Post-Pandemic Guide to Networking

A Q&A with actuarial leaders on the importance of building relationships Interview by Tiana Zhao


Networking has long been a hot topic in the actuarial profession and has become increasingly vital since the COVID-19 pandemic. The Actuary Canada recently spoke to actuary professionals John Robinson, Si Xie and Lan Tong about the importance of networking and their approaches to building and maintaining relationships.

In your opinion, why does networking matter for actuaries?

Robinson: Networking is an essential component of any professional career for four main reasons. First, we all need advice from time to time. Second, we may need information from time to time. Third, our network can offer us encouragement during times when we need it. Lastly, sometimes we need alternate perspectives.

Xie: Networking is important to everyone unless we live on an isolated island. For example, you need to present to senior management for approval, but you have little idea who they are or what their styles are. It is difficult to have effective and impactful communication this way. However, if you know someone on their team or who has worked with them previously, you can reach out to that person to get a better understanding of your audience’s style and preferences. This would make the final meeting go more smoothly.

Tong: We are all social beings. It is important for people to go beyond their circles. On the professional side, the more people you know, the more you open yourself to opportunities that could help your career.

How has networking helped your career?

Robinson: There were three situations when networking was particularly helpful to me. The first one relates to my role as SOA president. My extensive network and name recognition translated into votes. The second time was when I switched to OPEB (Other Postemployment Benefits). The academy required me to find a mentor to train me for a year after I switched. The mentor needed to sign reports whenever I signed. I reached out to my connections and asked around, which helped me find a mentor who turned out to be one of the top OPEB actuaries in the United States. The third situation was when I was invited to return to Nationwide. I worked at Nationwide for 10 years from 1985 to 1995, then left to work for two small companies. After I decided to leave those two small companies and during the time I was looking for a job, I got a call from Nationwide in April of 1998 asking me if I’d like to go back. It was because I maintained my connections and network even after I left that I was able to go back.

Xie: Networking played a big role in my career growth. I once saw a role that I wanted to apply for, but instead of directly applying for the role, I tapped into my network to see who the hiring manager was and what they were looking for. Through the process, I gained more background to help me understand the role and the company better. I even received a referral, which landed me an interview after that.

Networking also helps me stay on top of the industry trends and get a sense of what the next big thing is. By talking to people, you gain insight into the strategic focuses of different organizations and what people are working on. It helps you decide which areas you need to focus on.

Tong: By simply talking to people, I got involved with a SOA volunteering committee, met SOA and CAS presidents and made quite a few friends.

How do you create and use your network strategically?

Robinson: Whenever you meet someone new, add them to your personal email directory. You never know when you will need their expertise. When you need advice, information, encouragement or an alternative perspective, reach out to your network. Remember that it has to go both ways—you are both giving and receiving, so be sure to respond when someone calls on you.

Xie: It is not a “one size fits all.” Some people build their networks through social clubs, while some build theirs through conferences. I would suggest starting with mapping out where your networks are right now. This includes people you already know within your function and organization. There are a lot of templates out there on the internet that you can leverage. Remember that personal and professional networks do not necessarily need to be separated. It is more effective to think of it as one network. Then, look at four dimensions. First of all, who can help you increase your visibility at a higher level? Who could potentially be your mentors or sponsors? Second, who knows what is going on within the business and could spot opportunities for me? These connections could be your counterparts in other companies and people in different communities; in the actuarial club of Toronto, for example. Next, who can help you understand the landscape, whether within the insurance industry or more broadly? These could be people you meet at different conferences. Make sure to look into adjacent conferences as well. We learn a lot from different conferences like underwriting, product development, insurtech, and so on. Lastly, if you are on a project team, think about how you can move your project forward. Who are your key stakeholders? Who can help you deliver a project? If you are more on the technical side of the profession, you can volunteer yourself for new projects, such as diversity or sustainability.

Start with small tasks and steps and constantly review your networking plan. We often overestimate what we can do in one to two weeks but underestimate what we can do in one to two years. If you have a coffee chat with a different person every week, after a year, you’d have 52 new connections.

Tong: A lot of networking for actuaries can happen at conferences. When different associations or clubs have events, try to attend as much as possible. Think about what you can do for that association or club and what they can do for you. Look at the attendee list and see who you know and who seems interesting to you. Check on the people you know and look for opportunities to say hi and catch up with them and reach out to those you don’t know yet but would like to build relationships with.

How do you build relationships with your connections?

Robinson: It starts with establishing something you have in common. Relationships are built on interactions. Be willing to admit that there are things you don’t know and will need the benefit of someone else’s experience. Leave yourself open to saying, “I am not sure I know the answer, so I’ll reach out to this person and ask about that.” Everyone loves to be asked about something they know, and you need to understand that people are willing to help and support you. Remember that it has to go both ways, so provide your insights/advice when asked.

Xie: Relationship building is difficult for everyone. It is always easy to get the first meeting or ask for help once in a while, but then what’s next? How do we keep it going? It’s important to know what you want from a connection and what you think you can provide. Then you need to build networking into practice by having a set calendar. For example, you can list everyone you want to keep in touch with and have a chat over coffee with one of them every Friday morning.

Tong: A lot of times, people just need an ear to listen, so it’s important to listen to people and then take what you hear, and that would give you an idea to elaborate on what they tell you.

Do you have any final words of wisdom you want to share with actuaries trying to build their networks?

Robinson: I would encourage everyone to think about “network” broadly. The idea is to have lots of different skill sets in your network. Just because you are working on a particular aspect of the market, don’t limit yourself to just that. A network is anyone with whom you have an electronic connection. The entire SOA directory can be part of your network.

Xie: It is important to be open-minded. Instead of thinking of networking as a chore, we should think of it as an opportunity to learn. It is just another activity like sleeping, eating, and exercising.

Tong: There are lots of opportunities out there for those who are interested in networking. The challenge is usually people’s personalities. If you are shy, think about what you can offer to the people you are talking to. Remember that you will give as much as you get.

John Robinson, FSA, MAAA, FCA, is the president and chair of the Society of Actuaries. He also served as an SOA board member and has been an active volunteer. Before recently retiring, John was an actuary with the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
Si Xie, FSA, FCIA, CERA, is head of financial planning and insights at HSBC, based in Hong Kong.
Lan Tong, FSA, FCIA, is a director and actuary for Moody’s Analytics in Toronto.
Tiana Zhao, FSA, CERA, ACIA, is an associate actuary on the international pricing team at Sun Life. She is also a contributing editor for The Actuary Canada.

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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