Head of business acceptance and chief pricing actuary, Asia Pacific, SCOR, Hong Kong, CHINA
I became an actuary by chance: towards the end of my Msc in information systems in London, I was doing my thesis on artificial intelligence and wondering what I should do after graduation. I picked up a career guide and started flicking through from A to Z. ‘Actuary’ was the second career listed, after ‘accountant’ – and I didn’t bother to read the rest!
I was lucky enough to find an entry position with Coopers & Lybrand as a trainee. Training to be an actuary helped me to develop my critical thinking and problem solving skills. What it didn’t encourage was thinking ‘out of the box’ and a willingness to tap into unknown territory; both strands are needed to make good things happen.
My journey through the exams was not exactly smooth; it took me longer than usual to qualify. I moved from London to the US and started a family in the middle of it, which probably did not help. I did not have to be an actuary, but eventually I decided to finish what I had started; maybe I was destined to be one. Looking back, I never regret the times when I have tried and failed at something – what I regret are the times when I have not even tried in the first place.
Having spent nine years in London and four years at Chubb in the US, I returned to Asia in 2004 (I’m originally from Shanghai). I now lead the business acceptance function at SCOR, covering pricing, underwriting, claims and risk management for the Asia-Pacific region. My team validates major business opportunities and ensures our portfolio has healthy and sustainable growth. Our success and job satisfaction are reflected in the portfolio’s top and bottom lines.
I am not swayed by my job title, the number of people I manage or the regions I cover. What I am interested in is the wider cause: building a sustainable portfolio, supporting the growth of the business, and, more importantly, supporting the growth of its people. I believe that if you do the right things, the results will follow eventually.
As with any career, there have been periods that seemed boring and repetitive – but then a breakthrough always comes, like when the ugly duckling finally turns into a swan. These have been times of great clarity, when I’ve been certain about what drives me.
I never regret the times when I have tried and failed – I regret the times when I have not tried in the first place
I am not too conscious of my gender in the workplace; I don’t feel intimidated walking into a room full of men, and feel neither disadvantaged nor favoured as a woman. What matters is whether you can deliver. Equality is when you are judged on your skills and capability, not on what you look like, the colour of your skin or your gender.
Where will I go from here? It’s a question I often ask myself. If I have an ambition for the future, it’s that I would like to bring insurance back to its basic functions: supporting people going through life’s uncertainties, supplying an umbrella for a rainy day, providing protection. As an industry, we are still quite a way from that goal. As actuaries, we need to be on this journey together.
Lee Yen Ho
CEO at HSBC Life, SINGAPORE
I came to know about the actuarial profession purely by good fortune. The training has taught me to look at problems from various perspectives; there is no standard answer to a problem, and actuarial training has developed my ability to question, dissect and find the best solution for the situation or issue at hand.
I started out in the actuarial team at a Singapore life insurance company. It was a small firm, so I was given many opportunities outside of regular actuarial work, including overseeing the end-to-end launch of new products, and supporting marketing and training. As I developed my career I found myself regularly getting involved in non-actuarial work, as the company was working on multiple strategic initiatives; this work included reviewing bancassurance models, rebranding, and re-mapping the customer journey.
One day, my boss threw me a new challenge – to move out from the actuarial function and into a distribution role. Years later, I found out that the distribution partner had requested this change, wanting someone who could connect all the dots from marketing to system implementation and had a good understanding of product financials. They believed that this would provide the best possible outcomes for manufacturer and distributor.
After this challenge I moved from distribution to marketing, where I developed my understanding of customer behaviour and sharpened my focus on seeing things through the customers’ lens. I was also exposed to our industry’s digital and technological aspects, leveraging them as tools to scale up rapidly. For every role that I have undertaken, I adopt a consistent approach: to unlearn, relearn and challenge what has been done before.
I believe in seizing the opportunities that come my way and making the most of them
I am currently CEO of HSBC Life, HSBC’s insurance business, in Singapore. I joined as HSBC’s acquisition of another insurance firm was announced – its first major acquisition in 10 years, and a step in achieving its ambition to be a leading wealth manager.
For the past year, my focus has been on integrating the two companies – it is important to me not only to look at the legal and operational integration, but also to build a strong team with a shared culture. I’ve challenged my teams to take transformation seriously, combining the best of our shared experiences to achieve better outcomes and create impact for our customers, partners, the community and shareholders.
I enjoy and appreciate our profession’s ability to create positive impact in people’s lives – whether that’s helping them to be successful or benefit from financial planning, or driving action to impact societies and communities. The challenge is in developing the profession’s agility so we can cope with today’s ever-changing environment.
I have never felt that being a woman has made it harder for me to succeed – it is all about mindset. With the right mindset, you can overcome challenges. It often takes a while, and it is important to make time to recharge while you are on that journey.
My ambition for the future is to continue to be a multiplier. I believe in seizing the opportunities that come my way and making the most of them. Similarly, I want to help the people around me ‘multiply’ – I hope to create opportunities for my employees to take leaps in their personal and professional growth, to create sustainable impact for communities, and to deliver strong growth and performance.
CFO at Great Eastern Takaful Berhad, Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA
My career has not been without trials and trepidations – but I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and welcomed the challenges along the way.
I grew up in a small town 70km south of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where my interest in numbers was piqued and I became keen to pursue a maths-based degree. The decision to take up actuarial science was down to a cousin based in New York – I hadn’t heard of the field at the time.
I graduated from the London School of Economics with a First in actuarial science, and completed my masters in actuarial science at Cass Business School in 2007. Eventually, I obtained my IFoA Fellowship. During my 15 years in the industry, this foundation has allowed me to get involved in various fields, such as investments, pensions, insurance, finance, strategic planning and digital transformation.
After starting as an executive in investment advisory at KPMG London, I joined Great Eastern in Malaysia and became involved in insurance. I worked my way up to a managerial position within an actuarial department before becoming an appointed actuary; I am now CFO, managing more than 50 people. My portfolio encompasses finance, strategic planning, digital transformation initiatives, actuarial pricing, property and investment operations.
Something that has helped me reach this position is my interest in deeply understanding my work and its impact.
I’ve always felt it’s important to attempt the work from scratch so I could understand the reasons behind the results. This helped to guide attempts to improve the process, or generate ideas about how things could be done differently. Soft skills played an important role, especially when communicating with other departments so they understood the implications of the figures and actions required.
None of this was doable without peer and mentor support. Staying humble and taking constructive criticism has helped me work on my weaknesses and address problems efficiently and reasonably. I appreciate everyone I’ve worked with, and cannot thank them enough for not just guiding and teaching me, but also trusting me to take on critical functions.
In your career you can measure yourself and discover your potential
I enjoy my role because it allows me to get involved in both technical aspects and overall business strategies and issues. I also like working with colleagues who have different backgrounds and expertise, as we can learn from each other.
Outside of my professional life I am a wife and mother, and I think it is a misconception that your work–life balance needs to be a challenge. The pandemic taught me how to harmonise my professional and personal lives so neither is compromised.
Nothing comes before family but work allows me to discover myself. When you have equipped yourself with a set of skills, it is only in your career that you can measure yourself and discover your potential – and a better me benefits those around me. My work also allows me to touch many lives, and I hope my passion for it will inspire others to achieve great things. I believe hard work and results take you forward.
That said, my journey would have been impossible without my support network of family and friends. My husband and I enjoy travelling, tennis, cooking and music, and find time to do these together. My advice is to surround yourself with people who align with you – it makes tough days easier to deal with. That’s what it’s all about: happiness.
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