Interview: Shannon Lofdahl of Travelex
Empowered to deliver and innovate: As Travelex CEO, with 26 years of travel insurance experience, Shannon Lofdahl understands better than most what makes our industry tick
What’s your background in the financial services sector, and how did you progress to your current role?
My career began in 1996 at Mutual of Omaha, in the tele-trip division, offering travel insurance. Shortly after I joined, the business was acquired by Travelex, and on 2 December, 2022, I proudly celebrated my 26th year in this business. From my first day sitting in a call centre, explaining how to calculate a 24-hour pre-existing condition waiver – it was the innovation at the time – to the seat I am in today, Travelex has empowered me to learn, grow, innovate and even make a few mistakes along the way. Today, I am fortunate to lead an extraordinary business, with handsdown the most talented folks in the industry.
Travelex has been in the business for over 25 years – what has been the company’s greatest achievement been to date?
It’s truly in the partnerships we have, and many of them can be measured in decades. In 2023, we’ll celebrate the 25th anniversary of our preferred-partner relationship with Virtuoso. Such a length of time is remarkable and lets us know that we are trusted and valued, and that our service and support have helped them succeed. That is the truest way to measure success – through the eyes of those we serve.
Travelex is part of Cover-More, which is part of Zurich. What advantage does being part of such a large company give to Travelex?
With our acquisition in 2017, becoming a part of the Zurich family of global brands has enhanced our capabilities to support partners through technology innovation, award-winning travel assistance service capabilities, and an enhanced global footprint that enables us to provide travel products in multiple countries.
As well, with Zurich as a global leader in sustainability, we now bring these efforts to life in our business and partnerships to ensure we are doing our part. Zurich provides great support in ensuring we can make our own dreams, and those of our partners, a reality.
Travel insurance regulation is done on a state-by-state basis in the United States. How challenging is this for Travelex to manage?
Quite honestly, I think we have it down to a science after all these years. We have teams on committees and working with regulators to ensure we learn of changes as they occur and that we adhere to compliance guidelines and regulations. We don’t take regulation lightly; it is interwoven in our DNA, and we hold ourselves to a high pedigree to ensure the protection of our company, as well as the brands of our partners.
How did Travelex react to Covid, and how has it continued to adapt as the risks to travellers change and we all face a variety of new challenges?
Obviously, Covid-19 tremendously affected the travel industry, and we responded by meeting the evolving needs of our partners and travellers. People had to cancel honeymoons, dream vacations and other significant trips they’d invested in. Travelex treated Covid as a sickness from day one, which helped ensure our travellers recouped trip costs. To lose the entire cost of their trips, on top of not being able to go, would have been terrible.
Covid-19 brought us closer to our travellers, so we’re keyed in to what they want and expect from an insurance plan. This enables us to better serve them, and we have a closer view of industry patterns to help us determine what’s on the horizon – and which products we may want to start designing to add to our portfolio. We’re more focused than ever on looking for ways to better serve our partners and travellers.
Do you think the US travel insurance industry has adapted, to meet the needs of travellers? How can companies appeal more effectively to younger customers?
I do believe the travel insurance industry is responding to the needs of the traveller. In fact, I feel their requirements are at the centre of all we do. Whether our partner travel agents are advocating for the traveller and expressing their wants, or we’re hearing from them directly, they are speaking and we are listening. Covid-19 truly reinforced that, as many of us had to step up our service to travellers who had a completely new set of questions, fears, and guidelines to understand, which changed daily. They needed us to learn alongside them and translate that into the right coverage.
I think it is true that insurance is one of those things that becomes more relative or appealing as people age. However, travel is different. With more younger folks travelling, we do see more of them protecting their trips. Their awareness of insurance, and its benefits, is growing, and we must continue to show its value through education and storytelling. I don’t see it as a matter of appeal, as much as being informed.
Working with travel agents is a key distribution channel for insurers, so how important is this market?
Travelex built our business serving agency owners and travel advisors. For over 25 years, travel agents have played an integral role in our success and growth. They are extremely important to our business and to the travel distribution.
What do you enjoy most about your role, and what is the most challenging part?
What I love most about my role is to develop partnerships. As a CliftonStrengths advocate, I lead with my top strengths of Relator and Maximizer. I find deep satisfaction in genuine connections and working hard with others to achieve a goal, and thrive on taking something from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
I took on the CEO role in November 2020, during the worst of the pandemic, when challenge was the name of the game. Any new challenges now feel easier to manage and work through. It’s good to be past the storm.