Fast Track to Innovation

Aetna’s Theodore Kim led the first medical catastrophe securitization for the insurer.

Theodore (“Ted”) Kim, the 37-year-old head of financial strategy and capital markets at $34 billion healthcare giant Aetna, has been promoted four times in five years. With a background in accounting and management consulting, Kim started as a finance analyst at the company in 2006, became assistant treasurer in 2010 and took his current post earlier this year.

Working closely with CFO Joseph Zubretsky and investment bank Goldman Sachs, Kim led the team that developed the first-ever medical catastrophe securitization through vehicles named Vitality Re and Vitality Re II. Through these celebrated deals, the second of which was completed this past spring, Aetna reduced its capital requirements by $300 million by transferring the risk of costly pandemics to investors.

More money-saving innovations are undoubtedly in Kim’s future. “I have a strong desire to deliver results, and hopefully that will serve me well throughout my career,” he says.

Kim sees healthcare as one of the more altruistic industries with the power to help people, and it’s in the family. His wife, Kelly Cho, has a Ph.D. in biostatistics and is a faculty member of the Harvard Medical School.


Can you talk more about the medical catastrophe securitization projects?
Vitality Re was widely recognized in the industry for probably two reasons: medical risk had never been securitized before, and two, it gives us risk protection. We held our own capital as insurance capital for tail-risk events like pandemics. Vitality Re allows us to get protection from those types of events. We don’t have the risk of those events on our books, we don’t have to hold the capital.

This is something that health insurance companies have been dealing with for over 100 years. It’s an industry constraint. How do you free up capital while managing your risk profile? We were able to solve that problem. It’s another risk management tool for insurance companies. I see it as a major accomplishment.

What has been your biggest challenge or learning experience?
When you’re trying to establish an innovation within the company, it requires some incubation time, to get other team members, as well as everyone involved, to really be on the same page, and have a common shared vision. I may have a very clear vision, our CFO may have a clear vision, but everyone involved has to have that same vision.

Did you have a mentor?
At every job, I’ve had mentors. They’ve played a huge role in calibrating my expectations and helping me focus on what I needed to do to do the job well. At Aetna, our CFO really enjoys things that are cutting-edge, and he’s the one who has kept me excited about the opportunities within corporate finance.

At Arthur D. Little, where I worked as a consultant overseas in Korea, the office managing director, HyungGee Chung, taught me that it’s a give-and-take process, and you have to please your clients first. In a finance setting, people often don’t have client service in mind, but Chung taught me early on you have to have a client-service mentality. Give comes before take.

What advice would you give to people just starting out?
Numbers are very important, but there a lot of qualitative aspects, too. Have a strategic mind-set, because these numbers need to be made into decisions. Decisions require good numbers and good strategy.

How did you come to work in finance?
In finance, you play a role in decision making. You cannot make a strategic decision without numbers. Also, the pace at which things move in finance is very fast. And it’s a good way to develop my career. Thirty percent of all CEOs come from a finance background. Given that, I thought finance would be a very attractive career.

Is that your goal, becoming CEO some day?
Everyone has dreams. I’m taking it one day at time, but I would like to have the opportunity some day.

Why were you particularly interested in healthcare?
The healthcare industry is very appealing for three reasons: First, there are the demographics, with the aging baby boomers, who consume most of our medical care. Second, it helps people lead healthy lives. If I worked for a tobacco company, I wouldn’t feel good about that. Third, there’s a lot of innovation going on in this industry.



For the complete 2011 40 Under 40 list, see Ready to Take Charge.

You can find more coverage of the 40 Under 40 list here.



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