Five Questions With: Sandra Glaser Parrillo

For the past 18 years, Sandra Glaser Parrillo has led the Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Co. in Warwick. The company provides personal and commercial property and casualty insurance products in Rhode Island and other states. She joined the company as an underwriter. She served in several underwriting and management positions before being elected in 2000 as the company’s president and CEO.

Her professional recognitions include the 2010 Women in Insurance Leadership Award from Insurance Networking magazine, the Distinguished Graduate Award from the University of Rhode Island College of Business Administration, and Insurance Professional of the Year by the Insurance Library of Boston.

She has made time for civic duties, serving on the Rhode Island Governor’s Insurance Council, as vice chair of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s board of trustees, and in advisory positions for Providence College and at URI.

She holds bachelor’s degrees in business management and mathematics from Rhode Island College, a master’s degree in business administration from URI, and an honorary doctorate in business administration from Bryant University. She lives in North Smithfield with her daughter Marissa and her son R.J.

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PBN: How has your company evolved through the years?

PARRILLO: In 1800, a group of ordinary people came together to form a fire society founded on the principle of mutual protection. They petitioned the General Assembly of Rhode Island to grant a charter to the Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Co., which would offer insurance protection “to houses and other property, from loss by the ravages of fire.”

Two hundred and eighteen years later, our mission is the same: “To assure financial security to our policyholders against the perils from which they seek protection.” Our product offerings have changed to meet the changing needs of our policyholders.

Today, we operate in seven states and offer a full cadre of insurance products. We still insure homes, but also offer personal and commercial automobile policies, and commercial insurance covering a wide variety of commercial enterprises for both property and casualty exposures, including our newest product providing insurance protection for cyber liability.

PBN: How do you think concerns about global warming are affecting the property insurance business in Rhode Island?

PARRILLO: Though the cause of global warming is debatable, there is general agreement that global warming is occurring. From an insurance perspective, our industry is concerned with the rising sea levels and the influence of global warming on the frequency and severity of weather events.

In the past few years, we have experienced an increase in the intensity of hurricanes, more-severe convective storms, increased tornado activity, and drought conditions leading to wildfires throughout the United States – and New England has not been spared.

As a property insurer, we must ensure that the premiums we charge are adequate to pay for future claims. However, the answer is not to just increase the cost of insurance; we must be more intelligent in land-use planning and construction standards. We cannot continue to build homes in harm’s way, and the buildings we construct must be more disaster-resistant. Stronger building codes will improve the resiliency of structures against natural hazards and reduce the risk of property losses.

PBN: What type of regulatory changes do you think the industry and the public would benefit from?

PARRILLO: The property casualty insurance industry is subject to state regulation, not federal regulation. The purpose of regulations is to ensure insurance companies are financially secure and consumers are adequately protected.

In my opinion, it is appropriate that regulators review the premiums we charge to make sure they are adequate, not excessive and not unfairly discriminatory, as required by state law. Further, the regulators are there to make sure consumers are treated fairly. We are fortunate to have experienced, professional regulators in Rhode Island who do a very effective job in supervising insurance companies and helping consumers.

The challenge with the state-based regulatory system is that every state has its own set of rules. To the extent there can be consistency across states would benefit both companies and consumers. Any regulation – new or existing – should be evaluated by asking: Does it protect consumers? Does it provide a vibrant, competitive market? And does it ensure the financial solvency of insurance companies?

PBN: For which types of insurance is your company looking to increase policies and which types are you not looking to grow?

PARRILLO: Rhode Island is our home state and our largest in terms of the number of policyholders. We are among the top 12 writers of both homeowners and automobile policies. We offer a full range of both personal and commercial insurance products and would like to grow our commercial customer base.

Our growth strategy over the past five years has included better product diversification. Currently, 15 percent of our premiums in Rhode Island are derived from commercial customers and we would like to see that grow to 20 percent and 25 percent.

PBN: What are the greatest challenges or threats that insurance companies of your size face?

PARRILLO: Technology, innovation, data analytics, customer demographics, distribution channels, competition from both traditional and nontraditional insurance providers, the aging of the workforce, and the looming talent gap. The list of challenges goes on! Yet, despite these challenges, we are very excited about our future and continuing to serve Rhode Islanders in our third century of operation!

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.