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Why We Do What We Do

Why We Do What We Do

By Bailey Collins

What drives employee satisfaction?

The actuarial industry is a small, niche community that is very interconnected. I have worked with members of the actuarial community in both a candidate and client capacity; in so doing, I’ve gleaned important insights on company, team, and individual reputations.

While researching reasons for employee satisfaction, I spoke with four well-respected actuarial leaders who are known for creating and leading happy teams. In doing so, I was able to explore whether there are any themes for how they create these environments, and the effect on employee outcomes. For this article, I spoke with:

  • Chris Randall, MAAA, FCAS; vice president of risk services at RLI
  • Chuck Van Kampen, MAAA, FCAS; senior vice president and chief actuary at AmericanAg
  • Sherry Chan, MAAA, FSA, FCA, EA; chief of strategy at Atidot
  • An SVP from a large global insurance company

These individuals were recommended to me by colleagues and industry contacts as I sought out distinguished actuarial leaders who could add their perspective and experience.

For the many actuaries who are happy in their roles, there are also those who seek new opportunities. As recruiters, my team and I often work with candidates who are not satisfied with their current circumstances. What are the most common reasons people leave? What are people looking for that they don’t currently have? What are they trying to get away from? How do they compare to the environments known to have satisfied employees?

This article will explore features of different work environments and analyze the qualities that impact satisfaction and overall happiness. I asked my colleagues at Ezra Penland about what they hear most often from their candidates as important aspects of their ideal organization. The feedback I received closely matched the same chart Statista made using McKinsey data from over 13,000 employee survey responses (see chart, “Why People Are Quitting Their Jobs”).

Job Growth and Career Advancement

We frequently have candidates tell us they’ve done all they can, they are stagnant in their role, and there is nothing else for them to do that challenges them. Job growth and career advancement are important to keep people engaged and help people feel they are growing with the company. If people feel they have reached their potential at their current employer and have hit a ceiling, they often look for places that can give them the growth they need.

During my conversation with Sherry Chan, she talked about the importance of opportunities that allow for a wide breadth of experience. “Being able to do a lot of different things is important. In some of my roles I have been able to work with the media, regulators, IT, budget management, talent management, the board, and of course all the actuarial technical work. Having a breadth of opportunities within a role is really rewarding.” The SVP described how his organization collaborates with the individual to align them with opportunities that fit their goals by asking people what they are interested in and what they would like to do next. “There’s a lot of back and forth, but fundamentally it’s our philosophy and culture to help guide people. We’re all about success, progress, and innovation, while working toward putting people in the right situations to succeed.”

Challenges and Variety

When I work with clients looking to hire, they often mention wanting individuals who are dynamic and can think outside the box. They want people who are up for a challenge and are excited by a variety of projects. This also rings true when speaking with candidates looking for their next opportunity. They often emphasize wanting to be challenged with work variety and complexity.

“What I enjoy most about my company’s environment is that there are continually new challenges to take on,” said Chuck Van Kampen. “There is a tremendous variety of work to complete, providing new opportunities to grow. Every day is different, which requires me to problem-solve, innovate, develop recommendations, and collaborate with others to provide solutions that benefit AmericanAg and our clients. Just as important, I am working with people that feel the same way.”

Chris Randall talked about the opportunities that go along with being a niche writer as his team regularly assesses unique specialty products. “That is something I have enjoyed and other people here have enjoyed as well,” he said. “You have to get back to first actuarial principles because these products are so unique. You’re thinking from the ground up.”

The SVP I interviewed also spoke about how his days are full of variety. “When I arrive to work in the morning, one thing I must anticipate is that however I think my day is going to go, it’s probably not. There are always new challenges.” In addition to the day-to-day variety of work tasks, the SVP also talked about the importance of the diverse opinions and backgrounds that his organization has. “Every time I go to a meeting, I learn something new and different. I consistently participate in meetings where I get input that includes different perspectives from people from diverse backgrounds, different walks of life, different skill sets, etc.”

Work Culture

Work culture, according to Indeed, can be defined as a collection of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that make up the regular atmosphere in a work environment. Van Kampen describes AmericanAg as “an open and friendly environment. People genuinely care about their co-
workers. The company encourages people to meet, talk, and build relationships cross-departmentally.” It is also common to describe the shared traits of employees and colleagues when reflecting on work culture.

Van Kampen continues: “I regularly hear how professional, hardworking, and smart the people are in my department, while still being approachable, genuine, and friendly. That is true for the entire company as well.”

At RLI, Randall explains, “we have an ownership culture. Employees have stock ownership, so everyone is literally an owner.”

Creating an ownership culture gives employees additional stake in the organization and encourages them to be more invested in the decisions and outcomes of the company.

“In my opinion,” Randall says, “people act like owners. You fill a role, you have your say, you are listened to. There are no bad ideas. Maybe an idea is just a little ahead of its time. When you speak, you’re going to be heard and treated with respect. Your idea might not be what we end up doing, but it will likely play a part in our process.”

Work / Life Balance

COVID made remote work the norm. Some companies have found this model has worked for them, and have allowed employees to continue working full time remotely. Some have shifted to a hybrid model, where employees are required to spend a certain number of days each week in the office. And a few have gone back to requiring employees work onsite full time. I asked each of the actuaries I spoke with about their organization’s current model, and whether they thought it had any impact on employee outcomes.

Randall explained, “Before COVID, we had some people fully remote, but these were people who already knew the culture and knew the people they were working with.” As companies began returning to the office, RLI adopted a hybrid model, with specific protocols for those who were hired directly out of college. He continued, “We feel we owe it to the industry and to RLI, that people who are hired new out of college spend two years either with their manager, or with other experienced actuaries.” After those two years, employees are assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine if additional flexibilities make sense. AmericanAg also has a primarily hybrid model. “Everyone is in on Wednesday, and then you can select the other two days you would like to regularly work in the office,” explains Van Kampen. Allowing for a centralized day where everyone is present is an interesting way for everyone to be face-to-face, while still having flexibility to choose the other two days to work onsite.

The SVP of the large insurance company described his company’s hybrid arrangement as three days in the office with two days at home in order to try to help maintain work / life balance.

The actuaries with whom I spoke each observe a hybrid model with nuances of frequency. I asked Chan her thoughts on the right balance of working from home and going into the office. She shared that “in-
person energy can’t be replicated through Zoom or phone calls. The cadence of that is where the secret sauce is. Should it be once a week? Once a month? Quarterly? I don’t have the answer to that, but I do feel there is a large part of efficiency that is born from being in person and building a bond.” Chan went on: “Once you have that bond, they’ll be more inclined to help you because they know you as a person—you’re not just an email address.”

In working with candidates during this time of potentially returning to the office, I have been hearing opinions from across the spectrum. Some people want to leave their remote roles because they miss being in the office, and they want to be face-to-face with colleagues. Others are looking to leave their roles because of a change in company policy, enforcing a return to the office after being remote.

While remote versus onsite is an issue across nearly all industries, something unique to the actuarial industry is actuarial exams. It is very common for candidates to come to us with frustration that their exam progress is happening more slowly than they would like due to circumstances at work. This could be due to the workload of the team, it could be because they are short-staffed and the individual is having to take on more work themselves, or because the company simply does not prioritize passing exams. Whatever the reason, we see candidates looking for new opportunities with companies that have a strong exam program. The SVP touched on this: “We have a competitive exam program and encourage people to take their study time. We try to maintain work / life balance, and we talk with our folks about maintaining balance between exams and day-to-day responsibilities. We ask how we can help them pass exams. We do our best to slow work down a week or two before exams so students are not juggling too many things at once.”

Structure and Feedback

A good structure will allow space for giving and receiving feedback. We often hear from candidates that they want to be in an environment that has open and honest communication.

Understanding expectations, knowing who is responsible for what, and having clarity on the team’s goals are key aspects to building a structurally sound team. When organizations lack structure, employees can become uncertain about their direction and impact, and want to move to an environment that feels like more of a team dynamic with direction and vision.

As Van Kampen describes, “We are structured and managed in a way that encourages innovation, problem solving, and teamwork to provide solutions that benefit the company and our clients.”

Says the SVP, “We lay out what the expectations are, how are we going to evaluate performance, how are we going to reward people for good performance. In addition to compensation, additional opportunities accompany strong performance.”


The quality and style of leadership in an organization undoubtedly has a huge impact on employee satisfaction. We often hear from candidates that they are looking for a relationship with management that is open and communicative.

I was curious how this was done from different levels within a large organization. The SVP I spoke with feels that his company’s leaders communicate well. They have a lot of town hall meetings that allow people at all levels to meet with others and become connected in person. Leadership gives employees the opportunity to share input on how things can be done differently, and more importantly how improvements can be made.

Chan talked about how she practices servant leadership—the idea that leaders are serving the people they lead, and their role is to support and empower employees. “You’re there to work collaboratively. Everyone’s input matters and holds weight.” Someone may be chief actuary on paper, but the team has a sense of togetherness, and everyone’s opinions are valuable.

She also talked about the importance of communication. “Communication is the foundation of loyalty and trust. If you have bad news to deliver to employees, say it straight. That’s how you build trust.”

When employees feel they do not have access to management, or that communication lacks transparency, they can become frustrated and feel they are not being given the guidance and leadership to succeed.

Recognition and Value

People want to feel valued. They want to know their input matters and that they are seen and recognized for their contributions.

At RLI, actuaries work closely with decision-makers, underwriters, and product leads. “They want to listen to you,” Randall shared. “They’ll listen very carefully to what you have to tell them. There’s a feeling that what you’re saying and your analysis and your interpretation of the analysis makes an impact on the decisions that are made. People feel their point of view carries weight, whether it’s ultimately with the final decision or not. I think people are attracted to the fact that they are so close to the decision-making and they have influence over it. We get a chance to present analysis to the underwriting team, as well as product leadership. You get a chance to offer your opinions and they are valued.”

The SVP explained that at his

organization, when someone makes a contribution, they have a good understanding of how they are impacting the bottom line. He also went on to say that employees are involved in figuring out challenges from the beginning all the way to the end, which allows people to feel valued throughout the process. “You are part of a team solving the problem. You always feel like you’re adding value to whatever the company is trying to do.”

Value can mean feeling appreciated, but it can also mean a person feels their work serves a purpose. Chan explained, “We all have a societal purpose. An actuary’s work has a ripple effect. We help people with financial security. We help deliver innovative products to the market that make people’s lives easier or safer. We help people find ways to do things faster or less expensive. So for people to understand how that relates to the big picture is important. I like to bring in speakers with different perspectives to talk to the team about how their work affects the world as a whole.” When people are unable to see the impact of their work, they can question their purpose, and they may then look for opportunities on teams where they will feel their ideas are welcomed and that their work has meaning.

Training and Development

Continued learning opportunities are attractive to employees looking to expand their skill sets. Employees also want to add value and participate in the growth and improvements of the company.

I asked Van Kampen what types of training and development opportunities are available to his team, and how he thinks they might impact employee satisfaction. “AmericanAg fully supports continuing education. We have a competitive actuarial study program, and also fully support most insurance and reinsurance educational programs. We believe these programs support the employees’ professional growth and also create a learning environment that spurs creativity and innovation.”

Randall emphasized the importance of identifying areas that need improvement while offering solutions. “If we see someone who needs help with communication, we will work with HR to set them up with a communication course. If we have someone who’s a new manager and they’re struggling, we’ll try to figure out the root of the problem and focus on development. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to try to figure out what support and training someone should receive. I always like having a solution rather than just telling them they need to improve.”

The SVP talked about his company’s development through its rotational program. “Most training and development is internal, within our department. A lot of the job training that comes in the day-to-day work. In addition, when we evaluate potential rotations, we get a tremendous amount of input from the employees themselves. We go through the process of really trying to understand what people want to do next, and encourage them to have discussions and meet with potential managers. It’s definitely collaborative.”

What all of these environments have in common is that they all provide opportunities to learn. Whether it be exam support, individual development, or on-the-job training, they all prioritize an employee’s desire and interest in expanding their knowledge. When we as recruiters hear from candidates that they do not feel prepared to be successful in their role, it is often because their organization does not provide them with training and development resources. Learning and making an impact is a core value to actuaries, and they want to be part of an organization that reflects those principles.


Actuaries usually do not see compensation as the end-all definition of success, but they do see it as important. They make valuable contributions, and they want their compensation to reflect it.

When I speak with candidates looking to make a move, there are almost always other factors that are mentioned first, but at some point there is inevitably a conversation about money. Whether they are being underpaid for their level or their workload exceeds their compensation, they want to explore opportunities that will make up for this imbalance.

Strong leaders are advocates to help ensure that their employees are compensated fairly. They use tools, including actuarial salary surveys and market research, to understand how employees should be paid.

When employees are not being paid fairly, they will likely look for opportunities that offer them compensation that accurately reflects their impact. But situations where the move is solely due to compensation concerns are the exception, not the norm.


It is clear from my conversations with these leaders that when employee satisfaction is prioritized, people stay; when employee desires are neglected, they want to leave. Each person with whom I spoke organically brought up the same themes that they feel their teams do well to promote positive employee outcomes. They make it a point to create a positive work culture where training, advancement, and challenges are embraced. They have structures in place for clear communication and feedback from leadership. They understand the importance of work / life balance and want people to feel recognized and valued. They want to compensate and allow advancement to reflect an employee’s hard work.

When these aspects are not prioritized, employees leave to find places that practice what is important to them. A lack of training, advancement, and challenges makes people feel stagnant. A structure where employees do not receive clear communication and feedback causes people to question where they stand and feel uncertain in their role. Not having work / life balance and lack of recognition can lead to resentment for the amount of time they are dedicating that does not seem to be appreciated. Receiving compensation that does not feel fair to their level and efforts makes an employee question their value.

By centering company policies and team cultures around these shared values, leaders can ensure that their team is not only productive but satisfied, fulfilled, and ultimately more likely to stay.

BAILEY COLLINS is an actuarial recruiter with Ezra Penland Actuarial Recruitment.

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