In the concluding feature of this series, Bradley Shearer talks with three more actuaries who are non-executive directors about their career journeys, reflections, and advice for those considering a NED role
Health and wealth management
Sheelagh Malin is based in Dublin, and during her executive career was managing director of St James’s Place International, an Irish subsidiary of the UK wealth management group. Those years coincided with an overall strengthening of governance requirements for Irish insurers and Solvency II preparations. As the company relied extensively on outsourcing, both within the group and to a third-party provider, Sheelagh’s oversight gave her very broad experience. Prior to this, she’d been finance director and appointed actuary, and her experience at other companies covered marketing and product development, business planning, with-profits reporting and unit-pricing controls.
Sheelagh’s first NED role was with the Health Insurance Authority, which regulates the Irish health insurance market. Approached by Ireland’s Department of Health for a board role in 2010, she became chair in 2016, and still performs the role. This gave her the credibility and confidence to leave her executive role in 2016 without other NED appointments lined up. She approached headhunters, ensured her LinkedIn profile clearly indicated her availability, and networked at industry and professional events.
“Preparation for board meetings is vital – there can be a lot of papers to read!”
Sheelagh chairs several risk committees and one audit committee for companies in Ireland and the Isle of Man. These are all subsidiaries of Bermuda-based reinsurer and consolidator Monument Re and UK-listed wealth manager Quilter plc. A chair’s role, she says, is to ensure a committee is fulfilling its terms of reference. This includes “setting the forward agenda with management and ensuring adequate time for discussion and resolution of contentious issues.”
“Preparation for board meetings is vital – there can be a lot of papers to read!” she advises. “See the big picture and understand the key issues, including those absent from the board pack. Within meetings, have a constructive and collaborative approach, while being prepared to offer a minority viewpoint or challenge management. Overall, be organised in your approach, develop good relationships with management and your fellow directors, and be responsive to issues requiring attention outside scheduled meetings.”
Sheelagh explains that her actuarial training is of great benefit in understanding the dynamics of financial services businesses. She also has a coaching diploma, and her voluntary work for the Society of Actuaries in Ireland has included developing its competency framework and presenting on gender balance and mentoring. She is currently vice president of the society.
- Develop your interpersonal skills, particularly relationship management and your effectiveness at meetings
- Think about how you might get useful board experience while you’re still an executive, and consider a governance qualification
- Professional volunteering can help develop both your industry knowledge and your interpersonal skills, and expand your network – leading to more opportunities.
Unit-linked life insurance and general insurance/property and casualty
Jose Ribeiro has been an executive board member in international jurisdictions such as the UK, Europe, Hong Kong, China, Brazil, Bermuda and Singapore. He’s currently developing a NED portfolio in the (re)insurance industry while working at Imperial College London as insurance lead for its business school, lecturing on topics such as risk management and cybersecurity.
Jose’s career covered various regional CEO roles, including as Willis Towers Watson’s CEO for Latin America and the Caribbean, head of international for Lloyd’s of London, CEO of Generali Brazil, and most recently managing director of AM Best Asia-Pacific. This last role allowed Jose to enhance his knowledge of big data and artificial intelligence through proximity to Asia and Australia’s leading insurers.
“NEDs must have specialist expertise their companies can benefit from”
Skills development is important to Jose, who has a masters in applied maths and actuarial science, as well as an MBA. In his view, NEDs have to be more than generalists, while CEOs are generalists – ie NEDs must have specialist expertise that their companies can benefit from.
Jose’s current NED roles are with Hansard, an Isle of Man based unit-linked insurer listed on the London
Stock Exchange, and Starr Insurance Companies, offering general and speciality insurance. The first role came through an online recruitment platform, and the second through relationships developed during his career. Jose feels that speaking at global conferences also helps to build your profile – it contributed to his work at Imperial College. It’s important, too, to be seen as a NED and not an executive, so have active conversations about your new direction.
Jose notes that his main focus is his NED work, and he has more capacity available. He enjoys sharing his experience with boards and helping steer them away from mistakes he has made himself. The oversight role means that you have time to think and identify where you can add value to the executive team. Due to his background, he tends to be a member of the board, risk committee and remuneration committee. His actuarial training is especially relevant to his risk committee role in a Solvency II world, and his original pension and life background is useful for the remuneration committee, too. One low of boardroom life, he notes, is the need to carefully read too many pages of papers ahead of meetings: “Few companies work hard to condense papers to an optimal size.”
Jose’s advice for us:
- Brush up on your technical knowledge and learn as much as possible about how technology is disrupting our industries
- Work on building expert knowledge in fields such as risk management, data modelling, emerging risks, artificial intelligence, big data, underwriting, consumer preferences, executive compensation etc – your value is the expertise you can bring (and how you complement others already on the board)
- Become a guest lecturer where your knowledge and experience is in demand.
Karabo Morule is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and earlier this year was appointed an independent NED at digital bank TymeBank. Her career to date has been spent at JP Morgan, including in London, and at Old Mutual, where her concluding role was as managing director of personal finance. Previous NED roles include company-appointed ones (such as trustee on Old Mutual’s umbrella retirement funds) and an external one at a medical aid fund administrator.
A member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders in 2018, Karabo is also a NED at a South African think tank on the role of financial services. For that role, she was approached by someone she knows who sits on the board, as they were looking for senior female executives in financial services – particularly in insurance. For her most recent appointment, she chatted with friends and mentors about her desire to find a NED role, and they notified her of opportunities. In general, she says, networking is key.
“Maintain values, contribute to strategy and deliver value”
Karabo feels that NED roles allow her to maintain a link to the financial services industry. She’s also open to expanding her knowledge and applying her skills to other industries. She points to the regulatory requirements on NEDs to apply business knowledge and act with due skill, care and diligence. Her diversity
of work experience, combined with her interactions with boards at a very senior executive level, support her belief that she can contribute to organisations as a NED.
A board role “requires one to maintain the values of the organisation, contribute to its strategy and long-term sustainability, and deliver value to its stakeholders”. In addition to sitting on the main board, Karabo is on three subcommittees and finds the work enjoyable – “especially given the innovative and dynamic work the company is doing, and its focus on innovation and financial inclusion.”
Karabo highlights the control cycle and enterprise risk management as key elements of actuarial training that are applicable in any business sense. Professionalism and communication are also key.
She encourages boards to consider young executives, as they can bring a different perspective and diversity of thought that can positively challenge the status quo. “The tendency for boards to want and value experience means most boards don’t have any members in their 30s or 40s… it is sad, too, that many boards don’t have sufficient gender diversity, either.”
- Invest in a director certification or attend introductory courses to understand your corporate governance responsibilities – attendees can often be great referrals for boards looking for new members
- A certificate course on company law can also be insightful for your role as a NED
- Gain different career experiences to make you a well-rounded board member, as there is space for specialists and generalists on boards
- Read the profiles of the members of a few boards to get a sense of the type of experience you might need.
The keys to success
This series has showcased the career experiences and insights of a number of actuaries who perform NED roles in their portfolio careers. They cover a diverse spread of specialisms and jurisdictions and represent different levels of NED experience, from those in their first few roles to seasoned board chairs. The flexibility of NED roles was mentioned regularly – the ability to combine them with other pursuits such as travelling, consulting, volunteering, family, entrepreneurship and even executive roles. Common threads in our interviewees’ reflections and recommendations include:
- Attending governance courses offered in your jurisdictions, both for the knowledge and to meet other attendees
- Understanding and respecting the difference between governance and executive management – ie being clear on your role as a NED
- Knowing yourself, what roles you’d enjoy, and which boards you’d add value to
- Building your credibility, profile and relationships, starting during your executive career, joining professional committees, networking and/or presenting at industry events
- Preparing thoroughly for board and committee meetings
- Recognising that both broad management abilities and specific skills are necessary
- Developing through lifelong learning, such as knowledge of technology, cyber risk, data and consumer preferences/behaviour.
Actuaries performing or aspiring to NED roles should consider joining the NED Member Interest Group (bit.ly/2TtGXQQ), including its LinkedIn presence.
Bradley Shearer is executive director of Protagion Active Career Management, actuary and CFA charterholder