In the early 1980s, when Arleen Paladino joined Crum & Forster as a 21-year-old internal audit trainee, she was frequently sent to remote office locations to complete audits of financial statements the data from which were then transferred to keypunch cards and fed into a giant mainframe at the insurance company’s Morristown, New Jersey, headquarters.
“While this might seem like a long time ago, we just decommissioned the mainframe last year,” says Paladino, who entered Crum & Forster’s CFO office in 2017 after serving as a senior vice president of the company’s internal audit function.Read More
Having only recently bid farewell to mainframe technology, Crum & Forster is not likely counted among the insurance sector’s allotment of tech-savvy innovators. Still, evolution is arguably what Crum & Forster does best. The insurance company will celebrate its bicentennial next year.
“Understanding the systems and how the processes worked together really helped me to understand the business model,” continues Paladino, who would advance upward as she took on more management responsibilities, including helping to spearhead compliance initiatives such as SOX, which garnered the attention of company board members.
Meanwhile, as evident as Paladino’s maturing leadership qualities may have been, her focus on systems and processes at times arguably may have obscured what might be her 40-plus-year career’s greatest contribution to the company.
“When I started, I was the only female auditor in the department,” explains Paladino, who recalls engaging with very few woman executives during these early visits. Much later, at about midstream in her eventual career of more than four decades, Paladino found herself married, a mother of two under the age of 6—and struggling to achieve work/life balance.
“I had a CFO at the time who I did not think would want me to reduce my hours, so we had a very candid conversation and I explained my situation,” remembers Paladino, who ended up securing an hours reduction in her workweek and thus illuminated a path for others to follow.
Says Paladino: “Part of the draw for me has been to achieve this work/life balance and have a culture that supports it.” –Jack Sweeney
CFOTL: Tell us about Crum & Forster. What sets this company apart from its competitors today?
Paladino: I would characterize us as a specialty underwriting company that offers a very diversified portfolio. We are decentralized. Recently, within the past couple of years, we have pushed services that were previously handled at the corporate level down into the divisions that we have. We have eight or so divisions to meet the needs of our customers, so by having these functions within their own purview, they’re far better off. This provides them with an opportunity to be more agile in responding to customer needs.Read More
We have diversification at just about every level. We have a diversified distribution framework. We work with brokers and wholesalers, managing general underwriters and agents. We have owned agencies through which we have operated. We have multiple products. We write over $3 billion in premiums annually, and of this, $1 billion is in our accident and health portfolio, which within itself is also diversified. It has everything from pet insurance to travel insurance to medical products.
We’re a 200-year-old company and we’re looking forward to the next 200 years, so my priorities are to make sure that we get there. I want to continue to work with our divisions on our intentional growth plans, both organic and through any acquisitions that make sense and new deals that come through. We hope to be providing everyone with the support that they need from finance for timely, accurate reporting by continuing to use the tools that we have for planning and ongoing reforecasting and meeting with people to talk through challenges that they face.
Value Quote: “From finance, the questions are, ‘Where can we help you in terms of expense opportunities? What can we do to assist you in alleviating the lows that you face?’ So, really, our goal is to have ongoing conversations with the divisions and to make sure that organizationally we achieve our profitability and growth objectives.”
Crum & Forster | www.cfins.com | Morristown, New Jersey