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My first Day: Pawlicy Advisor CFO

New CFO of pet insurance marketplace Jamie Specht on establishing the financial tools his organization needed for success.
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Jamie Specht

· 4 min read

This is part of our occasional series on CFOs’ first day on their current job.

We love our furry friends, but even the bestest of boys can easily dig up an expensive visit to the veterinarian after an unfortunate rope toy accident.

One way some pet owners opt to avoid large veterinary bills is through the classic risk-transfer mechanism: insurance. Pet insurance seems to be growing in popularity, as the industry has seen double-digit growth in gross written premiums dating back at least six years, according to 2023 research from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

“[What] we’re driving towards is a cultural change in the US where buying pet insurance is considered as essential to pet ownership as buying pet food,” Jamie Specht, CFO of online pet insurance marketplace Pawlicy Advisor. “My job as a CFO is to allocate and leverage our resources to unlock the biggest impact to the veterinary and pet community as rapidly as we can in an economically sustainable manner.”

Specht recently spoke with CFO Brew to shed some light (but no fur) on the challenges he took on as stepping into the role of finance chief at Pawlicy Advisor.

Not his first rodeo. When Specht joined Pawlicy Advisor in October, he became the policy-comparison website’s first CFO. This meant he had his work cut out for him, though it likely felt like just another day at the office for Specht at this point.

Pawlicy marked the third company of which Specht was its first-time finance leader, so he was prepared for the unique challenges that came with the task.

“A job like this is incredibly rewarding, but not for the faint of heart. You will inherit very little, if any structure,” he said. “You have a matter of weeks to wrap your hands around a business, build an operating plan—sometimes from scratch—and then immediately lead the team through some pretty substantial decisions.”

Armed with knowledge. Specht said he quickly learned after joining Pawlicy Advisor that, while company leaders understood the operations side well, they “lacked the tools required to make informed financial decisions.”

“For example, would it be more beneficial to increase customer leads by ‘X,’ or increase quote-to-sale conversions by ‘Y?’” he said. “Without a fully integrated model where you can just literally toggle assumptions, it’s very, very hard to make decisions.”

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Knowing that, Specht’s first goal was to build an operating model with which Pawlicy Advisor would use both to form its 2024 budget and as a tool for strategic planning.

Here’s how Specht’s first few months went: He told CFO Brew he joined in October, and in late December, he was in front of the board of directors discussing the “key levers” and “drivers” of the business that his team had identified. By mid-January, his team had put together a formalized budget for 2024.

Getting methodical. Another challenge Specht faced was the firm’s go-to-market strategy with veterinary practices. Compared to his previous employer, Gabi, which sold directly to consumers, Pawlicy Advisor primarily works with vet offices to get in front of pet owners. Specht said this partnership benefits vets because Pawlicy provides all their talking points when advising pet parents on pet insurance, and the benefit to Pawlicy Advisor comes through exposure to the vet’s clients.

“Unlike a typical SaaS or a fintech company, [which is] much more straightforward, it’s a very bespoke business model,” he said. “It took several weeks of trial and error with the leadership team until we hammered out a methodology that was scalable and reliable.”

Wise words. Over the years, Specht has learned that finance leaders should never be too proud to admit their mistakes or acknowledge when they have a gap in knowledge or expertise.

“Since no two CFOs have the same background, therefore, no CFO has seen and done it all,” he said. “So, nobody can expect a CFO to have done every single thing that they’re going to encounter on the job. You have to demonstrate the maturity that you will identify those gaps, and be proactive to figure out how to close [it].”

CFOs can’t be effective leaders, he said, if they are too self-conscious to admit they have a gap or too embarrassed to ask for help.

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News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.