disadvantages modern minority groups when it comes to accessing affordable health care and other insurance products, Mais said.
Stamping out this so-called proxy discrimination is a significant goal for Mais and the committee.
“The changes that technology allows for in terms of huge data scoping, data management, I don’t think that proxy discrimination has to be intentional,” Mais explained. “Because of that, I think we have to be particularly concerned to manage that.”
Mais, who holds a Yale University degree in organizational behavior, spent his early professional life focused on consumers, or at least on everyday Americans. He wrote a newspaper column, ran a nonprofit program and hosted a political affairs talk show on television.
In 2006, he joined the New York State Insurance Department as its director of public affairs and research. The story of how he made a midlife jump into the insurance industry is no doubt familiar.
“I don’t want to say I was bored, but I was looking for a new challenge,” Mais said, recalling a conversation with a friend who suggested an insurance position. “As far as I knew, insurance was pretty much ads on TV and boring conversation and not much else. [My friend] said, ‘You might be surprised.’ And he was absolutely right.”
Mais spent nearly five years observing change in the relationship between financial services and their customers. There were both good and bad within that change. The 2008-09 financial crisis wiped out a lot of retirement accounts and left many consumers angry and scrambling to pick up the pieces.
In 2010, the Affordable Care Act extended health care options to many Americans who had none. From his Albany office, Mais witnessed how New York regulators were in crisis mode.
“You’d see things that you would not necessarily have seen perhaps in a smaller department, but you get an idea of the breadth of insurance,” Mais said. “I got progressively more fascinated.”
Returning to the private sector, Mais spent nearly a decade as a member of the Insurance Industry Group at Deloitte. There, he was able to dive into a variety of insurance regulation, innovation and risk issues.
The wide range of experiences on his resume helps Mais sort out what is important and what isn’t when it comes to insurance oversight.
“It’s a great industry, an industry that I consider absolutely vital to trade, vital to any capitalist system,” he explained. “But I also think it’s vital to individuals, to families. It provides the protection that they need just to be able to go to work every day or to start a business.”
Howard Mills hired Mais twice — once when he was New York insurance commissioner and later at Deloitte, where Mills remains.
“He just took such interest in the industry and became exceedingly knowledgeable,” Mills said of Mais and the former job. “Andrew just became somebody that everyone at the department universally admired and respected as a key member of the team, and I’m very proud that I had some small part in bringing him into the insurance industry.”
Making A Mark
It did not take long for Mais to make an impact as Connecticut’s top insurance watchdog. Soon after taking office, he partnered with legislators on a bill to offer a Spanish-language version of the state insurance producer licensing exam.
It was an idea that made too much common sense not to do, Mais said.
“It’s an entryway into the industry, both for individuals who want to become licensed in a language that they’re more familiar with but also the idea that you’ve got somebody who’s got more of a background in your own culture,” he explained.
Likewise, Mais is proud of naming Lady Mendoza, the department’s first chief inclusion officer and first Latino director. He has also participated in efforts led by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont to address social inequities in Connecticut, including the Council on Women and Girls and cultural competency initiatives.
While there have been bumps in the road and pushback, Mais is convinced the industry is sincere about diversity and inclusion issues. After all, it has a powerful incentive to be.
Periodic McKinsey studies continue to show the economy is shorting itself trillions in growth from a lack of diversity. This is true in the insurance industry, where communities of color lack coverage options.
“It’s not going to be smooth. It’s not going to be easy,” Mais said. “There are going to be ongoing hard conversations, and there are going to be even harder actions that will have to be taken. We won’t all agree on how we get there. We know that.”
The work on these timely issues is generating notice for Mais, whose deep, baritone voice stands out on regulator calls. His NAIC colleagues elected Mais as secretary-treasurer this year, which puts him on track to become NAIC president in 2024.
But there are potential roadblocks in the way. Lamont is up for reelection in 2022 and appears to be in the race. But Connecticut is a tough state and, while popular, Lamont has both won and lost races for governor (losing in 2010 to Gov. Dannel Malloy).
Mais serves at the pleasure of the governor and said he would like to continue serving for another term.
“We want to encourage innovation, encourage insurers and insurtechs to be able to make things go smoother, pay claims faster, and reach out to a broader segment of society,” he said. “We have to encourage innovation, and I think technology is going to be a big part of that.
“On the other side, we have to make sure that it doesn’t result in unfair discrimination. So that’s something that will be a focus over the next few years as well.”