After 15 years in the industry you may find that your career has started to plateau. Earlier in their careers most actuaries who attain Fellowship find that as they progress through their exams, they are bestowed with frequent increases in both responsibility and pay. Some of this advancement is institutionalized within the organizations based upon exam achievements. In many ways, this early career progression is easier than what lies ahead. It is practically expected that an FSA or FCAS will be promoted into a Director/AVP or Senior Consultant level position. It is far more difficult to continue to move up into VP, SVP or Principal level positions, however. Why is this so? Well for starters, there are fewer of these positions available. Therefore, these individuals must show skills beyond just impressive technical actuarial analyses. Most notably these skills include:
- Superior people/management skills
- General business and insurance industry savvy
- Very strong work ethic
- Strong professional network (within and outside of current employer)
- High level of commitment to advancing the goals of the firm
Of particular note are the first two: superior people/management skills and general business savvy. To be successful at the highest levels, though, you need all five. It is my view that people/management skills are learned. Some individuals learn them (or at least many critical aspects of them) at an early age, before they enter the work force. Many learn them “on the job” starting with modest supervisory roles overseeing 1-2 people. But regardless of when we learn them, it is important to recognize the simple fact that we can all be better, more effective managers. The actuaries who consciously and proactively develop those skills will be the ones who are most likely offered VP or Senior Management level roles. If your company offers workshops on developing your managerial skills, take them. You will benefit, your company will benefit, and your future staff will benefit. This statement is true regardless of whether you are at an insurance company or consulting firm.
Developing General Business Acumen
How can you develop business acumen? The simple answer is to read! Read business publications on a daily basis; read insurance industry trade publications regularly; and read books on general management. The Wall Street Journal used to run an ad years ago about a young man who read the WSJ every day. As the years passed, the ad suggested, the knowledge he gained from reading the WSJ helped lead to his considerable success. I would argue that there is truth in advertising! Now that you are Fellow and/or part of upper level management, you should be reading general business publications such as the WSJ on a daily basis. Other business news sources to include on your regular reading list are:
- The Financial Times (for more international coverage)
- Bloomberg-Business Week
- The Economist
- NY Times (Less comprehensive than WSJ, but still good)
General business publications such as these broaden your learning, provide you with insights on industry trends, and better prepare you for management and senior management positions. I stress these publications because your local paper’s business section is not robust enough. This is true even if you live in a major city such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago or Boston. These cities all have fine newspapers but they are not “difference makers” in your career.
Finally, you should absolutely continue to read industry trade publications such as The Actuary, Contingencies, National Underwriter, Best’s Review, Insurance Journal, etc. As I said above, read!
NOTE: The above text is an excerpt from Achieving Your Pinnacle: A Career Guide for Actuaries, by Tom Miller, Copyright 2013, and is reprinted here with permission.