Navigating the Future of Work

Lisa Bull, president of Lechner & Associates Inc., shares her thoughts on the future of work for actuaries Interview by Stephen Abrokwah

Photo: Vieira

The world of work is changing rapidly, and the future of work has arrived faster than anyone expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home, virtual onboarding and recruiting beyond borders are only some of the issues facing the business world today.

Employees’ desires and demands have evolved. The pandemic has brought a new sense of awareness of the things that really matter in life, which has led to most employees desiring to work with purpose and enjoy a good work-life balance. Flexibility is becoming essential in the workplace.

In this interview, Lisa Bull, president of Lechner & Associates Inc., discusses the changing world of work, how it is impacting actuaries and key best-practice recommendations for organizations.

What are the top three ways organizations are attracting and retaining actuarial talent right now?

Organizations with the best recruiting and retention rates right now are:

  • Offering remote and/or hybrid options to fit the needs and preferences of their actuaries
  • Willing to make additional hires to keep workloads manageable
  • Willing to consider wider skill sets rather than holding fast to narrow experience requirements
  • More willing to promote and/or rotate experienced actuaries into new areas where they have little or no previous hands-on experience

This is all progress, to be sure. But organizations—and teams within organizations—can further differentiate themselves by designing work projects, assignments, team culture and financial incentives that are tailored to any individual actuary’s motivators. Managers who choose to understand their actuaries as people first, with individual needs, hot buttons, personal and family situations—not simply as “talent” or “employees”—are the managers (and organizations, perhaps, by extension) who successfully retain their actuaries.

Managing others is not easy, nor is it an ability that one is either born with or not. It is a skill, like any other actuarial skill and, thus, can be learned. Yet, many actuaries don’t receive robust, quality training on how to become an adept manager. Or actuaries may not put the same value on learning this skill as, say, learning generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) financial reporting.

Your actuarial employees’ phones are ringing with recruiters calling to entice them to your competitor. Give your folks reasons to remain with you.

Can you compare and contrast recruiting and retention efforts before and during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We’ve observed four differences from 2019 and 2020 to 2021:

  1. Quantity. More positions are open, and more hiring was conducted in 2021 than in 2019 and 2020.
  2. Location/work arrangement. In 2021, companies actively offered remote work arrangements at all levels and for all positions. In 2019 and early 2020, remote work was not an option for most positions.
  3. Selectivity by candidates. In 2021, candidates felt empowered to hold out for opportunities that not only fit their professional aspirations, but also were a good fit for their personal goals. While most actuarial candidates previously tried to achieve professional success without completely sacrificing personal needs, we’ve observed that many actuaries have elevated personal priorities in their opportunity calculation, with personal priorities taking on new weight in decision-making.
  4. Selectivity by actuarial employers. Prior to 2020, employers typically held firm to specific and narrow position requirements. In 2021, we observed more flexibility around the margins on this, which has allowed some actuaries access to opportunities for which they weren’t previously “qualified.”

We are now faced with multiple variants of the coronavirus—from Delta to Omicron—and many companies are resuming the “work from home” mandate. It looks like virtual work is here to stay. What advice do you have for building a career while working virtually, especially for those just starting their careers?

I have three key pieces of advice:

  1. Cultivate a mentor. This is, hands down, the most pivotal action an actuary can take. Over the years, we consistently have heard successful actuaries cite this as the key to their growth and success in the industry.
  2. Build relationships. Data doesn’t exist in a vacuum—people are the ones who utilize data to make informed decisions. So, proactively connect with people, both actuaries and nonactuaries. And consider getting to know people as people with ideas, opinions, families, interests and struggles. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  3. Communicate, early and often. Be proactive. Keep key stakeholders updated without them needing to ask. No one can read your mind—especially if you’re not even in the same building or city!

What are your observations on fully remote work as compared to partial remote working? Do you have any metrics around the percentage of the workforce that intends to go back into the office full time, partially or become fully remote?

Less than 10 percent of actuaries express willingness to return to the office full time. Forty percent expect to work a hybrid/partial remote schedule with a couple of days per week in the office and most of the time from home, and half of the actuarial profession desires and/or expects to work fully remotely. Those that expect fully remote work generally place value on face time and, thus, are open to office visits/retreats several times a year.

What is your view of this so-called “Great Resignation”?

While this phrase is catchy and has attracted a lot of press, we’ve focused on getting solid metrics from credible sources around the Great Resignation as it pertains to actuaries. Since we haven’t yet found a source citing data on actuaries alone, we’ve parsed data for knowledge, finance and information workers. Thus, we estimate the resignation rate for actuaries to be somewhere between 1.1 and 3.3 percent, well within historical ranges (which only date back to December 2000, a small data set in the first place). So, even if actuarial resignation rates are higher than one or two years ago, we don’t feel the Great Resignation moniker applies to the actuarial profession. That said, we have observed a sea change in the attitudes of actuaries, as my previous answers illustrate.

Going forward, the future of actuarial work will include remote work arrangements, adequate staff to reasonably accommodate workloads, employer flexibility around acquiring new skills and positions, and employer awareness and sensitivity to both the professional and personal goals of actuaries. Actuarial employers that disregard these preferences will lose actuaries to employers that embrace this shift.

Lisa Bull is president at Lechner & Associates Inc.
Stephen Abrokwah, Ph.D., FSA, CERA, MAAA, is vice president, senior client manager, at Swiss Re Life & Health America Inc. He is also a contributing editor for The Actuary.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

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