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What makes a great Chief Actuary? Industry leaders share their insights

  • Publish Date: Posted over 3 years ago
  • Author:by Adam Jones

​The role of a Chief Actuary is to proactively contribute to developing and executing an organisation’s business strategy by delivering information, Actuarial advice and guidance. 

In addition, they are responsible for overseeing actuarial departments and helping evaluate the financial risk exposures of a company. A Chief Actuary also assists in evaluating other risk factors, across all tranches of Insurance.

This is particularly prevalent when it comes to surviving the current health crisis as strong commercial strategies and tactics, combined with an analytical mind, will help firms to weather the storm, paving the way for future success. 

Bearing all of this in mind, we asked a selection of well-respected sector professionals to share their views on the key characteristics which inform the expertise required to be a respected Chief Actuary.

Be prepared to adapt and evolve

While Insurance on the whole has a tendency to be resistant to change, those who embark on becoming a Chief Actuary will have to adapt to evolving and new technologies, regulations and working practices.

This is because the role of a Chief Actuary is extremely broad and most definitely one which is best suited to highly motivated individuals who want to push themselves by being prepared to take on new challenges and sharpen up their skills, all while keeping abreast of the latest industry news and developments. They also need to be able to take feedback and inform and adapt crucial decisions, in turn flexing their commercial acumen in order to see the bigger picture.

In the right environment, a Chief Actuary should be able to develop, work on projects to broaden their perspective and challenge themselves as well as those in their remit.

Constant learning, networking and development 

Taking the time to network externally and build relationships is key because this is how people can stay up-to-date with the latest information from the Actuarial profession. They should invest the time to join groups outside their typical network and be willing to embrace new trends and adopt new processes, particularly those which are automated in order to improve efficiency. 

This is particularly prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic, where virtual and online events are increasingly becoming the new norm. To miss out on those is to miss out on receiving key new industry insights.

Taking the initiative and accepting new challenges, particularly in the current climate, is what will help individuals in this sector to become a credit to their institution. 

Be a willing team member

A dependable Chief Actuary knows how to respect, what to ask and how to push their teams in the right way to capitalise on their resources. It is therefore vital to understand the nuances and dynamics of the team and remember that it is only possible to carry out the task in hand successfully with their backing. This is why hiring a good team across all remits will ensure success. Having the right people will allow a Chief Actuary the space to oversee and place focus on overarching strategy that aligns with their organisation’s commercial and business needs.

After all, it is impossible to work alone in this role because no one is an expert in every area and each team member is there to add value and a range of different qualities.

Team members should be led by example. A great Chief Actuary will be vigilant in his or her decision making and able to clearly communicate the results so they are carried out effectively.

A host of benefits in this area will come from experience, when an industry professional has seen how a number of organisations operate they can subsequently devise a best practice framework of their own.

Invest in stakeholder engagement 

This is a regulated role so inevitably a Chief Actuary is required to deal with the regulators. To this end, they must deliver context to non-actuarial stakeholders and the wider business. This is because, generally speaking, business stakeholders are more interested in the detail behind Actuarial systems than ever before and, as such, should be closely managed along the journey of strategic change.

Senior level communication is therefore a crucial skill. Actuarial is a highly complex discipline. One must be able to extract the key insights and articulate the findings, therefore communicating this to stakeholders is an important capability in itself.

A well-respected Chief Actuary will successfully manage all of the stakeholders’ expectations, alongside team workloads and development plans, all while providing inspiration and motivation.

Provide expert training

A Chief Actuary must be a good coach and mentor, seamlessly managing Actuarial students who are progressing with their exams. This also applies to those who have qualified (or hold equivalent experience); learning and development has no limits. They must become a go-to person, one who is always approachable and knowledgeable so that people are able to learn from them. 

The ability to uphold high standards and aspirations will help to raise people to their level efficiently and effectively. 

On a basic human level, a Chief Actuary will genuinely care about the progress and development of their charges and subsequently cultivate an environment where everyone is able to thrive.

Have an analytical mind

This role requires extensive regulatory knowledge so a Chief Actuary needs to be reliable, have a great eye for detail and always question their own analysis and that which is presented to them. They must also be good at decision making on a strategic level and take a rigorous approach to achieving optimum results.

This means they must be prepared to ask the difficult questions, which will always lead to the best outcome possible in the longer term. 

Those that challenge the consensus and are able to devise revolutionary new methods to tackle age old problems will become part of the solution making them an invaluable cog in the wheel.

Be aware of future challenges

What indeed are the future challenges for a Chief Actuary? Currently, they include incorporating new ways of working and a raft of significant regulatory changes. It is also important to understand new technologies and use them where fit and proper. 

By way of example, this could include embracing the significant shift towards big data and data science over the course of the next five to 10 years.

Exercise sound judgement and all round commercial acumen

This role requires a great deal more oversight than being technically hands-on. It is more than a technical role and a good Chief Actuary is able to place their trust in others to get the job done.

However, given the rigorous nature of the Actuarial training which culminates in qualification, it is assumed that Actuaries possess a strong technical skill-set. However, a technical tool-kit alone does not necessarily equip an actuary to thrive in a commercial environment. Successful Actuaries have to be able to demonstrate strong commercial acumen, beyond the technical focus and exercise sound judgement, weighing both technical and non-technical issues. 

Actuaries strive to make financial sense of the future, which may involve navigating through complex problems and presenting solutions to a lay audience. 

Be multifaceted and have many strings to your bow

Successful Actuaries are able to demonstrate the ability to seamlessly cut across many disciplines; from technical to operational and front line sales. This is particularly important for those in Chief Actuary roles, where the judgement of one’s contribution and performance is often carried out by a non-actuary. 

Building strong Actuarial teams through the sharing of ideas and developing talent is a key responsibility of the Chief Actuary. This will give others the opportunity to develop and spread their Actuarial wings. 

Taking these factors and traits into consideration will result in all the making of a Chief Actuary who is well-respected, capable and vital to their organisation’s overall success.

Possess the right qualifications

To become a Chief Actuary, one must hold the Practising Certificate and renew it as and when required. The process is approved by members of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries(IFoA) and there are currently almost 300 practising Chief Actuaries. 

Senior Actuarial Consultant Adam Jonesjoined MERJE to continue his track record in adding value to Insurance Risk & Actuarial functions. He is engaging with a wide range of Insurance firms to understand their strategy for the year ahead and provide support accordingly. If you would like to discuss your recruitment requirements, please contact him via his LinkedIn or


Valerie Du Preez, Actuartech

Richard Stock, Head of Risk, Actuarial and Underwriting, UIA Mutual

Ed Maguire, Chief Actuary at Lombard International Assurance

Jag Sodhi, Chief Actuary, International, Global Benefits Group

Charles Cowling, Chief Actuary, Mercer

Paul Jolly, Group Chief Actuary, Just Group plc

Ben Canagaretna, Managing Director, Lloyd's Managing Agency, Arch Insurance Group Inc.

Simon Johnson, Chief Actuary, Rothesay Life

Chris Reynolds, Chief Pricing Actuary, Partner Re