Lara Palmer, winner of the young actuarial and risk professional category in InsuranceERM's 2023 awards for UK & Europe, talks to Paul Walsh about dispelling the stereotypes of actuarial work
LCP's Lara Palmer has completed a rapid rise to claim the young actuarial and risk professional of the year award.
After joining LCP following graduation in 2017, she quickly progressed from graduate analyst to associate consultant and then consultant in August 2020.
She is currently the lead consultant for all of her clients, with her duties including ongoing projects, such as providing a partly outsourced actuarial function for an Australian insurer and signing the statement of actuarial opinion for a large Lloyd's syndicate.
Palmer explains she hoped to use her mathematical abilities in her career, but had reservations on some of the stereotypical nature of actuarial work.
"I was quite good at maths and wanted to use those skills, but I had very much the stereotype [of actuaries] in my head. You're stuck in front of the computer all day and don't talk to anyone."
Describing herself as a "people person" she then began to understand the sheer societal influence of the insurance sector.
She says the world literally depends on insurance. "It felt like an interesting and impactful industry, and as an industry we can do so much to drive the economy."
"I was quite good at maths and wanted to use those skills, but I had very much the stereotype in my head"
In recent years she has increased her focus on climate risk at LCP and co-leads the consultancy's work for insurers in this area.
This involves helping clients understand the risks and opportunities associated with climate change, including how they can measure, monitor and mitigate the risks, and keep pace with regulatory and reporting requirements.
She also presented at the IFoA's GI spring conference webinar series, attended by a total of 650 delegates from 34 countries.
At a time when actuaries have been encouraged to become emboldened to maintain prevalence in the industry, Palmer is quick to identify necessary skillsets for future actuaries.
"You need to be able to communicate your point clearly and get that across in a jargon-free way.
"It's always been important, but it's definitely growing in importance. There's always that risk of having an actuary who has very good technical expertise and technical knowledge and they might almost fall into a trap of communicating that in the same technical manner with somebody who isn't familiar with the jargon."
"You've got to be flexible and keen to learn"
She adds: "The environment we are working in is changing and the roles that we can work in are changing.
"It's definitely not a case of learning everything you need to learn during your first few years of exams and then that's it.
"Everyone who has worked in the industry, whether for five years or 40 years, is learning new things and adapting to new environments so you've got to be flexible and keen to learn."
An innate curiosity is another desired trait "in terms of knowing when something doesn't look right and wanting to get to the bottom of it and what drives it."
As for future ambitions, Palmer is eager to see actuaries in a more frontline capacity where they have greater involvement "where it really matters" in the final business decisions.
"Generally, in the strategy space, I'm liking the way that the industry is going in terms of underwriting strategy by using actuarial skills and analytics and understanding trends to feed into actually what you are going to write.
"[This is] one of the most important decisions for an insurer and so I'd like to see actuarial skills feeding into strategy more," she says.
"I'd like to see actuarial skills feeding into strategy more"
Palmer points to some of the usual suspects when asked what risks are occupying the majority of her time.
"You can't get away from inflation at the moment", she says, adding both social and economic inflation are still high on the risk radar, particularly given the uncertainty on how long this will continue for.
"The social inflation drivers we've been talking about for a number of years, but they're not going anywhere."
In addition, Palmer points to the focus on wider environmental, social and governance factors, as well as diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues.
"I think for a while D&I has been seen as kind of a separate thing that you do for good governance rather than key to your business and a key risk.
"The regulatory landscape is changing around that so that's a clear risk."