This May, I had the great pleasure to speak at IFoAs inaugural Asia actuarial conference in Beijing.
This May, I had the great pleasure to speak at IFoA's inaugural Asia actuarial conference in Beijing. This was truly a fascinating event, as it was the IFoA's first-ever conference in this region and offered a cross-practice and integrated event for different stakeholders working in the actuarial industry.
The event opened with a welcome networking buffet dinner, which was a great opportunity for delegates to get to know each other. The conference began on day two, with opening speeches by Cynthia Yuan, chair of the IFoA Asia conference programme committee; Dongshen Chen, president of the China Association of Actuaries (CAA); as well as David Hare, immediate past-president of the IFoA.
This was followed by keynote speeches from speakers such as Myron Scholes, winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel and inventor of option valuations; Dr Yulong Zhao, deputy director-general of the Finance and Solvency Regulation Department of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC), and leading member for developing the country's new insurance regulatory framework - the China Risk Oriented Solvency System (C-ROSS).
There were also workshops covering a wide range of topics, such as C-ROSS, China's pension market development, healthcare reform in China and the difference between UK and China in terms of pricing motor insurance etc. In the evening, we had drinks on a splendid roof garden, followed by a delicious Chinese meal accompanied by traditional Chinese opera.
The third day brought two additional plenary talks, together with the final round of workshops. In the afternoon, an exhilarating Actuaries of the Future session aimed to inspire students to become market-leading actuaries in the near future. Three high-profile and influential industry figures (Johnny Chen, ex-chair of Zurich Insurance Group, China; Feifei Zhang, Solvency II technical director of Aviva; Dr Yan Liu, head of analytics at LV=) shared their ideas and experiences. The event took place at Kerry Hotel, Beijing, offering fantastic facilities and a panoramic view of world-famous skyscrapers such as the China World Trade Center, the China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters and Fortune Financial Center.
Three secrets of success
Personally speaking, I feel this was a fantastic event. I was super-excited throughout all three days, despite suffering from jet lag. There are three key reasons, which, in my view, explain why it worked so well.
At a country level, China's current political leaders have made an unprecedented effort to open up their economy. For instance, it has opened its financial market by implementing the Stock Connect programme, increasing foreign access, reducing currency control and promoting cross-border investment. It is encouraging foreign companies to do business in China by tightening regulations and reducing entry barriers - the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone has been a great example. Furthermore, it is enhancing connectivity and cooperation with neighbouring countries as well as Europe by launching strategic programmes such as the 'Belt and Road' initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). It is the perfect time to encourage cross-border discussion between industry sectors and academic institutes, as well as our profession. Indeed, one of the highlights of the conference dinner was the presentation of two Honorary Fellowships by David Hare.
At an industry level, the IFoA has treated the Asian market as a key one for development and membership growth. Most Asian countries, especially China, have experienced tremendous financial industry growth during the past decade. The overall size of the insurance market in China (measured by gross premium written) has reached an annual growth rate of 20% in the past 15 years, and it is the fourth largest insurance market in the world, just behind the UK. Despite this, it faces challenges, such as weak risk management capability, low capital efficiency and poor long-term investment performance. Therefore, it is important to understand key issues in those markets, share experiences and adapt advanced actuarial techniques from developed markets. The conference attracted not only regional IFoA members but actuaries representing CAA, the Society of Actuaries, the Casualty Actuarial Society and the Actuarial Society of Hong Kong, showing the profession's willingness to collaborate.
At a business or individual level, it also provided a wonderful opportunity to develop relationships with thought-leaders from across the world. This is not just about business opportunities but allows effective knowledge-sharing. I was able to speak to many people in various senior roles, including chief actuaries, senior risk managers and heads of asset allocation from various insurance and asset management companies. As we shared business rationales and discussed problem-solving in terms of both technical skills as well as soft skills, it was the first time I realised how important diversity is and how it helps us move from mutual respect and understanding to creative synergistic communication. Lastly, as a committee member of the Chinese Actuarial Network in the UK (CANUK), I also had the chance to promote our society with our president, Feifei Zhang, and advisory board chairman Yan Ping Liu. This is an exciting time to start to develop our society as a globally recognised actuarial network.
Overall, this is one of the best events I've attended, exceeding my expectation in almost every single aspect. I certainly look forward to next year's IFoA Asia conference.
By Steven Yang Yu, director at Redington and chief editor of CANUK newsletter