Finance leader Betsy Ward wants you to know that she doesn’t have an itchy trigger finger—but she does have an inner trigger and knows when it’s been set off.
There’s no doubt that few professional colleagues would ever think to associate the time-tested gunslinger trope with the mild-mannered Ward, who has led insurance giant MassMutual through a string of strategic transactions since her arrival in its CFO office in 2016.
Still, as Ward seeks to help us to better understand the unique mix of skills that distinguishes her from her CFO peers, her words alert us to a confidence that comes from experience not found on a more traditional corporate finance resume.Read More
“I have a trigger that lets me know when I need to look into something and ask myself ‘Do we keep that? Do I need to manage it? Do I need to sell?,’” explains Ward, who spent 10 years in asset management before joining MassMutual in 2007 as chief risk officer.
“I’ve always looked at outcomes—baseline outcomes, which in finance we typically call ‘the plan’—but I’ve always considered scenarios, too,” comments Ward, whose list of recent transactions includes the acquisition of Great American Life Insurance Company (now MassMutual Ascend) and the combination of OppenheimerFunds with Invesco in 2019.
Ward’s team uses a variety of metrics to bring different scenarios into sharper focus.
“We asked ourselves what it would take to make our retirement business not only perform well but also be more scalable, and here’s where our productivity metrics really came into play,” recalls Ward, highlighting MassMutual’s headline-grabbing decision to sell its retirement business to Empower in 2020.
According to MassMutual’s CFO, finance provides her organization not so much with advice as with a “thesis” for guiding business decision-making.
Says Ward: “I think that what my background brings to the financial side is this scenario type of analysis, as well as the notion of having a thesis for businesses, for assets, and for products.” –Jack Sweeney
“Keep developing yourself with that external view and intellectual curiosity that has supported you all along, keeping as many ‘doors’ open as you can as long as they interest you.” –Betsy Ward, CFO, MassMutual
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CFOTL: Tell us about MassMutual … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Ward: MassMutual was founded in 1851. In fact, even though the interior of the building that I’m in is quite contemporary, we’ve been here in Springfield, Massachusetts, since the very beginning. We’re proud of our long-term presence, just as we’re really proud of focusing on delivering long-term value to our policyholders.
I guess a number of companies may say this, but—as a mutual life insurance company—when we focus on our policyholders, we’re in fact focusing on our owners because our participating policy holders are the owners of the company. There are no shareholders, so we’re very aligned with our policyholders.Read More
This does set us apart, as well as allows us—in fact, encourages us—to focus on the long term. We need to be financially strong to support our long-term promises to our policyholders because most participating whole-life policyholders own their policy for decades. In fact, some even buy policies for infants, which means that they’ll have the policy for over 100 years. This long-term promise is unique. These days, many public firms are so focused on short-term stability that they aren’t very interested in setting up reserves for long-term promises in the same way that a company like MassMutual is.
Another way that we separate and define ourselves is that by focusing on the long term, we’re also focusing on the economic return that we’ll be delivering over that period because participating policyholders share in the upside with MassMutual. We’re looking to make sure that we’re providing as competitive a dividend as makes sense over a long period of time, which is also rather different. It’s not just, “Hey, how high a dividend can we pay this year? And we’ll just have to see what happens next year.” We’re always looking for the appropriate amount to pay at any given point in time. We want to make sure that we’re not adding volatility to our policyowners’ lives but instead providing them with the protection that they looked for when they turned to a financially strong company like MassMutual.
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