Staying Agile on the National Stage

A nimble structure gives Penn Mutual’s legal department the flexibility to manage regulations in 50 states

Despite managing the expansive legal affairs of a national life insurance provider, Kevin Reynolds opts for a pragmatic operating structure. “Our organization doesn’t rely on titles, [but on] people who are committed to getting the job done,” he says.

To hear chief legal officer Kevin Reynolds explain it, performance review time at Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company is about as straightforward as it gets. It consists of two questions: “What did you accomplish this year?” and “How did you get it done?” For Reynolds, those two answers provide far more information than any review can. “We’re a very flat organization that doesn’t rely on titles,” says Reynolds of Penn Mutual, with whom he has been employed since 2011. “It just relies on people who are committed to getting the job done.”

That’s not to say the company is authority-free; Reynolds himself oversees three other lawyers, a compliance department, a corporate secretary, and, in addition to his legal role, also serves as the chief privacy officer. But terms such as player/coach, team-oriented, and collaboration tend to take center stage when it comes to day-by-day matters, which is more than fine with Reynolds. “I call it influence without authority,” he explains. “You don’t look at the direct or dotted lines on the paper; you look for who you need to get the job done. And that’s the kind of the nimbleness that makes us successful.”

Agility is indeed the key component when it comes to all that is undertaken by Penn Mutual and its legal department. From the ins and outs of marketing materials to sales to underwriting to the fairly recent addition of regulating the company’s presence on social media, Reynolds prides his team on its ability to solidly communicate and engage with all parties involved in a fashion that routinely brings in more efficient, effective results. While he remains the team’s definitive leader for setting policy and strategy, it’s Penn Mutual’s deeply ingrained values that best carry those policies and strategies through.

“A term we use a lot here is ‘masters of our craft,’ for no matter where you lie in this organization, people really respect what you bring to the table,” concurs assistant vice president of corporate communications Keith Bratz. “For example, if there’s an issue with underwriting, and legal has to get involved, the lawyers from Kevin’s team certainly respect the underwriter’s expertise in their area. It’s that kind of back and forth that really makes this place work.”

And it pays off in spades when the most daunting needs enter Penn Mutual’s legal pipeline, such as navigating the various insurance regulations in all 50 states. Using the informal process that has come to suit the legal department so well, it handles a regulatory change by first communicating with the appropriate business and compliance units via an e-mail blast. Those two units then go to work “operationalizing” the change by determining what updates need to happen in their respective systems and processes, consulting back and forth with the legal unit as necessary.

In-house projects have the potential to be overwhelming as well, with advertising for Penn Mutual’s products a fine case in point. With approximately 4,000 pieces of marketing material needing review, and no more than three individuals qualified and available to take it on, the material was all but required to be top-quality “on the front end,” as Reynolds says, in order for the compliance department to be able to review and sign off on it in an expeditious manner.

Reynolds sees facilitating the work of others as the hallmark of his team. “We want to be known as the business enhancement department rather than what’s sometimes jokingly referred to as business prevention,” he says. “[We want to] get things done rather than provide a perceived hurdle. I tell [my team], ‘Let’s get out in front of this, let’s tell them how to navigate it, let’s tell them what we can do here at Penn Mutual to make sure they’ll be successful.’”

It’s with considerable pride that all this happens with so few people. “People shake their head and say you’re one of only four [in-house] lawyers … you must have an outrageous outside counsel bill!” Reynolds says with a laugh. “And we don’t. The lawyers can handle things because the businesses have the consciousness and the acumen to know when to come to legal and when not to come to legal. And when they come, they come prepared—they know what the issues are.”