Chief risk officer of the year in InsuranceERM's 2021 awards, Aurore Lecanon, tells Ronan McCaughey how and why she successfully modernised Prudential International Assurance's risk function. She also discusses Brexit's impact on the business
Aurore Lecanon, the winner of chief risk officer of the year in the InsuranceERM UK & Europe 2021 awards, relishes change.
"I don't particularly like taking roles where everything is business as usual," she says.
This ability to thrive in the face of adversity has served her well over the past year.
Neither the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, nor regulatory uncertainty from Brexit, has stopped Lecanon from pursuing her goal of modernising Prudential International Assurance's risk function.
Lecanon was appointed chief risk and compliance officer of Prudential International Assurance (PIA) in July 2019 where she manages a team of around 22 across PIA's Dublin and Poland branches.
PIA is an Irish domiciled life assurance company and a leader in the UK offshore bond market. The insurer is part of M&G Group, a UK & Europe insurance and asset management business that was demerged from Prudential plc in October 2019.
Since her appointment, Lecanon has successfully modernised PIA's risk function amid Prudential Group's wider business transformation.
Lecanon says: "The need to transform the second line was really driven by the transformation of the business itself.
"In the last two years, PIA has moved from a relatively simple monoline business distributing offshore bonds to UK policyholders in the UK and Europe. It was growing steadfastly, but still very small within the context of the former Prudential plc group."
"I like that the risk function is becoming that commercial, proportionate critical friend"
With the separation of Prudential and M&G, Lecanon says scrutiny increased as PIA became M&G's only insurance arm in Europe.
"The Central Bank of Ireland [which regulates PIA] also realised the business was growing quite fast and was becoming a big player in AUM [assets under management] terms. There was a realisation the Pia business had been a bit dormant and not much was happening from a risk and compliance perspective to consider best practice."
One of the challenges facing Lecanon was people were working in silos, whereas in her opinion, the virtue of an effective risk team is to look across risk much more holistically.
She says: "The second issue was the business was very tilted towards the traditional actuarial function, but actually most of our risks were non-financial. So, I needed to bring new expertise into the team as well."
Lecanon's modernisation process involved making people changes. "We kept the headcount intact effectively, but we rebalanced the roles to bring more accountability at more junior levels."
She also re-energised the team by encouraging them to make the decisions quickly in the knowledge she would support them.
Lecanon also arranged for staff training to help them learn more about the rest of the group and how they impacted the rest of the business.
The modernisation process is a work in progress but is already yielding positive results. Lecanon says: "The board has noted a difference in the last 18 months with papers being on point, being concise and getting to the core of the issues.
"The team also now feels more valued. Lockdown aside, they also seem to be much happier. For me, the best measure of success is the trust from the board."
She adds the own risk and solvency assessment (Orsa) was "very much a tick-box exercise" when she joined, which was partly driven by regulatory demands.
"We have now made sure the Orsa is a real ongoing cycle of risk identification, which is dynamic and getting the board involved every step of the way."
"We have now made sure the Orsa is a real ongoing cycle of risk identification, which is dynamic"
Lecanon has also to deal with uncertainties caused by Brexit, which has involved an important change in how regulatory solvency is calculated.
She explains: "We moved from an internal model to a standard formula at year-end 2020 for regulatory capital purposes.
"We will continue using the internal model because this is a secondary measure of risk and it is a group-wide consistent measure of risk. But from a regulatory standpoint, we [PIA] will effectively be on a standard formula basis going forward."
Commenting on emerging risks facing PIA, Lecanon says: "Short-to-medium term, our top risk remains Covid-19 and Brexit.
"Given we are in Europe, we will follow Eiopa's guidance, but we will see if the UK comes with an equivalent regime or not. Brexit is still an ongoing theme as there is still a lot of uncertainty as to where regulations are going.
"Transformation risk and strategic risk are key risks as we are part of a bigger but relatively new group with strong ambitions."
Having never worked in risk until 2015, Lecanon says: "I have grown to like the risk role because you can quickly see everything and I get involved in every aspect of PIA's business. I like that the risk function is becoming that commercial, proportionate critical friend to the business and thinking about the big picture."
The full list of winners in the InsuranceERM UK & Europe 2021 awards are available by clicking here.