Valentina Araneda: Financial standout

2017 BC CFO Awards winner brings diverse skills and fun-loving attitude to the office

| Rob Kruyt

If you happen to walk through GroupHealth Benefit Solutions’ Surrey office, chances are you might catch some interesting things taking place. Inside the third-party benefits adviser company you’ll find daily yoga sessions, bi-weekly boot camps and free fresh fruit and vegetables brought in every day. During lunchtime you might catch a wellness presentation on a variety of subjects including healthy eating or work-life balance. You might also walk into a full-blown salsa dancing session.

The common figure you’ll catch at all these events is GroupHealth’s chief financial officer, Valentina Araneda. Born in Chile, she’s been with the company since 2010 and has distinctly “left her mark” on the corporate culture, according to chief executive officer Matt Houghton.

“Obviously it’s a biased opinion but I’d like to think I don’t fit the mould,” said Araneda when asked if she considers herself a typical accountant. She is both an accredited chartered professional accountant and a certified general accountant, but it’s clear she’s not anything like the stereotype people normally associate with the profession – dry, numbers-based and introverted.

“It’s funny, people do comment that my personality is not a typical accountant personality,” she said. “People think of accountants in a certain way, having glasses, or if I was a guy, a pen in my shirt. [I’m] more of a square peg, I guess.”

Araneda said she loves “the numbers aspect” of the job, but she’s also keen to talk about the half-marathon she did with her daughter earlier this year at Disneyland, or the globe-trotting trip she took during her latest vacation.

Houghton said her personality is incredibly “infectious” and has spread throughout the whole corporation.

“It’s making sure you don’t fall into that societal paradigm where you’ve got to work somewhere that you hate five days of the week to enjoy the final two,” he said. “And I think she embodies that. People work really hard here but we also have a lot of fun.”

Of course there is work to be done in between yoga sessions and boot camps. Araneda’s role with GroupHealth spans a number of departments including finance, privacy, legal, mergers and acquisitions and HR. Araneda noted the company has four branches and has more than doubled its size in the past five years.

Changing industry

The employee group benefits industry as a whole has been hugely influenced by the emergence of big data, as insurance companies seek to tailor plans to an aging population of baby boomers approaching retirement, and a millennial workforce looking to fill the gap.

Statistics Canada estimates 14.5 million Canadians work for small or medium-sized companies and that three-quarters of employers with 20 to 100 employees offer some type of health benefits, a proportion that rises to 93% for employers of between 100 and 500 people.

GroupHealth, which has been around for 35 years, helps businesses piece together employee health benefit programs as well, working with insurers for disability, life, dental and prescription drug plans, and enhanced hospital coverage. Araneda said the company works with a lot of trucking associations, but its client base is wide and varied and includes the City of Langley and Peace River Coal Inc.

As the company grows – Araneda said it expects to hire 50 people this year alone – human resources has become a large part of her job. But with her varied background, having worked in the manufacturing, construction and aerospace industries, Araneda also works on mergers and acquisitions, something Houghton said is normally outsourced to a law firm.

“She has that intellectual horsepower,” he said. “She just has that special ability to manage a multitude of different tasks.”

Araneda said the varied role, which requires her to wear multiple hats during the day, is what she enjoys most about the position.

“I thrive in that and I enjoy the challenge,” she said. “I get up every day happy to go to work because I’m going to learn something new.”

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