Aon environmental broker Veronica Benzinger spends her spare time helping to save the Earth's troubled ecosystems.
Veronica Benzinger has always been near the water. Her father was a scuba diver and restored sailboats while raising his family on Long Island, N.Y.
She turned to those fond childhood memories when the events of Sept. 11, 2001, forced her to take stock of her life.
"I'm a World Trade Center survivor," Benzinger said. "That was the trigger. After 9/11, I decided there was a bunch of things I was going to do, and getting certified to dive was one of them."
She received her advanced open water certification in 2003 and moved to Florida the following year. It was a little scary packing up her house and restarting life in a new place, said Benzinger. But her condo in downtown Miami is close to her office, and she fit into her new home quickly.
This 2007 and 2008 Environmental Power BrokerTM is a senior vice president in Aon Risk Services' Environmental Services Group and has been with the brokerage firm for 25 years. Benzinger said the move to Miami exposed her to a different part of the company yet allowed her to hold onto the specialty in environmental insurance she's been cultivating since 1999.
The move also allowed Benzinger to dive pretty much whenever she wanted. She talks about the expensive water sport like most brokers talk about golf.
"You put a regulator in my mouth, and I'm instantly relaxed," Benzinger said. "It's become a passion, it's become a commitment."
Diving has led to other passions, particularly an interest in environmental conservation. As Benzinger became more comfortable in the water, and began to study the environment around her, she quickly came to learn that coral reefs are in decline all over the world.
Benzinger said some scientists predict that 75 percent of the world's reefs will be gone by 2050. On Florida's reefs she said there's been a noticeable deterioration in the four years since she's lived there.
"The reefs are dying because of rising ocean temperatures, overexploitation, mismanagement, overfishing and pollution," she said.
"It's a complex problem, and people need to recognize that if we destroy our ocean and the fish population and the reefs, we are doing more harm: We are accelerating global warming. We are killing ecosystems that contribute to the air we breathe."
Joining the Jupiter Drift Divers Club opened up Benzinger's eyes even more. The club's president, Stan Mihalecz, arranges for experts to speak to the club members each month about topics from manatee rescue efforts to fish identification. He also organizes cleanup dives to clear trash from Florida's reefs.
On April 20, the group was scheduled to participate in the Great American Cleanup, organized locally by Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful, in conjunction with Earth Day. While hundreds of volunteers cleared trash from public beaches, the Jupiter Drift Divers worked the seas gathering debris from the reefs.
"If it wasn't for the club, I don't think I would have become as involved," Benzinger said. And the experience with the club ended up complimenting her work with Aon.
"My day job has certainly given me more of an understanding of how pollution is damaging the water and reefs," she said. "I have a little bit more knowledge because of the work I do about how dangerous some things can be to the environment. It gives me the basic validation that we need to do things in managing environmental risks in the long run that will contribute to a better world."
Benzinger has interests in other areas, including dolphin and shark research. She's spent time at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Fla., an educational facility with interactive programs to promote the peaceful coexistence between marine animals and humans.
Sharks are a brand-new interest, as she's only recently become aware of the alarming rate that sharks--an invaluable component of the ecosystem being at the top of the chain--are dying.
"I've always been an avid recycler, always recognized the beauty of the world around us, and understood that we as a community have been wrecking it," she said. "That has nothing to do with environmental insurance. That just has to do with the observation of the world."
Speaking of environmental insurance, Benzinger seems just as passionate about it as she is about diving, dolphins and sharks. When Aon offered her the opportunity to become educated in environmental insurance, she jumped at the chance because, she said, it's part of her personality to look for new, opportunities through which she can express her creativity.
"Environmental insurance--you might not think of it as creative, but it's really not standardized in the industry," said Benzinger. "It is still to an extent a flexible policy form and an open environment as far as being able to craft particular coverage around particular problems. What you end up doing is solve problems, not sell insurance."
Benzinger also said that it's fun working with professionals from attorneys to engineers, collaboratively constructing solutions for the client. And her background has helped her in her career.
"I think my passion for preservation and ecology contributes to how I can help clients to be creative through the insurance process," she said.
"I feel that everything you do in your personal life contributes to how you work in your professional life. I feel the path that I've chosen makes me aware that I am a person in a world community and that I can make a difference."
While she agrees she's not the typical golf-crazy broker, Benzinger said the environmental insurance brokerage world is full of people with interesting hobbies. Take fellow Risk & Insurance® Environmental Power BrokerTM winners from Aon, Peter Breitstone and Ken Ayers. Benzinger said Breitstone is a passionate fisherman who's promised to take her out on the open seas one day, and Ayers has done some scuba diving.
But she admits she stands out from the crowd, and even from her immediate peers.
"I've always been a little left of center," Benzinger said. "I'm definitely not cut from the same cloth as most insurance brokers."
May 1, 2008
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