Rebecca Zhang - Head of Regional Partnerships, SCOR

Rebecca Zhang - Head of Regional Partnerships, SCOR

How long have you worked as an actuary?

I’ve been working as an actuary almost 15 years.

Which markets have you worked in as an actuary?

I’ve been lucky to work across many areas, bringing my learnings from place to place.

I’ve tried pensions consulting, primary insurers, management consulting, reinsurance, and even an insurtech startup. These spanned Canada, Japan, and Hong Kong now where I focus on partnerships across South Asia.  

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

If I could have any superpower right now it would be to get rid of COVID-19. 

I want a walking bubble that repels COVID-19, so I can go out for dinner with friends again and not just be stuck working from home! 

What do you see as key characteristics of innovative actuaries?

What I see as one of the most important characteristics of innovative individuals is curiosity. It’s quite common that we started to have this mentality of ‘been there, done that,’ but it’s really important to keep an open mind and constantly observe what’s happening and changing. It keeps our perspectives fresh, which to me is very important for innovation. 

What factors do you believe influence the impact actuaries can have within their organizations?

I think both leadership positions and support from leadership are important.

In terms of leadership positions, nowadays in insurance companies actuaries are one of the more influential groups, and many decision makers are still actuaries. So I think it’s definitely an advantage. Actuaries do have a say and a more influential role in terms of innovation direction and helping create an innovative culture.

Support from leadership is equally important because it gives individuals the freedom to try things and experiment through trial and error, which includes making and learning from mistakes.

What are some key ways you see the actuarial profession evolving in the next few years?

Moving forwards there will definitely be more automation happening for actuarial tasks, such as data cleaning, reporting, or simply running the models. So I do foresee there will be less back office roles in the future.

I don’t think that means less jobs, but the roles and skills will change, and I expect we’ll see more actuaries specializing in technology and data analytics. Having them leverage those skills, as well as communication skills, will be extremely useful when fitting into the company’s bigger picture. 

Despite there being significant collaborative potential between data science and actuarial science, the two expert fields don’t always mesh in insurance. How do you believe they can work together more successfully?

So in Asia, and in some of the organizations I know well, I actually see actuaries and data scientists working quite closely together and having good collaboration. I think the key here is to understand each other, because there are quite a lot of common languages between data scientists and actuaries, like statistical tools, modelling methods, etc.

Both parties need to leverage each other’s expertise; the goal is not having to reinvent the wheel when there’s no need. If data scientists can do something more efficiently than actuaries, then they should be handling that particular piece, and vice versa. 

What makes innovation impactful? 

It’s the real applications that solve real world problems. In the insurance industry, as we become more innovative, we push the insurance frontier to cover more underserved populations or cover new risks.

Also, on the underwriting side, we’re seeing a lot of simplifying and streamlining of that process, which helps the customer to have a better customer journey, ultimately increasing the reach of our industry and safety nets. These kinds of real applications that positively impact the end customers’ journey and life, are the impactful innovations in my mind. 

What are some of the more impactful innovations in the actuarial field and why?

My personal experience says it’s the new, innovative products that open up the market for the underserved or unserved populations.

For example, just a few years ago in Asia, we wouldn’t have products for diabetes or people who survived cancer, but now we have those products. Not only do we have those products, but we have a variety of those kinds of products for individuals to pick from when, a few years ago, they wouldn’t have had any options. These products help individuals better manage their lives and their health, and this is very impactful. 

What is the best type of change actuaries can adopt to become more influential in the insurance industry?

Learn how to communicate better. Actuaries are the group of people that know insurance the best, so we do have a lot of domain knowledge and technical knowledge that we can communicate to the general population and to society.

There are many people who don’t understand insurance; how much they need or what kinds of products they should buy, and I think it’s in this customer education piece where actuaries can really play a role. People trust actuaries as insurance experts, and if we leverage that it would make us more influential in the industry as well as in society. 

What advice would you give someone considering an actuarial career today?

Be curious about the industry and the direction it’s going.

When I reflect about when I first became an actuary, I used to think about senior actuaries and what they do and imagined stepping into those roles. But today, things are changing so fast with new technologies and AI and automation. So new actuaries shouldn’t assume older generations’ paths will be their own.

People can be more daring today. It’s worth trying different things and being adventurous. They will have to forge new paths, and curiosity is key for this. I once read this book called Lean In by Sheryl Samberg, and she compares the corporate ladder to a jungle gym. In a traditional corporate environment, we have a tendency to define one path and really stick to that one path. But in a jungle gym, we challenge ourselves, try different things, and move all over the place. I think this approach to working will become more important for the new generation of actuaries, and it will be a lot more fun!