Jennifer L. Gillespie, FSA 2000, MAAA
Brief Description of the type of work you currently do:
Active volunteer for the SOA
Primary Area of Practice:
Other Areas of Practice/Interests:
Provide a brief description of your professional background and the type of work you have performed and explain how these experiences have prepared you as an Elected Board Member and qualify you in carrying out the strategic direction of the SOA.
I have been retired for the last two years and have focused on my volunteering – for the Society of Actuaries and as a judge and Chief Referee for US Figure Skating.
My most recent paid role was three years as Vice President of Actuarial Services for Consortium Health Plans – a consulting company by and for Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, focusing on the national employer market. I built relationships with actuaries at the large consulting firms. I needed to bridge between the sales people and actuaries at the Blue plans and those consultants, where objectives were not entirely aligned. I also had to argue for positions on issues that were not necessary my own.
I spent nearly 19 years at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota before that – as Vice President of Underwriting after various actuarial leadership roles. I honed my negotiation skills. I presented to large national employers. I even worked with executives at a large integrated care system to develop risk sharing arrangements for an Accountable Care Organization.
I started my actuarial career at a company that eventually became Assurant.
Throughout my career I have been involved in new endeavors undertaken by each of these companies. I enjoy the brainstorming process and excel at synthesizing the ideas in to a path forward. I work with other team members to find the sweet spots where stretch ideas meet organizational strengths.
Volunteer, Governance and Personal Experience
Describe how your volunteer, governance and personal experiences would strengthen your contributions to the SOA Board, the organization, and strategic plan execution.
I served on the Board for five years and the Leadership Team for two years while I was Secretary/Treasurer, so am familiar with how they operate and the commitment required to be an engaged contributor. As a member of the Strategic Planning Task Force, I understand the current strategic plan and the rationale behind it. As Chair of the Professionalism Education Management Committee, I am very involved in the current effort to transform our formerly in-person APC and FAC experiences to virtual ones as part of the SOA response to Covid-19.
While facilitating FACs and interacting with candidates, with trips to Hong Kong and Quebec City while part of the Centers for Actuarial Excellence Evaluation Committee, and most recently as a member of the Joint Committee on Inclusion, Equity and Diversity I have had the opportunity to represent the SOA and to observe the diversity (and need for more types of diversity) of our membership. I have also had the chance to be on committees in the research space, the education space and Sections (as Chair of a large and a small Section and Board partner to others). These experiences make me familiar with the breadth of the SOA.
Please list your relevant volunteer experience. Please include the name of the organization, your role, and approximate dates.
I currently serve as:
- Chair of the SOA Professionalism Education Management Committee – member since 2015
- SOA General Officer for Professionalism – since 2015
- SOA representative on the Academy’s Council on Professionalism – since 2015
- FAC and APC facilitator – since 2012
- Member of the Joint Committee on Inclusion, Equity and Diversity – since 2020
- Member of the Centers of Actuarial Excellence Appeals Committee - since 2019
I have served as:
- Vice President, Secretary/Treasurer and Member of SOA Leadership Team – 2012-2014
- SOA Board Member – 2009-2014
- Chair and Member, Centers of Actuarial Excellence Evaluation Committee – 2015-2019
- Chair of the Public Policy Strategy Task Force – 2015
- Member of the last two SOA Strategic Planning Task Forces
- Chair and Member of the Health Section Council – 2006-2009
- Chair and Member of the Leadership and Development Section Council – 2003-2006
- Chair and Member of a variety of other SOA committees and workgroups
- Chair and Member, FamilyMeans Board (local social services agency) – 2007-2015
- President of Twin City Figure Skating Association Board – 2013-2018
Ethics and Transparency
Ethics and transparency are essential to professional practice and service on the board. Discuss ethics and transparency challenges you might expect to face in your role as elected board member, and describe how you would approach these challenges.
I am passionate about ethics and actuaries! As the SOA’s General Officer for Professionalism, Professionalism Education Management Committee Chair, Council on Professionalism member, Fellowship Admissions Course and Associateship Admissions Course facilitator, and member of multiple discipline panels, I spend a lot of time thinking about ethics, integrity, and communication for actuaries. I think conflict of interest is the most frequent issue for board service – it is important to be transparent about experiences or situations that are impacting our reactions to topics the board discusses.
As you review the responsibilities of the President-Elect job description, the 2017-2021 strategic plan and 2019 initiatives, describe how you will work together with the officers, board members, committee chairs, volunteers, executive director, and staff to fulfill your presidential responsibilities and advance the direction of SOA.
The Board has big challenges in front of it with the existing Strategic Plan goals, the focus on Long Term Growth Strategy, and responding to the world of Covid-19. I was a member of the last two Strategic Planning Task Forces, so I am used to thinking about how our businesses are changing and imagining a path through it for the SOA. I haven’t been involved with the Long Term Growth Strategy initiative specifically, so while I understand the general idea, I need to run and catch up to the rest of the Board on that topic. Covid-19 will present us with many challenges and we’ve only figured out some of them so far.
When describing my leadership style, I think it’s relevant to know that using the tool Strength Finder, one of my top five skills is “Arranger”. They describe that as, “You are a conductor. When faced with a complex situation involving many factors, you enjoy managing all of the variables, aligning and realigning them until you are sure you have arranged them in the most productive configuration possible.” I lead not so much by beating a drum for my particular pre-established agenda as by being a calm collaborative force facilitating an environment where all members of a committee (or board in this case) contribute their ideas, perspectives and skills to meet our joint goals. I am a flexible thinker and am willing to change my mind on an issue as I learn more about it. I have a history of working well with board members and SOA staff on the board and on committees and work groups. I build bridges and consensus by actively listening and finding the synergies between diverse perspectives.
Describe a recent situation where you have facilitated a diverse group of people in moving a significant project to the next stage of completion.
I chaired the Public Policy Research Task Force for the Society of Actuaries a few years ago. It was during a period where the relationship between the SOA and the American Academy of Actuaries (Academy) was strained. The members of the Task Force were from varied practice areas and had diverse experiences with public policy research. It included some who were more active with Academy than with the SOA. I made sure everybody was heard, including about their past experiences in the public policy space (like Blue Ribbon Panel on Public Pension Funding, Cost of the Newly Insured Under the Affordable Care Act and work on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act for LTC) and why each project was or was not successful. By focusing on approach versus politics between the organizations, we were able to hang together as a team.
When the outcome was presented to the Board, Board members had strong opinions about the Task Force’s statement. I made sure that everybody had a chance to share their thoughts and then boiled them down to the critical issue to be decided. The result was guidelines for when and how the SOA should engage in public policy research.
In your presidential role you will act as an ambassador for SOA, its members, and the profession. Provide examples of how you would fulfill this responsibility during your term of office and describe a recent situation in which you have successfully acted as an ambassador for an organization or institution.
As a facilitator for Fellowship Admission Courses and Associateship Professionalism Courses, I regularly represent the SOA and SOA volunteers to new FSAs and ASAs respectively. It is important for them to see that we take professionalism seriously, that we enjoy volunteering, and that we respect them as new members of the profession. It’s a good chance to listen to them too, to hear how they think about their work and their career opportunities.
I am the representative of the SOA on the Council of Professionalism (COP). The COP is convened by the Academy and includes representatives from the Casualty Actuarial Society, The Council of Consulting Actuaries, the American Society of Enrolled Actuaries, the Actuarial Board of Counseling and Discipline, the Actuarial Standards Board, the Health Practice Council, the Life Practice Council, the Pension Practice Council, the Casualty Practice Council, the Risk Management & Financial Reporting Council, etc. I joined the COP when the previous SOA representative was kicked off the committee and relations were strained between the SOA and the other actuarial organizations. It was uncomfortable for me, but I’m passionate about professionalism and I focused on that as our common mission. I am respectful of everybody’s role and perspective and have become accepted by the other members.
While I was the SOA Secretary/Treasurer, I filled in for the SOA President at a presentation to the Michigan Actuarial Club. It was fun and it went very well.
What do you see as the future of the profession and the SOA, especially in terms of long-term growth.
I understand Long Term Growth Strategy has been a major focus of the Board recently, and I have learning to do in that area. We need to attract top talent to the actuarial profession. We need to be sure that we are not excluding any of that talent, by being intentionally inclusive and welcoming people who have diverse backgrounds and ideas. It is important to make sure our credentials are highly regarded around the world and that we prepare actuaries to be valuable to their employers. Members need to have a solid foundation that allows them to adapt as different skillsets are desired in the future. The SOA can support our members by doing high quality research on current topics. The SOA can also provide on-going educational opportunities in a variety of formats to help actuaries keep their skills up-to-date so that they are prepared for new opportunities at their employer or in the market.
The SOA needs to be nimble with respect to the world of Covid-19. All practice areas and all parts of the world are impacted. The SOA is already working on short term responses in education and research, but there will also be a longer-term response – which of the short-term responses endure, return to the way they were, move to a hybrid or change to some entirely new model.
I am willing to try new things. One of the things staff and fellow Board members likely remember from my time on the Board was my use of “walk up music” to introduce my presentations. Sometimes it helped address some aspect of the presentation and other times it helped improve the energy level of the group (first thing in the morning or after lunch…).
Collaborative working relationships are essential to the governance function of the SOA Board of Directors, especially as board members work with each other, volunteers, and staff to advance the direction of the SOA. We need both leaders and team members. Describe a situation from either your professional or volunteer experiences that demonstrated where you can be effective in each of these roles.
My volunteering with US Figure Skating is a good demonstration of my ability to be both a leader and a team player. I am the Chief Referee for seven competitions each year. In that role, I am in charge of judges and the competition. At many other competitions each year, somebody else is the Chief Referee and I am a judge. I go back and forth between the two roles while maintaining good relationships with my colleagues. One of the things I explain to people about the role of Chief Referee is that I understand that when I’m in that role, the responsibility to make a decision (and defend it if necessary) is mine. However, all the good ideas of what to do in that situation do not have to be mine. I am very willing to accept input from people who may have more experience than I do, etc. When somebody else is the Chief Referee, I need to support their decisions.
I traveled to Hong Kong and Quebec City representing the SOA during my time on the Centers of Actuarial Excellence Evaluation Committee, so I’ve had practice interacting with people for whom English is not a first language in a professional setting. Communication in those situations is a team event – shared responsibility to listen carefully, speak simply, and be gracious when there is confusion.