Podcast S6E10 | Strategic Risk: Star McDade

Podcast S6E10 | Strategic Risk: Star McDade

Podcast S6E10 | Strategic Risk: Star McDade 1400 788 Risky Women
Kimberly Dickerson of Protiviti and Star McDade, SVP for Audit Services at USAA, discuss moving from activity based work to a more value added model and how to shift the mindset to an advisory audit role.

Star McDade is Senior Vice President, Audit Services – Staff Agencies, Analytics & Insurance (SA&I) at USAA. Star is a strategic thinker with proven ability to develop and deliver on high impact initiatives from conception to implementation.  And is known to challenge the status quo in support of identifying risks, opportunities and driving decision making to achieve long-term organizational goals at work and in her community.  She leads a team responsible for audit portfolio covering P&C, Life & Int’l, as well as staff agencies functions (e.g., HR, Finance, Brand, etc.).  She also has responsibility for the Audit Strategic Insights & Analytics team.

Kimberly Dickerson is Executive Vice President – Global Head of Operations and Technology at Protiviti.  Kim is a member of Protiviti’s Executive Team where she serves as the EVP of Global Operations and Technology.  Kim joined the firm 19 years ago and is a certified Project Management Professional and ScrumMaster with experience leading large scale programs of work concentrating on operational efficiency, process improvement, organizational design, risk management, and regulatory compliance.  Focused in the Financial Services Industry, Kim has assisted companies across the spectrum of size and complexity execute on a variety of initiatives. Prior to joining the Executive Team, Kim led the firm’s Northeast Region and New York and Washington DC Markets.  In 2015, she was recognized by Consulting Magazine as a Top 25 Consultant.



00:01 Adding value in risk and assurance profession
04:09 Risk management and business strategy alignment
08:45 Risk assessment, emerging risks, and third-party partnerships in the insurance industry
16:26 Risk management career paths and advice for young professionals
22:19 Career paths, challenges, and growth in the accounting industry
26:36 Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture

Protiviti is a global consulting firm that uses technology, innovation, data and analytics to create unique solutions that transform the field of risk management and solve industry wide problems.


Kimberley Cole 0:01
This is Risky Women Radio, a show that connects, celebrates and champions women in risk regulation and compliance. We’re here to share the insights on the biggest issues in our industry and hear inspiring journeys from our global members. Sign up to our newsletter at riskywomen.org. I’m Kimberley Cole, your Chief Risky Woman.

Kimberly Dickerson 0:21
Welcome to Protiviti’s Risky Women podcast. My name is Kim Dickerson, and I’m the Global Head of Operations and Technology at Protiviti. I’m joined today with Star McDade, Senior Vice President Audit Services at USAA. Star, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m really glad to have you with us. So let’s jump in. Because I know we have a lot to talk about. When executives think about risk and assurance professionals, they sometimes think that the role is necessary evil, but you’ve been working to change that share with us how you’ve been doing that.

Star McDade 1:00
So we’ve been working in the change that by focusing on how do we add value and adding value, and the way that our stakeholders define value. So a lot of times we come in and say we’ve done our audit work, we’ve checked the box now, you know, here’s the value, we take it from the perspective of how do they see value. And I think it’s value in the way that we work, but then also value in the way that we communicate our results. So using that seat at the table to ensure that we fully understand what is important for them and communicating it back out. So I’d say for example, you can do formal routes, like testing strategic risks. So what is your strategy, what risks exist that might limit you to be able to achieve that, or advisory work where you’re taking hours away from an external firm and doing it on behalf of the company, or informal things like happy accidents. We’ve had a team once in a walk through just say, Hey, why isn’t this button clicked on a particular system, and ultimately found out that that button was connected to some supplemental accounts that fees should have been charged on that weren’t charged on. And ultimately it ended up providing 10s of millions of dollars each year for the bottom line, because the auditor just asked a question going in to understand and see what’s there as opposed to just checking the boxes for what we needed to do. So there’s ways that we can get through that. But it’s really focusing on what is valuable to management to help drive that.

Kimberly Dickerson 2:41
So you’ve been talking about moving from activity based work to more value added work. How do you work to shift the mindset of your team to really focus on not just completing tasks, but advising on risk management and providing other types of meaningful work if they’re trained to get through their work papers or trained to try to get through their their individual audit work? How do you shift that mindset to more of that advisory, more of that value added work?

Star McDade 3:24
So part of it is helping them understand that it’s really just one extra step, you’re still going to do the same testing that you were doing before, the likelihood that your test plan and procedures will change is low. It’s just taking the step forward and connecting it to what’s meaningful for management. So that way, when you communicate out your conclusions, it’s not just I provided assurance over these controls, but I provided over assurance over these controls that will support you in achieving these strategic objectives. Oh, and by the way, X, Y and Z, you might want to consider if you want to accelerate or if you want to limit disruption or what have you. I’d say on the other side, it’s recognizing that for some auditors, it feels dirty, feels like there’s a line that you’re crossing. And part of that is what in 2020, the IA remove defense from the three lines model. And so it’s a journey, it takes time for folks to go away from the focus on defense and preserving value to the increased emphasis on creating value, which is what that change was meant to do. And so that alignment, the coordination, the collaboration that is now expected between first second and third line is newer, whereas we were focused primarily on how do we collaborate, communicate connect with the board from an external perspective, and so it’s helping folks to recognize that it is different, it is a change, but we should be adopting it so that way we are supporting the success of the overall enterprise and not as a separate distinct unit. When I was in a public company, I used to always say we’re all operating for the same share price, right? We’re not a different company.

Kimberly Dickerson 5:06
That’s awesome. Do you find management receptive to that type of information? Or do you find them challenging you giving that kind of advisory support?

Star McDade 5:18
I’d say that when we first started off having a conversation, saying we’re going to provide you with value add, it wasn’t much challenge, because they didn’t believe us. They didn’t think we knew what was happening in their business or even across the industry. And as we started to identify things and provide them with things, they started asking for audit to be in the room more, they started calling us more, they started asking for advice more, because they recognize that we show up not just as the risk and control business partner, but an executive or leader within the company that has a 360 degree view of a company. And so sometimes we understand what one business unit is doing versus the other and can connect them to learn upon and share from their own lessons learned, right, you don’t have to fail at something if someone in the business unit, you know, next to you just went through that. And so those small things helped to shift them a bit. But the times that you do have an example or two where you can provide where audit has identified something or helped to mitigate something in particular that’s connected to their strategic goals and objectives. Those stories just kind of champion those over help to, to get management on board. But I’d say to like your earlier question, though, it’s still harder to get the the auditors on board than the management per se, because there’s no risk for management of getting additional value, right? Because they already know we have to be there. And so that’s just an added bonus for them. It’s just getting the auditors to take the extra step to be able to translate what we do into value for our business partners.

Kimberly Dickerson 6:55
Yeah, it’s a journey for sure. So you go in, you’re conducting your procedures, you’re doing your walkthroughs. Sometimes I think you find yourself as a as a risk and assurance professional, in a place where you are questioning, maybe even challenging a business strategy. And I know that can be a pretty sensitive area to broach. Risk doesn’t typically implement or develop a business strategy. And so when you’re talking to a first line leader, I think sometimes they can think what you don’t know what this is like, I own this strategy. I’ve put the strategy together, and and you’re questioning it from a place that you don’t understand. Do you think it’s your responsibility to question strategy when you’re assessing risk? And if you do, what do you think qualifies you or, or any risk professional, to assess risk, or to assess business strategy, when you’re assessing risk?

Star McDade 8:07
I definitely think it’s something that we should be doing, we should be doing every time, especially those areas that are the big bets for the organization, for the enterprise. And I almost feel like it’s too risky not to right, I won’t name names, but there are many companies whose business strategies had gaps had flaws that were obvious, not even Monday morning quarterback obvious, but just very clear. And they’re not around anymore. They’re not the industry leader anymore. They’re not the leader in that product or service that they used to be because they were a little bit myopic, or just didn’t have that independent objective voice that they could trust in the room to challenge that strategy. And so it’s a it’s too risky not to do it. And from an second or third line perspective, I’d say those are the groups that probably are best position to do it because of their view across the organization, because of their expertise in risk identification, risk mitigation, remediation strategies. And so it’s one of those where we can come to the table with here the risks in you not being able to achieve your objectives, here’s some recommendations that you might consider, like otherwise, or at least information that you have to be able to make those decisions to get there. And I think that perspective would be helpful for them. The the piece around, you know, you’ve got, I’ve had several business partners say, Well, you’ve never managed a P&L how are you going to tell me where my resources should go? It’s really more about you know, leaning in on the opportunity cost piece too. And so if you don’t do this, this is what I see as a risk, right? So regardless of if I’ve actually executed it myself, it’s my job to understand not only what you do, but how you do it, and connect with others externally to be able to provide that type of advice and so it’s not always about having had to do it. It’s just understanding everything around it to be able to provide you with that that information.

Kimberly Dickerson 10:09
Yeah, I like that, I think it’s, it’s the role of assurance partners to evaluate risk across the board, right, and your point is a really valid one. There’s a lot of really great companies that had what they thought to be great business strategies that are no longer in business, somebody has to say it.

Kimberley Cole 10:32
This episode is brought to you by Protiviti. Protiviti is a global consulting firm with deep expertise in transformation, risk management, and compliance, partner with Protiviti and face the future with confidence.

Kimberly Dickerson 10:48
Okay, so switching gears a little bit, you’ve made the transition from banking to insurance. Tell us a little bit about that transition and some of the lessons you’ve learned about the differences and those two industries.

Star McDade 11:00
So, the transition for me it hasn’t been too challenging. I’m now at an insurance company that, or insurance holding company that actually has a bank, and so I get to use some of what I’ve had before and learn new about what sitting here. I think the biggest transition is the insurance products, services, as well as the oversight from the various state regulators. And so understanding how do you risk assess when you have such a broad coverage from regulatory expectations and following in on the model rule from an NAIC perspective, so learning those pieces. I would say, though, that the the thing that kind of makes it easier from a transition perspective is just understanding from a customer for where we are now a member, perspective their, what the expectations are, and it’s not much deviation, because of this technology over the last few years. So customer expectations are pretty much the same, right? And you think about the top risks that would exist, like cyber are pretty much the same. So it’s really understanding the products and services and how you deliver on your customer expectations. And then how do you protect the overall environment and the risk.

Kimberly Dickerson 12:32
Yeah, regulatory risk is one of those things that definitely keeps all of us on our toes. And, you know, I think just generally speaking, the world is just an increasingly risky place right now. I think new technologies makes emerging risks a really important topic. How do you and your teams assess emerging risks?

Star McDade 12:58
So, part of it is ongoing continuous in business monitoring. And so we participate in management, committee meetings, forums, what have you, we review management reports to understand what’s happening on a day to day basis. But then we also make sure that we’re tapped into the external community. So whether it’s industry conferences, forums, from an audit perspective, or risk perspective, or the business products and services, perspectives, reading, research, right? So it’s essentially living it right, you can’t work nine to five, and then do, you know, not think about it outside. So it’s really understanding, I think the thing that makes it easier for a lot of us is that a lot of the products and services we offer are required until we all have it right. And so I was talking to a new hire the other day about, you know, getting ready for an audit that she’s working on. And it was easy to say, do you have car insurance? And she does. And so like, how does that happen? What’s that experience for you? What are you thinking about? What are you looking at? Did you get approved? Were you happy with the rate. So those types of things make it an easier kind of common sense approach for folks to think about the stuff that they should be looking at externally. And just translating that to all of the other things that we do.

Kimberly Dickerson 14:14
Thank you for that. I’m thinking about some of your third party service provider partners, what is some of the advice you rely on them to give you and how is that relationship or those relationships most beneficial to you?

Star McDade 14:30
So, I think what we rely upon our third party business partners, the most for is irrelevant information. Right? And so I can say, Oh, I used to do this, or I used to do that. But once you’re with a company a year or two, it’s stale. it’s all stale. No matter how much of an expert you think you are, it’s stale and so the third parties help us to do benchmarking, whether it’s formal or informal, to question some of the things that we might have I have to in a an appropriate way, but understand the differences or the things that we should be thinking about and the questions that we might want to ask. And so if you go back to the question we had earlier about strategic risks, there might be some space for the third party to help us understand the other areas or other organizations that may have been successful or not in particular areas to ask the right question. I think it also helps with supplement of staff. So if there’s a new product or service that we didn’t have, and we might not have expertise internally, if you want it done quickly, correctly, with the prospective have some prior experience, then you can bring in subject matter experts to help kind of craft the test plan or the approach, and to help the auditors build that credibility with management in those new areas.

Kimberly Dickerson 15:51
The way we work today is really different from the way we’ve worked pre COVID. For those of us who work in apprenticeship models, where we benefit from working in teams, we benefit from working, having our junior resources work with our more experienced people in environments where we have multiple generations of workers working together, how do you develop talent? In today’s working environment, where many of us are working in hybrid environments? What does that look like for you at USAA now?

Star McDade 16:29
So, I think it’s operating from an from a place where you recognize that ignorance is not bliss. And so you need to know what your people need, where they need it, how they need it, and what shifts needs to be made. And then make sure that your folks also understand what the expectations are, from a leadership perspective. So what who needs to be in office and when and what the benefits are there. I think that many organizations started from a place of we’re going to be an office X days a week, or Y days a week. And because we said so, right. And I think a lot of folks kind of had to step back and say, Well, let me show why show the value proposition why. So that way, folks, whether they were here before, or they were hired during COVID, or after, understand the benefits from that. And sometimes it’s spending a little more time and effort on those engagement activities to bring folks back to the office. At USAA, there are, well I started during COVID, but I was told about all of these amazing things that exist on the different campuses from, you know, Chic-fil-A, and other things, and dry cleaning and all kinds of stuff, right? And so it’s not my expectation for those things to exist, whereas it might be for other colleagues. And so it’s about communicating, explaining what the value proposition is. And then also taking advantage of that, right. So if you tell folks to come back into the office, then you can’t have meetings that are virtual, where everyone’s sitting in the office, right? So get up and walk over there. I think that here, we’ve done a great job at helping folks understand that you statistically work less if you come into the office, right? So while you might have that commute time and that expense for commute reintroduced into your life, you will spend less time you’ll have more work life balance if you come into the office, and then you can build those kind of I call them Motley crews. So those crews of folks that you would have never thought you know, why are you going to lunch with this person or this person? Or how did you even build this relationship, right? You bump into folks in the office, you kind of pop in in the office. And that’s how we get stuff done. And as humans to be most efficient and effective, especially in the types of roles that we have, like you said that apprenticeship type of role. You need to hear and see and feel what’s going on and everything can’t be done via email or via scheduled meeting. If I think about the last time someone just randomly popped into my Zoom meeting, that was uninvited it’s never happened, right? But physically, it happens every day. And we welcome it and we benefit from it. So it’s just helping folks understand it and recognize that our new normal is different than it was before but it still needs to work in a way that we can all be successful.

Kimberly Dickerson 19:27
Agree. So what advice would you give to a young woman starting her career in risk management today?

Star McDade 19:36
I would say understand what it is that you’re doing. So what area that you’re going into and have a perspective of your own whether or not others agree with it, but have a perspective so that way you can shape it. And I’d say asking why is going to be your friend so however is most comfortable for you to say it I’m a direct person. So I’m just gonna say Kimberly, why. Others might say, help me understand or take me on a journey, whatever however you translate it, but get comfortable and asking why? Because that’s when you’re going to find the root cause of things. That’s when you’re going to get the true understanding. And that’s when you’re going to understand if you’re talking to the right person.

Kimberly Dickerson 20:15
Right No, that’s right. I think back on my career, and I think I was probably mid 20s, when I knew that there was a profession called consulting. When did you first learn about the risk and assurance profession? Or maybe you knew about this and wanted to become an auditor when you were a child? How did you get on this path?

Star McDade 20:37
Yeah, definitely not that. I was in college, and I was a human resource management major. And the Dean had called me into the office because they were eliminating human resource management as a major. And I was just like, well, I don’t know what else I’m gonna do. My mom was in HR. So I’m going to be in HR. And so I had an A in accounting. And he said, you’re going to major in accounting, and you’re going to go to a public accounting firm, and they’re having information sessions on campus, go to the information session. And they had, you know, good food. And Arthur Andersen was around. And so they spent a lot of money. It’s like fancy dinner. So it’s like, oh, I could probably do this. And I think going to one of the, the, after graduating, I went to, to PwC. And getting there, I think my first week or so, it was just like, Okay, this is the world of consulting, I often felt like, I am a child that they have given responsibility to. And now all of these folks at the client have to listen to me, they have to listen to what it is that I’m saying. And so now the pressure is on me is to close that learning curve to ensure that what I’m telling them makes sense, right? And being able to use your team to learn and to develop, which is, which was a challenge for me, because I used to depend on myself and my own research and in shifting to that team environment was was fun, it was worth it. But you’re right, consulting is a different world, for a special type of person. You and I both took that route so we got to meet each other.

Kimberly Dickerson 22:23
Indeed. And then so how did you make your way from the consulting world into industry?

Star McDade 22:31
So I actually was going back to school to get my PhD in corporate strategy. And so I decided to take a year off, and I was just going to go work somewhere where there weren’t words like high performance environment in the interviews, where I could feel like, well, you know, in public accounting folks used to say, you can go to industry, and you’d be bored by you know, half of the day, because we’re used to so much change and challenge. And so I thought I would take one of those jobs, save up some money for a year. And in doing that, I found a very lax and comfortable culture that was extremely challenging in the the content and the work and the expectations of the folks. And so I ended up staying there for 12 years. And yeah, just like did not go back to school fell in love with with audit or the ability to contribute, and, you know, show a different face of audit, if you will, not a bunch of accountants with green visors, but a bunch of fixers, if you will, and so, yeah, still here.

Kimberly Dickerson 23:41
So if we talk to the people you work most closely with, and we asked them, What is Star’s superpower? What would they say?

Star McDade 23:52
It’s funny, someone connecting the dots. So for some reason, folks think that I seem to be able to connect dots in a magical way and that I can answer the question that’s been asked in a succinct way. I don’t think it’s really a superpower. I think I just listen. I just listen actively. It’s a like, my, my uncles, and my, like, mentors, what have you, the thing that folks always say is, listen more than you speak. And so I tend to do that. And when you listen, you can actually hear what people are asking for or what folks are saying. And then it just makes it easier to connect the dots. So it might seem like I’m, you know, super smart, but in actuality, I’m just listening to what people were saying.

Kimberly Dickerson 24:39
Yep. It’s a it’s a underused talent for sure. There’s a report in 2019 from the AICPA that said that only 2% of CPAs in the US were black. That was actually up from prior years, unfortunately. How has that impacted your career? How has it changed how you approach your career or has it?

Star McDade 25:08
So I’d say I’ve definitely had challenges. Like as a woman, for sure, I doubt it’s different than other women that you you’ve had on things like the client, assuming that you know, the male that’s with you who might be more junior is the leader or the decision maker just because you’re a woman. But I do believe that there’s unique challenges that come at that intersectionality of being black and being a woman. Things like people asked me to touch my hair, or we had a CPA workshop once where we were volunteering and doing taxes for the local community. And my colleagues continue to ask me, you know, am I ready to go like I was there to get my taxes done, as opposed to performing the work for others and volunteering for others. So you know, things like that. But I’d say the biggest thing for me was having to trick my leaders over the years into gifting me with constructive feedback. So we all know that constructive feedback is what helps us grow, which helps us get to the next level, which helps us develop, right. And you know, sometimes there’s a unconscious or maybe even conscious bias against black women. We’re loud, we’re aggressive. And so why would you want to give someone like that feedback? And me, I’m six foot tall, dark skinned big hair. So I just add to the, the stereotypes, right? And so if you tell her something bad, what’s going to happen? And so I spent a lot of time helping folks become comfortable or overcome those biases, I used to make up things that I knew that I was not doing wrong, so that way, they would have to be like, no, no, you’re doing that, right. But you’re doing this right. So tricking folks into getting that constructive feedback, and hopefully helping to shape the way that they thought about giving feedback to black women. So that way we could continue to grow and develop, as well as others.

Kimberly Dickerson 27:06
How do you create that safe space within USAA that creates a culture of psychological safety for black and brown people on your teams?

Star McDade 27:19
So I think it’s just being open about it right and focusing on the concept of belonging, right. So one of our core values is we foster belonging or our core leadership behaviors, we foster belonging. And recognizing that people feel like they don’t belong, when they’re new, when they’re going through challenges or when they’re underrepresented. And so if you’re speaking about it more broadly, where everyone can recognize there was a time where they didn’t belong. And it’s not just about, you know, black people, Hispanic people, women, or what have you, it makes it less other and more. So, you know, all of us, and making it an expectation that my leaders build that or build empathy as a leadership competency to be able to identify those things. And so if you haven’t felt uncomfortable this week, or this month, and you’re doing it wrong, because that means someone on your team has been because you haven’t looked for those things, you haven’t seen those things. So it’s focusing on that to create that environment, and calling it out, right, so that it’s not so uncomfortable. So I’ll give examples. I’ll say things just being vulnerable with the team. So that way, they understand that, you know, there’s a space that we have to make, and it has to be intentional, it’s just not going to happen on its own. And that if you are failing at it, it’s not because you’re racist or sexist or ageist, right? It’s because you’re not doing what you need to do as a leader and asking the questions or challenging yourself, so that you create that environment. So it can’t always be golf outings, it can’t always be dinner at this place. Right? And you won’t always be happy, what’s there, I’ve sat through, you know, events that I don’t want to go through, go to or go through, right. But if you are making it inclusive of everyone, then then you have to do something that’s uncomfortable for yourself. And you might find, you know, new and interesting things. But once folks are comfortable, then they’ll deliver, right? So if you’re ultimately trying to win to achieve your goals, and you need to build the best team and the best team is a diverse team. So it’s just making it clear that there’s an expectation for leaders to deliver on building the best teams which are diverse teams, but also providing them with the tools so that way they feel comfortable and create an environment where everyone belongs.

Kimberly Dickerson 29:39
That’s awesome. There’s a saying, no risk, no reward. Talk to me about the most significant personal risk you’ve taken so far in your career.

Star McDade 29:50
So I, one of my aunts, my aunt Marilyn always says ask for what you want. Otherwise, people think you have what you need. And so even fairly early on in my career, I just asked for stuff. What can you tell me? No. And so at some point, and they don’t necessarily feel like huge risks for me, but I’m told that they are. I’d say then the biggest one is probably my transition from Houston to New York. So I was in Houston working in banking, capital markets from an audit perspective. But I wanted to do more on the investment management side. So I had a couple of mutual fund clients, but there’s not a lot. It’s mainly an oil and gas town. And so I’d asked a senior partner that was visiting from New York, what opportunities existed for me to go to New York, LA, Chicago, or Kansas City, which is where the big accounts were. And so I got an opportunity to do a rotation in New York City working between New York and Greenwich on hedge fund private equity, and like government investment pools, which was different from my very proper, you know, heavily SEC overseeing mutual fund space. And so it was it was a big risk to go cross country to work on different teams from a place where I was known as a high performer. So this is my brand and my reputation to go cross country. But it was it was worth it. I ended up staying there for several years before going on to American Express. So that’s awesome.

Star McDade 29:57
That’s awesome. So are you up for some rapid fire questions?

Star McDade 31:34

Kimberly Dickerson 31:37
All right. First one, what’s your go to karaoke song?

Star McDade 31:42
Probably Little Red Wagon by Miranda Lambert.

Kimberly Dickerson 31:47
In one word, describe what you love about what you do.

Star McDade 31:52

Kimberly Dickerson 31:55
What is the last hobby or activity you picked up just for fun?

Star McDade 32:03

Kimberly Dickerson 32:04
What is that tiling?

Star McDade 32:06
So like, tiling kitchen floor.

Kimberley Cole 32:10
That’s awesome. You’re going to have to come back to that one. Okay, Marvel or DC Comics heroes.

Star McDade 32:16
I’m gonna say Marvel because I’m not familiar with DC, there’s a lot of Marvel on Netflix!

Kimberly Dickerson 32:28
Favorite season.

Star McDade 32:31
I like Fall like Fall and Spring – wear boots and blazers.

Kimberly Dickerson 32:35
There you go. And the best advice someone has ever given you.

Star McDade 32:41
Um, listen more than you speak.

Kimberly Dickerson 32:44
There you are. Star, thank you so much for being here with me today. It has been my absolute pleasure to spend time with you. And that is our Risky Women podcast for today. Thank you all for joining.

Kimberley Cole 33:51
Thank you for listening to this episode of Risky Women Radio, be part of the ongoing conversation and learn more about our events and other programs at riskywomen.org

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