Four people-oriented actuaries encourage us to nurture our diverse talents – and embrace our potential as multi-dimensional professionals
Bradley Shearer is on a mission: to help ‘technical’ professionals such as actuaries rediscover our multi-dimensionality. While our journey to qualification requires that we specialise, we shouldn’t permanently abandon our breadth and curiosity.
This sentiment underpins the profession’s VSMD (Vision, Skillsets, Mindsets and Domains) strategy, developed by IFoA Council and often referred to by past president Tan Suee Chieh, who encourages the profession to “modernise and widen our skillsets” and “be multi-disciplinary in our approach to problem-solving”. He calls on us to be bolder, curious and adaptable, develop a growth mindset, and employ courage, judgment and imagination in being agents of positive change.
Bradley sees value in being a ‘connector’ of ideas, disciplines and people. He is passionate about bridging the gap between the analytical/technical and people domains, believing that actuaries can contribute to the human side of things, too. “We need guidance to grow and develop our careers, especially as the responsibility now sits firmly with us as individuals,” he says. In line with this, he founded a business for proactive professionals who actively manage their careers, supporting them to achieve their long-term goals.
“Is there such a thing as being ‘only an actuary’?” asks Marjorie Ngwenya, another past president. “Before we trained into this profession, we were fully formed individuals, and we’ve simply added to our toolkits. We are inherently more, and should nurture our strengths and leverage our opportunities to add value in the ways that we uniquely can. We are more than just actuaries.”
Marjorie shared her perspectives during the IFoA’s cross-practice ‘Tomorrow’s Actuary’ conference, as part of a panel moderated by Bradley; the other actuarial coaches on the panel were Richard Galbraith and Jen Goddard. All four are actuaries who work extensively with people, and their discussion explored how we can exceed our professional potential through coaching, with the benefits including deeper self-awareness, guided goal-setting, and gaining alternative perspectives on approaching challenges. Coaching also provides opportunities to practise our people skills, with positive implications for our relationships both at and beyond work.
“How do we define what an actuary is?” queries Richard. “We have a toolkit of technical skills that we select at the right time to get to a solution. So, is the technical who we are, or what we do? It’s important to understand why we come up with particular answers and how we can expand on them.
We need to get comfortable with not knowing everything, but instead knowing the questions to ask to figure new things out.”
Applying actuarial judgment
As part of our problem-solving toolkit and our practised application of the actuarial control cycle, actuaries will often look at past experience and data and apply actuarial judgment to make decisions. We think about where we are now and the challenge we’re trying to solve, and assess the assumptions we have made and how new information might change our conclusions, explains Richard. This monitoring (or reflection) process allows us to improve our actuarial judgment over time and applies to many areas of our professional lives, including our own career development.
While they are four very different actuaries, Jen, Richard, Marjorie and Bradley share a passion for people development. They are also all coaches or professional mentors at Protagion, working with professionals at different stages of their careers to develop their talents and achieve their unique career goals – whether recently qualified, mid-career or experienced.
Exploring new possibilities
Specifying our goals is key, says Jen: “If we don’t understand where we’re trying to get to, how can we decide what to do?” She cautions against limiting yourself: “It’s very easy sometimes to fence ourselves in with the things we feel we ourselves do or ought to do, rather than recognising what we want. It’s like building a jigsaw puzzle. Many of us, when we begin our careers, start by putting in the corners and edges and finding the pieces that define it for us. I knew when I left university that there were certain things I wanted to do. It was like I set out all those nice lines and edges and then filled in the gaps by doing the things that would get me to those.
“And then I hit a point when I looked at it and I had the whole picture. I went, ‘oh – it doesn’t look quite how I hoped it would’. My roles in life, in my career as an actuary and in my family at home, were what I had wanted – but where I had expected to fulfil them with passion and excitement, I instead felt stretched thin and constantly overwhelmed by juggling everything. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.
“Building our self-awareness helps us see beyond the edges to ‘does this piece help me?’ or ‘could this piece also fit into the great big puzzle of my life?’ We can begin to expand beyond that initial limit we set on ourselves.”
Jen encourages us to give ourselves room to explore while remaining aware of what is guiding us in other directions, as that is what’s important to us. Fortunately, as actuaries, we have the tools to ask ‘what if?’ questions, consider different scenarios and test our sensitivities or feelings as we explore.
Learning from others
Another technique for embracing ‘the power of ‘and’’ is to work with other disciplines and learn from them. Gaining different ways of thinking or doing things is an enriching experience, explains Marjorie. “I’ve personally learnt a lot from auditors, project managers, marketers, media specialists and management consultants. I would otherwise not have been exposed to these skills, nor imagined that they would be useful to me.” One example that Marjorie might once have overlooked as being nice-to-have: the importance of creating a brand with authenticity.
As actuaries, Jen asks, how many different things have we learnt to do over the years?
“If there is one thing we tend to have as a superpower, it’s the ability to learn how to do new things. Once we start to open up to that, we begin to see that our potential is huge. We can decide, if something calls to us, to learn to do that and challenge ourselves in that way.”
“If there is one thing we tend to have as a superpower, it’s the ability to learn how to do new things”
To employ this superpower, Bradley encourages us all to think broadly about what it means to be an actuary, especially as we capitalise on technological advances and collectively expand our professional reach: skills, domains and regions. Bradley, Marjorie, Richard, Jen and our other professional mentors and coaches would love to hear your views on how we can be more than actuaries (and whether we should be!), so please connect on LinkedIn to share your thoughts.
For more on exceeding our professional potential, including the application of coaching skills, please watch the panel recording on the IFoA’s Virtual Learning Environment, available to delegates who signed up for the conference. We touched on a wide range of topics during the hour, including beliefs, values, listening, asking questions, networking and relationships, collaboration, curiosity, culture, empathy and much more.
Bradley Shearer is executive director of Protagion Active Career Management, a qualified actuary and Chartered Financial Analyst. He started as a finance actuary, immersed in economic capital, stochastic scenarios and liability valuation. Pricing and product leadership roles followed, and he gained experience across insurance, employee benefits and pensions, and investments and wealth management.
He enjoys building new functions, developing teams and individuals, and leading change. He worked at business unit and group level at Old Mutual, Skandia and Quilter, including providing consultancy on strategy and product design. He is involved with the Life Standards and Consultations Committee, professionalism skills training, and the Finance and Investment Board.
Richard Galbraith is a Chartered Enterprise Risk Actuary with more than 20 years’ experience in various disciplines: life insurance, pensions, investments and risk management. He chairs the International Actuarial Association’s Advice and Assistance Committee and is a member of the Investment and Life Assurance Group Board of Directors.
He recognised a need to move from task management to people management, and empower and support people around him more effectively.
To facilitate this, he trained as an executive coach at Henley Business School. His focus is on culture change and career development, and he believes that the skills of a coach, especially listening and awareness, can enhance actuaries’ effectiveness.
Marjorie Ngwenya is an independent non-executive director and non-profit trustee. Her work as a leadership and life coach demonstrates her passion for personal growth. She began as a tax associate at Deloitte, starting actuarial training when she moved into its pensions valuation team. She has since worked in consultancies, reinsurance and within financial services companies. She holds a Sloan Masters (Leadership and Strategy) from the London Business School.
Marjorie is a committed IFoA volunteer, including as a past editor of The Actuary, member of the Audit and Risk Committee, and president 2017–18. Demonstrating how actuaries can have a cross-discipline impact, she has been appointed to the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Committee as an external member.
Jen Goddard is a qualified actuary with more than 17 years’ experience in the UK life industry, spent at HSBC, Friends Life, Phoenix Group and LV=. After starting a family and experiencing the challenges of balancing work and family life, Jen began exploring her own development in order to discover new approaches to both managing life and stepping up to her own personal and professional leadership.
Having experienced dramatic transformation in this way, Jen wanted to bring it to others.
Now, as a certified coach and trainer, Jen guides emerging leaders in the financial services industry to step powerfully into leadership in a way that feels authentic and sustainable. She supports people to work in a way that works for them.
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