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The Path Less Traveled ...

The Path Less Traveled ...
by Jacque Kirkwood

When Kim Johnson saw the fork in the road, she opted for a career that took her in a new direction.

Kim Johnson, FSA, MAAA, is a true pioneer according to members of the Actuary of the Future Section. Though she works for Hartford Financial Services Group, a traditional, actuarial employer, she chose a role that is creating new opportunities for actuaries. She feels extremely fortunate to be working for a company that promotes innovative approaches to business challenges.

Vice President for Investor Relations is not a typical role for an actuary. What prompted you to pursue that professional avenue? Before The Hartford approached me about this role, I had never considered investor relations as part of my career path. I simply didn't know what the job entailed or what a great fit it would be for my interests and background.

The investor relations officer is the spokesperson for management in an ongoing dialogue with investors. I knew I had a lot to learn about my company and Wall Street, but I also knew that I had the support and trust of the company's senior leaders, and that was key for me. Ultimately, I took the role because it offered me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the company and capital markets, while working closely with an outstanding leadership team.

What are your main responsibilities in that role? In investor relations, I am the principal point of contact with the investment community. I communicate with Wall Street analysts and investors daily, providing information about the company, our strategies, financial results and outlook. Investor relations works closely with the company's CEO, CFO and other senior management to put a "face" on the company. My team coordinates earnings calls, investor presentations and meetings. I also provide management with regular updates on insights and perspectives from our shareholders.

Investor relations integrates finance skills, communications, marketing and securities law. To be successful, an investor relations professional needs both an in-depth knowledge of the company's strategies and financials, along with a big picture view of industry trends and competition. I've enjoyed learning about equity valuation and portfolio management from investors. In exchange, I've been able to use my actuarial background to educate analysts on how the company makes money and manages risk.

Over time, my goals are to deepen relationships with our long-term holders, attract new shareholders and ensure the company's stock is appropriately valued.

How has your background as an actuary impacted your career in general? I started in a traditional actuarial rotation program and found that I was most interested in product development. As I learned more about how to "build a watch," I became increasingly interested in how producers sold the product and why consumers were buying it. I branched out into marketing, business development and strategic planning before moving into business and operations management. At every step, actuarial training provided a foundation of a deep understanding of product economics and risks that helped me make sound business decisions.

In my current role in investor relations, I use my actuarial background to educate the analyst community on industry trends, products, profit drivers, and risks. Being an FSA gives me a lot of credibility in this regard.

What factored in your decision to become an actuary? My father was the biggest influence. While not an actuary, he worked in insurance and told me about the career while I was in high school. I liked the balance of business and mathematics in college. Once in the workforce, I had some great mentors who encouraged me to complete the exams and utilize my skills to the fullest.

What excites you about business? I enjoy change. In today's dynamic world, companies are facing new challenges every day. Whether it be new competition, regulations or a changing customer base, companies have to adapt. I enjoy being a part of a company that looks for and embraces innovative approaches to business challenges.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in business? There is little that is black and white and business theory can only get you so far. Business success is all about people. So it's important to pick your work associates, and your company, wisely.

As you see it, how has the actuarial profession changed? The sophistication of financial products and the inherent risks assumed by companies have increased dramatically in the years that I have been in the profession. As such, there are wide-ranging roles for actuaries from insurance companies and consulting firms to capital markets firms and Washington.

Representatives of the Actuary of the Future Section say you're a pioneer in the actuarial field? How so? Investor relations is certainly not a traditional actuarial role. I hope that I can raise the awareness of this function, so that others might consider it in the future.

What advice would you give upcoming actuaries? Get a good understanding of the whole business and how it fits together. If pricing products, spend time with marketing/sales, investments and underwriting. Attend customer focus groups if possible. Valuation actuaries participate on product teams and occasionally sit in the claims or operations department to get a first-hand view of how product benefits are being used. With a broad understanding of other functions, actuaries will be able to do their jobs more effectively and influence others. They'll also be preparing themselves for future career moves.

Any particular hobbies/outside activities you'd like to share with our readers? My hobbies are ballroom dancing and dog agility (obstacle course racing). While these hobbies seem to have little in common, both require coordination and teamwork, and are great stress relievers!

Has your family played a role in your success? Absolutely. My husband has been a key contributor to my success-from the earliest days of actuarial study to today. In 1983, he decided to stay home, manage the household and raise our son. That allowed me to put whatever time I needed on the job, while spending free time with the family. Without his support, and my parents as my biggest cheerleaders, my career track would have been quite different.

How do you want people to remember you? She was someone I could trust.

Kim Johnson can be reached at Kimberly.Johnson@thehartford.com.

Jacque Kirkwood is senior communications associate for the Society of Actuaries. She can be reached at jkirkwood@soa.org.