Remember the Enron scandal? The nearly instantaneous collapse of that energy industry behemoth rattled Wall Street and put thousands out of work. But it also served as a kind of launch pad for Joe Roesler’s journey to the C-suite of Allied World, a global provider of insurance and reinsurance solutions.
Roesler spent three years at KPMG’s offices in New York before transferring to its facility in Zurich, Switzerland, for two years in the assurance financial services division. “While I was with KMPG, the Enron situation blew up,” he says. “It was the impetus for the Sarbanes Oxley Act, which beyond the internal control mandates it required also expanded the role of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which required it to triple its accounting staff. I joined the SEC as part of that wave of new accountants reviewing every company’s 10-K’s and other filings.”
He joined the SEC in 2003 as a staff accountant in the Division of Corporation Finance, becoming an accounting branch chief in focused on regulatory filings for the insurance and healthcare industries, and later moved on to Allied World. “We were having our first child,” he recalls, “and we wanted to be closer to our families in the New York/New Jersey area.”
He joined Allied World in 2007 as vice president of SEC reporting and accounting policy.
Life threw him another curveball in 2016, when Fairfax Financial Holdings acquired the former standalone company in a $5 billion transaction (Fairfax is a Canada-based company similar to Berkshire Hathaway). “At the time, I was the head of SEC reporting for Allied World,” Roesler recalls, “and I went through a range of emotions. Typically, when this type of company goes from public to private ownership, the first people to go are the public reporting staff.”
But Roesler’s career took an unexpected turn. “Fairfax has as one of its guiding principles to treat everyone fair and friendly: ‘Everyone will find a home.’ I found it to be true,” he says. “Instead of being let go, I transitioned into a new role and began managing all of Fairfax’s financial reporting duties required by Allied World.”
Skip ahead to 2017. Once the deal closed and the CFO retired, Allied’s chief accounting officer became CFO, and Roesler was promoted to chief accounting officer.
His expanded responsibilities included oversight of the company’s North American operations. “It gave me a better perspective of the operational side of the business: the processes of collecting premiums, issuing disbursements, and searching for ways to make those processes more efficient,” he says.
In 2019, Roesler was promoted to CFO. Today, he oversees the company’s entire global finance function. He has the unique challenge of tailoring his reports for three different audiences: Fairfax, business leaders within Allied World, and various regulatory agencies. “The regulators can be especially challenging because each one wants the information presented in a particular way,” he explains.
As Roesler has taken on more responsibility, he’s also had to learn to delegate more. “In my early days, I was a good technical accountant, and I still like that kind of work—calculating and documenting, for example,” he says. “But I’ve had to learn to let go, to let people on my team showcase their skills, and to be open to other ways of addressing situations.”
Roesler actively fosters a spirit of collaboration within his 140-member worldwide team. The COVID-19 pandemic has actually helped build trust and camaraderie among its members. Previously, most remote communications were handled by phone or email. But with the preponderance of video Team meetings, people can see their counterparts in other countries and experience their reactions. “They aren’t just voices on the phone anymore,” Roesler says.
His communication style has evolved as well. While he has a mind for detail, he’s learned to be conscious of the fact that not everyone wants to go deep into the weeds of accounting. “Some people like loads of information, others like headlines—but everything must be translated into actionable information,” he says.
Allied World has seen its gross premiums written double over the past several years—mainly a result of surging insurance premiums—but the company also seeks to grow sustainably in the long term.
One way they intend to achieve that goal is striving to give employees the best technology and other resources possible, Roesler says. “For example, we are leveraging outsourcing models and use of artificial intelligence in areas that have redundant processes.” The goal is to take away the mundane tasks—freeing employees to be more productive.
“I think Allied World is entering the next great phase of its growth,” Roesler says. “We are well-positioned, in terms of having a well-established, seasoned group of professionals and market positions, to grow the business even more in the not-too-distant future. We also have a low rate of attrition, and I think that’s very important.”
He notes that while technology is helpful, they are still a “people” business. “It is a challenge to differentiate yourself in the insurance industry, which is why Allied World focuses on the human element in everything from the initial policy to the claims payment process. That sets us apart,” he says.