February 14, 2020

Microfocus

Embracing ingenuity

Want to Be a CFO? Consider Some Numeric Body Art

There are all kinds of ways to get on an upwardly mobile track that may...


There are all kinds of ways to get on an upwardly mobile track that may culminate in a CFO appointment.

Even getting a tattoo.

Just ask Dave Raszeja. He’s got one on his right arm that sports the first 100 digits of pi.

Dave Raszeja

“Getting the pi tattoo was probably one of my better career moves,” says Raszeja, who will take on his first CFO role on March 1 at Penn Mutual Life Insurance, a $3.3 billion revenue company that manages some $33 billion in assets.

He’d been at Penn Mutual for four years when, in 2005 at age 30, he donned the tattoo to memorialize his passion for mathematics. A few years earlier he’d been enthusiastically pursuing a graduate degree in theoretical math, studying such knotty topics as algebraic topology. After he got his degree, though, he switched his career focus.

“At some point it became obvious that I was going to have to work much harder or become much smarter, and neither seemed imminent,” Raszeja says. “I had to get a job, so I decided to follow the actuarial career path.”

That’s what brought him to Penn Mutual. By 2005, he’d been an actuary-in-training for most of the past four years. One day, while having lunch in the company cafeteria with a colleague, then-company CEO Robert Chappell, who had a habit of randomly sitting with people at lunch, plopped down next to them.

“He asked what we did, and we explained that we were actuaries,” Raszeja recalls. “He said that was interesting, because he’d been thinking the company could do a lot more with mathematics to become more data driven and analytically focused.”

Raszeja’s piece of pi

His colleague thereupon said, “Hey, this guy’s got pi tattooed on his arm.” Chappell asked to see it, so Raszeja rolled up his sleeve.

The CEO then relayed the story to the head of Penn Mutual’s investment function, who contacted Raszeja and asked him to come and interview for an open hedging quantitative analysis position.

He landed the job. “I actually found it a little daunting to go there and talk to those folks,” he says. “It was a whole new area of financial mathematics that I hadn’t been exposed to. But they did a fantastic job teaching me about derivatives and quantitative analysis.”

Raszeja was taken with the lively atmosphere in the investment department, compared to the more staid one in actuarial. It was often loud and raucous. There were lively congratulations after good trades were made. He and the other young quants learned about derivatives in part by creating derivative “contracts” between them and betting pennies on stock market results. “It was a fast-paced mindset,” he says.

He already knew he enjoyed the stimulation of taking on different roles. He’d left the actuarial area a couple years earlier to fill in for a recently departed employee in reinsurance administration. It was largely a clerical job, involving the preparation of billing reports, for example.

“It might seem that it was a snoozer, but I found I could help people design slick spreadsheets to get the billing done [more quickly],” Raszeja says. “It was pretty cool to make that sort of impact early in my career.”

He didn’t specialize in staying in roles for long periods of time. Raszeja has performed 10 different jobs at Penn Mutual. The headquarters building has six wings, and he’s worked in five of them. “If I could get a job in sales, I’d really round out my résumé,” he jokes.

When the company started an enterprise risk management department, its first leader had been head of fixed income in the investment area. He brought Raszeja along with him, again in a quantitative analysis role.

“It was the first time I looked across the whole company, as well as the broker-dealer affiliates, trying to broadly understand not just finance but also people and strategy and how all of those things worked together,” he says. “I was about eight years into my career, and I don’t think many people get that view of a company the size of Penn Mutual that early.”

His next stop was as leader of mortality management. It was a bit “wonky,” he says, but he spent ample time with the company’s lead underwriter, from whom he learned a lot about sales.

There were also some granular but interesting issues to handle. At the time the company Raszeja was debating whether to allow life insurance customers to smoke “celebratory cigars” — as one might do, say, when playing golf once a month — without being charged smokers’ rates. “It was an interesting job on the practical side,” he says.

After a couple years, he found himself back in an actuarial role, but he decided he preferred the broad view of enterprise risk management. But the company had recently decentralized ERM, and Raszeja left the company to take a risk management position in Cigna’s international group. The job gave him global experience, including frequent trips to Asia, and the opportunity to see how a much bigger company differed from an operational standpoint.

Ethics and Risk

After he’d spent 13 months at Cigna, Penn Mutual, which was planning to reverse course and go back to centralized risk management, brought him back as chief risk officer. In 2014, he was asked to take on the additional role of chief ethics officer. “I’m the only person I’ve ever heard of who had both of those roles at the same time,” he says.

The ethics position was important for his career. While the jobs he’d had before were analytical in nature, this was largely a people-focused post. “It really set me up to hone my leadership skills for the future,” he says.

In 2019, while still chief risk officer, Raszeja was named senior vice president of financial management and designated as the successor to CFO Susan Deakins, who was planning to retire in early 2020. “She’s a mentor and I’ve been looking over her shoulder,” he says. “She’s been very generous with her time and has set me up for success, so it should be a smooth transition.”

The first priority in his new post will be to continue moving forward with data architecture upgrades. The financial operations ramifications of having legacy systems is an issue for most of the insurance industry today.

Raszeja says he’s been fortunate to spend his career with Penn Mutual, because moving around the company is highly encouraged. “It’s a good fit for me,” he says. “You hear a lot that you can’t get ahead unless you change jobs, and I agree, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave the company — if you’re in the right company.”

He notes that an interesting aspect of his career has been that in each job he’s had to use “different parts” of himself.

“I’m hearing more lately about people bringing their whole selves to work, and I’m happy that you can do that here,” he says. “And if a tattoo can give you some upward mobility, I think that’s a pretty progressive and inclusive workplace.”

actuarial, chief risk officer, Dave Raszeja, derivatives, enterprise risk management, mathematics, Penn Mutual, pi, quantitative analysis, Robert Chappell, Susan Deakins



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