Dawn Jaffray
Chief Financial Officer
UFG Insurance

Chief Financial Officer of the Year – For-Profit

Nominated by Randy Ramlo, President and CEO

 

CFO of the Year Dawn Jaffray has brought a new financial mindset to bear at UFG Insurance, leading the way on a major cost saving initiative and the company’s first big divestiture, while also keeping it current with changing financial reporting standards.

Already a veteran CFO before arriving at the Cedar Rapids-based insurer four and a half years ago, Ms. Jaffray wasn’t hesitant to take on the heavy lifting. With her insight and expertise, UFG was able to navigate the $280 million sale of its United Life Insurance Company in 2017. Her team has also contributed more than $20 million in savings to the company in the past several years by restructuring its revolving line of credit and implementing new tax strategies, along with other steps.

UFG’s share price during her tenure has climbed nearly 60 percent from her arrival in May 2015 to her nomination as CFO of the Year in July, and shareholders received a $3 per share special stock dividend in 2018.

Ms. Jaffray calls her financial mindset “thinking beyond the spreadsheet.”

“To me, that means assessing what financial insight or analysis might be valuable beyond the traditional aspects of financial reporting,” Ms. Jaffray explained via email. “How do we make an effort to improve the bottom line as opposed to just accounting or reporting on results?”

She said she tries to consider the needs of UFG’s many constituents, from shareholders, to regulators, to business partners to internal management teams, and think about what information or actions they may find useful even before they ask.

Among the recent challenges the finance and customer service teams at UFG have faced were adjusting the company’s tax accounting to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, and many changes in financial reporting standards without missing regulatory reporting deadlines. It was possible, Ms. Jaffray said, because UFG has a strong team that pulls together.

“I am privileged to be the coach of a winning team that works together so well, backs each other up when called upon, and doesn’t complain about being asked to do more and more,” Ms. Jaffray said.

Although her career has included great mentors and many great opportunities that took her outside of her comfort zone, Ms. Jaffray said one experience that greatly shaped her approach was becoming a trainer in W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management system. She always thinks about how to approach business challenges with continuous process improvement mindset.

To others who might aspire to success as a corporate financial executive, Ms. Jaffray says it’s important to realize they will need to “wear many hats.”

“First and foremost, get to know your business and your business competitors,” she says. “There can be tremendous value in knowing what is happening at your peer companies – maybe they are seeing something you are not.” She also advises against getting too mired in details when communicating financial results. Treating a finance document more like a marketing document can help highlight what’s important and making the message more understandable, she added.

– Dave DeWitte