When Eric Dinallo MPP’87 set out to build a career, insurance wasn’t what he first had in mind. He was interested in public service and had gone to law school to gain more tools that would be helpful in government work. “No one wakes up and says, I want a career in insurance,” he said.
But over the years, holding positions in both the public and private sector, Dinallo has grown to love the field. It’s an essential service for families and for businesses. “Nothing gets done without insurance, buildings don’t get built, doctors don’t practice, deals don’t get done,” he says.
When Dinallo came to study public policy at Duke, he received a full-ride scholarship, with a stipend and housing. “I was shocked and so were my parents,” he said.
“The program taught me how to think like a public servant, how to analyze policy. It gave me everything I wanted,” he said.
He decided to go to law school because he thought the legal training would be more useful than a business degree or PhD for working in government.
Dinallo was a prosecutor in the New York County District Attorney’s Office, pursuing securities fraud in the late 1990s. He joined the state Office of the Attorney General in 1999, as chief of the Investment Protection Bureau working under Eliot Spitzer. He led several investigations into conflicts of interest in the financial services industry.
His first position in insurance was with Willis Group Holdings, the world’s third largest insurance broker, where he was General Counsel and supervised the compliance and internal audit departments.
In 2007, he was appointed as New York State Superintendent of Insurance by then Governor Eliot Spitzer. One of his first big projects was resolving the conflict between developers and insurance companies over the World Trade Center buildings that had been destroyed on 9/11.
Nothing could be done with the site until a settlement was reached. One of the key issues was whether it counted as one event or two separate events, which had implications for what and how it was covered.
“It was awful for the reputation of the industry and the legal bills were mind-numbing,” he said.
The settlement was needed for the city of New York to be able to move on. “That was one of the most important things I’ve done in public service,” Dinallo said.
From the World Trade Center, Dinallo went straight into the beginning of the financial crisis, working with the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and state agencies on the restructuring of insurance giant AIG. He testified before Congress and state legislatures 10 times over 20 months during the process.
“It was quite a three years,” he said.
In 2009, Dinallo ran for Attorney General of the State of New York. While he lost the primary race, it was a “transformative experience” for him. Running for office involved a lot of public speaking, which was a challenge for him as a life-long stutterer. “It helped me get to another level of comfort with speaking,” and he came out publicly as a stutterer during the campaign. He is currently chair of the board of directors of the American Institute for Stuttering.
The race also taught him that “I was a good public servant, but not necessarily a good politician,” he said.
Since then, he has held positions at Guardian Life Insurance as General Counsel and most recently, at Debevoise & Plimpton, where he currently is a partner and chairs its insurance regulatory practice.
The coronavirus pandemic has created another turbulent time for the insurance industry. Dinallo is involved in looking for solutions. Many businesses have insurance that covers interruption of business, but most policies do not include coverage for pandemics, he said.
He has been talking with Congresswoman Carol Maloney as she is drafting a pandemic insurance risk act to address the issue. Dinallo is also working with an insurance trade organization, looking at the legal and financial issues.
“It will have to be a federal solution. Like floods and terrorism, it’s just too big for anything else,” Dinallo said.
Dinallo thinks his experience in government gives him a broader perspective in his legal career and his law practice gave him insight into being a regulator. “Going back and forth from public to private has kept me energized,” he said.
The MPP degree “launched me in public service and has served me extremely well,” he said.