In our third instalment of our Routes to the Top series for "The Actuary" magazine, more senior executives share the paths their careers have taken, and offer advice to progress in our own professional lives.
This article was published in the September 2018 edition of "The Actuary":
This month, we conclude our set of ten vignettes with insights from some general insurance, insurtech and startup actuarial leaders, building on our August article which showcased the experiences of three life and health leaders across insurance and reinsurance. May their pioneering stories inspire you to consider what you want from your own career in future, including reflecting on your personal strengths and achievements, and defining areas where ongoing learning could help you to develop further.
Steven Mendel: CEO of Bought By Many
London and Haywards Heath, United Kingdom
Looking back on his career so far, Steven Mendel recognises the transitions he’s made since beginning as a pensions and investment consultant. When Steven considered an MBA, he was advised “it’s better to get some first-hand experience if you can”, so he joined McKinsey in its retail financial services area (which “helped hone my skills in simplifying complex problems”).
Post McKinsey, his first corporate non-consulting role was at Barclays Wealth. He then started a new art finance and wealth advice business for Christie’s, the auction house, where he saw the credit crunch’s impact on high net worth individuals. He’s launched a non-advised offering for Close Brothers too.
In 2012 before insurtech was a term, Steven started Bought By Many which began applying collaborative buying to the insurance market. It has now launched its own pet insurance and travel insurance products. Being the CEO of a successful startup is “incredibly varied and very stimulating”, and Steven notes “[I’m] highly effective when super busy”. He feels an important part of his role is “job creation and satisfaction” and is delighted that Bought By Many is continuing to expand.
His guiding philosophies are “do now, ask later” and “try it – what’s the worst that can go wrong?”, and he suggests structuring our lives so we have freedom to make decisions knowing they could fail. He’s a strong believer in “showing, not saying” and looks at customer feedback regularly: “I read it almost obsessively”.
“...Being an actuary opens doors – it gives you permission and authority to talk about insurance and adds credibility to our business”. Steven highlights that communication is a fundamental skill for actuaries (He was involved in the original communications exam paper setup).
Steven’s other suggestions:
Steven ended our discussion with a professional challenge: “Could we as actuaries have an even more positive impact by being firmer in our views, and confidently shouting out as individuals when we see an injustice?”.
Charlotte Halkett: MD of Insurance Product at Buzzvault
London, United Kingdom
Charlotte Halkett’s choice to study for a Masters in Natural Sciences at Cambridge points to her interest in hazards and risks, including earthquakes. After a pensions consulting role, she moved to non-life consulting at EMB, attracted by the variety. There she worked with Michael Brockman (the B of EMB), and in 2010 she joined him at InsuretheBox, which became another UK insurtech success story, within the telematics (motor) market.
Last year, Charlotte shifted across to another startup as MD of Buzzvault (part of Buzzmove), applying technological innovation to the home insurance market to remove pain points for customers. She looks after the “front office”, including distribution, marketing, product and pricing.
She reflects that consulting taught her to find practical solutions quickly and exposed her to different ways of solving problems – giving her the confidence to compete in the market directly. Charlotte sees work “as a vocation”, and wants to make a positive difference to society, whether saving lives through telematics, or covering perils via home insurance. She loves working in innovative environments where the team is searching for better ways to do things. Her belief in the value of insurance shines through strongly, and she’s previously described it as a “noble business”.
Those familiar with insurtech will know Charlotte’s personal brand is high profile, both on social media and at the many conferences she attends and presents at. For her this “comes from authenticity, and a belief in what I’m doing”. She also credits her listening skills (to really understand what the underlying issue is), empathy and emotional intelligence with helping her get where she is today.
Charlotte feels an actuarial background trains us how to think and look for evidence, including where customer behaviour is changing. She admires the diligence and supportive nature of actuaries generally, and our search for excellence.
Charlotte’s guidance for us:
Abu Addae: CEO of Lifecheq
Cape Town, South Africa
Our tenth contributor, Abu Addae describes himself as “always drawn to finance and mathematics” which influenced his choice to focus on quantitative finance as part of his degree at the University of Cape Town. His “fascination with what was happening at the Equitable and how the profession was dealing with it” shaped his thinking, and he did his Masters in Financial Mathematics “mostly for curiosity” but it has turned out to be instrumental to his career. He feels his early career success is attributable to the combination of actuarial science and financial mathematics (a unique set of skills at the time) and Old Mutual South Africa’s culture which allowed him to take on a lot of responsibility in applying those skills to managing risks for the company.
“The rest of my career was a series of cascades, because I got great experience solving hard problems. I was asked to take on more problems, which then gave me even more experience, and so on. I had some great mentors to help me with the parts that were particularly difficult, like learning to manage a team”. His corporate roles culminated in him joining the executive committee as Head of Balance Sheet Management.
His decision to leave that environment and start a business “was something that had been long coming”. Growing up, Abu had watched his dad (an engineer) start of a lot of businesses, and “one of the best things was that he involved us in them”. These experiences got Abu interested in finance and business as a career, and “planted the idea that one day I had to have the experience of starting a business from scratch”. He’s done just that co-founding Lifecheq, a financial advisory business, and enjoys contributing to economic development on the African continent: “a very big part of my ‘why’ with every career move”.
And, our final words of career advice from Abu:
This article featured three additional career stories of actuaries who’ve reached great heights, providing further suggestions and inspiration for us, whether we’re considering an actuarial career, working our way through the exams, accruing post-qualification experience, reflecting on the personal satisfaction our careers have brought us to date, contemplating which areas of lifelong learning to invest energy in, or considering a transition to a different specialism or region.
In total, we shared ten sets of career tips across the July, August and now September 2018 editions of "The Actuary magazine, and resonant themes across the series included:
Our heartfelt appreciation to the senior leaders who contributed to this series, across different countries, industry sectors and specialisms: Ndivhuwo Manyonga, Fiona Dunsire, Bryce Johns, Paul McNamara, Evelyn Bourke, Michael Goemans, Ursula Torr, Steven Mendel, Charlotte Halkett, and Abu Addae – thank you.