Antony Williams, director at Arthur, talks to Hanna Kam, the former group chief risk officer (CRO) at Hiscox and a qualified actuary with over 25 years' experience in the general insurance industry in Australia, the UK and Europe
What challenges did you face early in your career and how did you overcome them?
Being a female, Chinese-Australian actuary didn't fit into many people's mental model of insurance professionals in the geographies I worked in.
Finding development opportunities took more effort. And even when I found these, I often encountered conscious and unconscious biases.
It took a few quite shocking incidents early in my career to realise I had to find ways to actively break down biases and stereotyping really quickly.
To give one example: I was leading a discussion, and there were individuals in the room who would repeatedly direct all their questions to a male colleague. It was very awkward and shocking – and just really frustrating.
These early experiences had a negative impact on me, making me doubt my ability or my right to be in the room. I even developed my own unconscious bias where I would defer to older, male colleagues. To deal with this, I found ways of actively bringing out my personality to people in the first encounters, such as sharing some information on a topical issue, weaving in my views and soliciting theirs... it took a lot of practice.
"I had to find ways to actively break down biases and stereotyping really quickly"
Throughout my career I have therefore tried to help others, especially those with an ethnic minority background, to improve their presence in the room. By sharing my own experiences, hopefully they can also find ways to overcome other people's biases.
How do you think training and development could be improved to ensure a diverse insurance, risk and actuarial profession?
Learning and development is a continuous process and sometimes we have to unlearn what we've learned to get a new perspective. I see improving cognitive diversity as vital in navigating through today's complex risk landscape. With multiple perspectives at the table, problem solving and innovation can be enhanced.
So we must encourage our profession to be curious beyond their own areas of focus, and encourage study of various topics.
How can recruitment consultancies help to promote a diverse and inclusive profession?
They can help by challenging the industry's approach to diverse and inclusive recruitment. Most firms recognise that a balanced candidate list and a diverse interview panel is essential.
But we need to review the process right from the start, and recruitment consultants can help us challenge employers on the job descriptions and specifications to ensure a more inclusive talent pool.
Potential candidates self-select based on how we describe the role, and we can't have a balanced and diverse candidate list if people don't actually apply.
As an industry, we must rethink the way we position the opportunities to candidates within our industry and also outside it, if we really want to get diversity of thought and experience into risk and compliance functions.
"We must rethink the way we position the opportunities to candidates within our industry"
Another way recruitment consultancies can help employers is in identifying roles that can be developmental, or encourage lateral moves, because that will help bring out the pipeline of talent in the industry.
What are the core skills and attributes of a modern CRO?
Critical thinking and adaptability are always the key traits. But with the pace of change in the world, modern CROs need to maintain their levels of curiosity, connectivity, communication and courage.
Staying curious will help the CRO engage with the business, continue to learn and challenge their own assumptions and help with cognitive diversity.
"CROs need courage: the courage of their convictions, and the ability to take and embrace risks"
By connectivity, I see the real value of a CRO is the ability to join the dots across the organisation, and spot the secondary and tertiary implications. Also, being connected to people within the organisation, and more widely, is important for driving collaboration.
It's critical that CROs are able to synthesise complex issues and communicate these effectively to stakeholders. CROs are often the bearer of pretty tough messages, so they need strong communication skills to bring people along on the journey.
Lastly, the world is uncertain and there's almost never a 'right' answer to anything. CROs need courage: the courage of their convictions, and the ability to take and embrace risks.
What are the best and worst aspects of being a CRO?
CROs are uniquely positioned to be involved in all areas of an organisation. You get a holistic view of the business, and you see first-hand the impact decisions can have. It makes the role dynamic, influential and really exciting.
One of the challenges shared by many risk and compliance teams is that they're expected to have perfect foresight often, particularly when predicting crises and their contributions could be under- appreciated when things are going well.