Ying Zhao, FSA 2006, MAAA
Senior Manager, Insurance and Actuarial Advisory Services (IAAS)
Ernst & Young LLP
Brief Description of the type of work you currently do:
Insurance and actuarial advisory services for life insurance companies
Primary Area of Practice:
Other Areas of Practice/Interests:
Technology, Leadership and Development
Why do you want to be on the Board?
I feel privileged and proud to be an actuary. Joining the Board would allow me to make a greater contribution to the profession. My diverse working experience has gained me deep insights into the inner work and the future of being an actuary. Through my volunteer work at the SOA, my passion for serving and leading our profession has deepened. Actuaries should lead the way in shaping the future of the insurance industry and society at large. We can make actuary a vibrant profession of the future through education, research, innovation, and collaboration.
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 over 18 years of experience working in the Life and Annuity space in various professional settings, from a large multi-national company to an expatriate assignment abroad, from an insurance startup to a major actuarial consulting firm. My work has covered many technical areas and afforded me various leadership roles in product management, risk management, transformation, to name a few.
My early actuarial years took me through a tour of actuarial functions in valuation, modeling, and pricing. Upon obtaining the FSA credential, I spent two years abroad developing the local actuarial team and establishing a new business line. I led a sizable team and experienced the unique challenge of collaborating with non-actuarial functions for the first time. I later switched from industry to consulting and helped clients upgrading their modeling and data capabilities through transformation projects. It was a period of accelerated development in both technical knowledge and leadership skills.
Several years ago, I joined a Life insurance startup and oversaw product management and actuarial data. Working alongside an entrepreneurial team, I led many cross-functioning projects establishing business processes and developing functional capabilities. Creative problem-solving was often required in a startup environment. I applied actuarial principles to solving many business problems. My team also took opportunities to apply the latest tools and techniques in actuarial processes, from building a suite of experience study toolset in R to developing innovative approaches in models and assumptions.
My extensive and diverse experience enables me to see the true value of actuary’s work -- how we influence adjacent function areas, affect company performance, and impact customer experiences. It would be my honor and joy to apply my knowledge and experience as an SOA board member to advancing our profession.
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 have been an active volunteer for the SOA for many years. Started as an exam writer, I soon discovered my passion for helping actuaries improve leadership skills. As a member, now the Chair, of SOA’s Leadership and Development Section council, I and my team have brought numerous leadership contents including award-winning conference sessions. Being an L&D advocate created opportunities for me to participate in SOA Board initiatives such as Mentoring Pilot program and last year’s Outstanding Volunteer Award nomination review.
Diversity and inclusion, especially at the leadership level, are vital in keeping actuary a leading profession now and in the future. In 2018, I joined the SOA/CAS Joint Committee and helped raise early awareness of the actuarial profession to under-served high school students. Being an active member of industry D&I programs such as WING events and DIVE IN festivals, I am prepared to bring fresh perspectives to help advance SOA’s D&I agenda.
Finally, I have been a frequent author and speaker for the SOA publications and events on technical and leadership topics. Sharing my learnings and contributing to SOA’s mission by creating research and educational content has been one of my biggest joy.
Please list your relevant volunteer experience. Please include the name of the organization, your role, and approximate dates
2016 October – Present, Chair, Leadership and Development Section, SOA
2019 January – Present, Member, Mentoring Pilot Program working group, SOA
2018 January – 2018 December, Member, Joint Committee for Career Encouragement and Actuarial Diversity (SOA, CAS)
2016 – Present, Various publications and speaking roles for The Actuary magazine, the SOA section newsletters, and the SOA conferences.
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 believe that actuaries should be the standard-bearer of ethics and transparency. I always conduct my professional and volunteer work according to codes of conduct, standards of practice, and governance framework. Working for a public accounting firm requires me to uphold a higher standard of integrity and ethics. These principles will continue guiding me when I become a Board member.
As our profession working with exponentially growing personal data and AI technology, ethics become even more important and more challenging. The SOA can and should take leadership collaborating with other actuarial organizations to develop ethics standards and educational content for members and stakeholders.
Ensuring transparency is critical to foster a culture of trust, respect, and collaboration. It enables effective decision making especially in challenging situations where judgment is involved. Transparency can also increase engagement and invite diverse voices. As a board member, I look to promote transparency and encourage feedback from SOA’s constituents.
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.
Teamwork has been a staple throughout my career. Working as a consultant, I switch among project teams and different roles in a matter of minutes. Being able to collaborate with different personalities and working styles effectively has proved to be one of my strong suits.
Over the years as my working experience grew, so did the complexity of teamwork. One challenging and rewarding experience came when I was with the insurance startup. I was new to my job and expected to become the team lead for a business integration project that was already underway. The project team was composed of project managers, operation managers, IT leads, external TPA, and counter-party actuaries. I started by encouraging an open, inviting, respectful, and mission-driven team culture. In the beginning, I leaned on my team, listening and asking questions. As I started contributing ideas and developing solutions, I sought out feedback frequently. Effective communication and finding common grounds led me into the leadership role with trust from my team and confidence in my decision-making. Through the success of the project, the team members established close relationships, which had benefited future projects.
One of the most rewarding aspects of diverse working experience is meeting people with all kinds of professional backgrounds, from actuarial interns to chief actuaries, from customer service agents to IT leaders, from claim examiners to state examiners. I enjoy building long-lasting relationships through collaborative projects. Over the years, my extensive network of collaborators, mentors, and friends have expanded my perspectives and evolved my visions.
Effective teamwork requires structures – roles, responsibilities, and accountability. It also requires many soft skills such as listening, effective communication, and collaboration. I would leverage my experience of leading cross-functioning projects and promote an open, honest, and respectful collaborative environment on the Board.
Describe how you stay intellectually engaged and how you will apply your personal knowledge.
One can never be too late to start to learn and one can never stop learning. I have a curious mind and continually seek out new experiences and new areas of study. After finishing my actuarial exams, my curiosity in finance and risk led me to CFA exams and the FRM credential. The knowledge in neighboring territories has benefited my actuarial practice.
I have kept abreast of the emerging trends of our profession and applied new tools into my work, from utilizing predictive analytic techniques to experience studies, to developing innovative approaches to models and assumptions. I have expanded work projects to in-depth studies and engaged my fellow actuaries through publishing articles and presenting at SOA conferences. In my current role, learning comes in big waves, from the latest accounting changes to emerging global industry trends. This was one of the motivators for me to come back to consulting.
My curiosity expands to life at large. I constantly read about the inner work of the human body, mind, and society. I enjoy traveling and experiencing different cultures. My deep interest in human connections, relationship building, and self-improvement has brought new light into my daily work. I am always curious about others’ perceptions and viewpoints when working with a team. This has helped me find common ground with people with different backgrounds and perspectives.
One of the most intriguing aspects of becoming a Board member is the opportunity to bring my knowledge into shaping the future of our profession. As a Board member, I would encourage innovative ideas to expand actuary’s roles in data science, technology, and broader leadership in financial services. Actuaries should be the innovator in applying technology to business, the brainpower in solving complex financial problems, and the industry leader that the public trusts.
Respectful and prudent use of resources is an important function of all board members. Explain how you have demonstrated this characteristic in either your work or volunteer experiences and how it will carry over to your role on the SOA Board.
I have taken many leadership roles that require resource planning and execution within budgetary boundaries. Leading projects in a startup environment has trained me to be flexible and creative. With limited resources and a tight timeline, it took careful planning and constant priority assessments to succeed in competing projects.
Now as a client-serving professional, I pay close attention to project scope, budget, and deliverables. A successful project needs clear expectations, open and frequent communications, and disciplined execution. These principles apply to for-profit entities as well as organizations like the SOA.
As a council member, now the Chair, of the Leadership and Development section council, I have always been conscious about how and where the section allocates resources. The section council constantly explores opportunities to improve operational efficiency so that we can focus more on value-added elements. We continuously find ways to create revenue and discipline our spending. We constantly look for creative ways to engage our members.
The SOA Board is responsible for deploying resources to ensure the day-to-day functioning of the exams and continuous education offerings as well as to secure the future of the actuary profession through investment and research. Balancing the operational needs now and the investment needs for the future can be a challenge sometimes. New and creative approaches to SOA’s strategic plan execution should be encouraged to ensure the best possible outcome for the resources spent. As a Board member, I would contribute to thoughtful financial planning and disciplined spending, with a focus on the mission-critical items.