Humana’s Chief Risk Officer talks about strategy and culture

Humana’s Sam Deshpande, Chief Risk Officer, spoke late last year to about our initiative to establish enterprise risk management and reimagine compliance at Humana.

Read the Q&A session here:

In Their Own Words
Humana’s New Exec Aims to Build Culture That Manages Risk

Humana Inc. in June signaled a new emphasis on risk management with the appointment of Sam Deshpande to fill the newly created position of senior vice president and chief risk officer (CRO), heading up the company’s new “chief risk office.” He is charged with establishing policy for enterprise risk management and building a risk strategy and a culture that manages risk, and reports directly to CEO Bruce Broussard. Deshpande comes to Humana from Capital One, bringing 28 years of compliance, marketing and strategy experience.

AIS Health recently caught up with Deshpande to ask about his new CRO role.

AIS Health: In the past, CROs have not always been part of senior management, but now more companies are seeing the value in that. How important do you think it is for health plans to have a CRO at the executive level?

Deshpande: The role of a Chief Risk Officer is relatively new in the health care industry. Businesses are continuing to become more complex and fast paced, and are increasingly leveraging technology and automation. While these changes are critical in delivering great service to our members, they bring an increased risk of large breakdowns that could spread quickly. Enterprise Risk Management organizations have emerged in many industries to identify and mitigate these risks posed by operations, technology, emerging regulations and other areas. The role of a CRO enables consistent oversight and mitigation of risks across the enterprise.

AIS Health: Humana says that as part of your role, you will “drive connections and collaboration throughout the business to ensure timely, proactive discovery and faster mitigation of risks and their causes.” How critical is this to a health plan like Humana?

Deshpande: Proactive discovery and faster mitigation of risks serves two critical goals — ensuring that our members receive an exceptionally high quality of service in every interaction,
and that any issues affecting them are identified and addressed quickly and consistently. The main challenge for our team is to create a system which manages risk prudently and, paradoxically, allows us to be nimble in the market — kind of like slowing down to speed up.

AIS Health: What have you tackled since starting in June, and what lies ahead in your immediate plans?

Deshpande: A big part of the journey to date has been about learning a new industry, getting to know Humana, my colleagues and my team. I am inspired by our CEO Bruce Broussard’s vision for Humana and the Bold Goal of making the communities we serve 20% healthier by 2020; and I am excited by the role Risk Management can play in making it come true. We have taken ground in designing the overall Enterprise Risk Management framework. As we get to the holidays, we are shifting gears from completing the design to building the system in 2018.

AIS Health: What is the top federal regulatory issue that keeps you awake at night — if any?

Deshpande: Our regulators and we have the same goal — ensuring that our members have consistently great access to care. While potential changes to regulations create the need to understand and implement operational changes, this is not something that keeps me awake at night (that credit goes to being the father of two incredible daughters).

AIS Health: You have two master’s degrees: one in business administration — with a concentration in finance and business economics from the University of Chicago — and another in aerospace engineering from Virginia Tech. Is there an interesting story behind that unique combination of degrees, and/or is keeping an insurance company from risk as hard as rocket science? (If so, that’s saying a lot!)

Deshpande: After getting my Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, I was lucky to get a dream job as an engineering consultant who got to work on NASA projects. The work was very imaginative but I was drawn to the fast-paced world of business. While hard to compare, I can honestly say that health care and rocket science are both uniquely challenging. An interesting development is that many of the machine learning techniques we were experimenting with in the early 1990s in aerospace engineering are now being broadly applied in consumer businesses like health care.

AIS Health: Since you are somewhat of a rare breed, as a chief risk officer, what advice would you give to others who hope to follow in your footsteps at other health plans?

Deshpande: It all starts with a great, talented, passionate team — if you get that right, everything else follows from that.

AIS Health: How do you see the role of chief risk officer evolving in the industry over the next five to 10 years?

Deshpande: I see the holy grail of risk management shifting from detection and mitigation of risks quickly to anticipating and preventing them. I take my inspiration from the airline
industry’s safety record. Excited to see how the emerging technology and machine learning turn “what’s possible” into “reality” over the next five to 10 years.

Contact Deshpande via Alex Kepnes, spokesperson for Humana, at

— by Diana Manos
— Dec. 11, 2017

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