Director of Actuarial and financial Risk at KPMG, Catherine Robertson-Hodder goes Under the Spotlight to share her most rewarding moments as an actuary and the breadth of her career.

Summarise yourself in one sentence... I am enthusiastic, optimistic, direct, impatient (although mellowing with age), tenacious and I talk quickly.

My interesting/quirky hobbies: this question freaked me out as I really didn’t think I had any hobbies…. So I googled.  I guess I do as in the last school holidays I got to combine camping and reading which are two of my favourites (albeit not quirky) hobbies.

My favourite energetic pursuit… tennis – although I’ve been out injured for a long while.

What gets my goat… saying ”this is the way we’ve always done it….”

I’d like to be brave enough to… bungy jump/sky dive.

In my life I’m planning to change… my lack of interesting hobbies :).

Not many people know this but I… have just come through a debilitating sickness this year (since February) and just coming out the other side now.  It does make you appreciate different things in your life.

Short description of career… I started in NZI Life – worked in special calcs then unit pricing reporting. Back then traditional products and investment account were still being sold, with unit linked products the new big thing (I am starting to feel old reading that back). I then switched to the Australian exams and moved to Australia, qualifying the long way (small violin needed here) after seven to eight years. In Australia I worked in Life Insurance pricing and valuation across all products at different times and across three different companies (AC&L, Tower and MLC). I moved into consulting at KPMG 10 years ago to get some work-life balance.  It took me a while to find my feet, but once I did I found that I loved it.  It combines all the things I enjoy: helping clients solve problems, variety, working with motivated people and flexibility.  If you haven’t tried it I recommend it – but it was a steep learning curve for me (think timesheets, sticking to scope and budget, careful report writing as you could be sued etc).

I became an actuary because… I was going to be a lawyer, but I missed dealing with numbers.  Actuarial was a field that combined all the subjects I enjoyed (stats, economics, accounting and IT) and it was a challenge.

Where I studied to become an actuary and qualifications obtained… I did a BCom/BSc in finance and stats at Auckland Uni and then did my exams from scratch while working.  That is normal in NZ and the key skill is persistence.

I am most passionate about… my family.  Workwise – helping my clients, I love solving things in a pragmatic way.

What I find most interesting about my current role…The variety, the people, the challenges.

My role’s greatest challenges… Multi-tasking and prioritising e.g. and making sure the important non-urgent areas get enough focus (including developing myself).  

My proudest career achievement to date is … besides qualifying? Taking the leap into consulting…. And some of the work I have done in consulting (but I’d have to kill you if I told you about it)

10 years from now, I will be …..hopefully still loving life at KPMG, while watching Zac in the Australian Open.

Who has been the biggest influence on my career (and why)… my first Appointed Actuary was Eddie Jones and he was a fantastic role model and built a lovely team around him that I was privileged to work with.  I have been lucky in that I have continued to have a number of people encourage and advocate for me along the way both inside and outside the profession.

Why I’m proud to be an actuary… there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to being an actuary…. So I’m pretty attached to it as a badge that I survived.  I also love the skill set (and often brand permission) we bring to a problem.

The most valuable skill an actuary can possess is … communication skills – particularly translating what we see to non-actuarial stakeholders.

If I were President of the Institute, one thing I would improve is… continuing and active sponsorship of more women into senior roles.

At least once in their life, every actuary should… walk in someone else’s shoes. It is easy to forget how lucky we are in that we had the brains and probably support/encouragement to get to where we are.  

My best advice for younger actuaries… focus on your exams. Develop your soft skills as well as your technical.

If I could travel back in time I would… remind myself to give ‘me’ as much time and attention as work/family etc.

When I retire, my legacy will be… hopefully a role model of the flexibility of work (getting stuff done and still being able to support other goals e.g. family etc). Not saying I get it right all the time myself but I fully believe in it for the people I work with.

Actuarial capabilities I use in my current job… cutting through the complexity to see underlying patterns.  The underlying fundamentals I use every day (think valuation and pricing.

Skills actuaries should enhance to become more effective in my field of work… basic accounting skills, data analytics and communication skills.

One of the most creative applications of actuarial capabilities that I have used in my career… helping cemeteries understand how much money they need to set aside to manage the graves in perpetuity.

The most interesting or valuable job or project I have worked on in my career and why… I love the projects where you take it from the ideas stage (e.g. what is the problem), through suggested solutions and socialisation to completion.  I can’t really talk specifics but I have had a few of those with non-actuarial stakeholders and it brings together our problem solving, technical skill set and communication skills.  I love that combination.

The most challenging job or project I have worked on and why? I have found sometimes that the toughest ones were the ones I looked back on and they had honed my skill set the most – but they can be pretty demanding at the time.  It is usually either time pressure eg M&A, skill set developing (e.g. how to perform an audit) or a challenging people environment (usually those I learn more by looking back afterwards and saying “oh, that is how I should have handled it differently”).

The advice I would give aspiring actuaries to be able to do my job… give it a go!!! Be willing to learn and move outside your comfort zone. And be kind to yourself – it took a couple of years for me to develop some of the skills I needed for consulting (and to be honest I am still learning different things).

Why did you decide to join the LIWMPC? I decided to apply to become the convenor of the Life Sub Committee (LSC) as I liked the idea of working with motivated volunteers and facilitating action on topical issues. Becoming a member of the LIWMPC was a pleasant out-working of that, which has already given me significant exposure to what is happening in the industry. It has also pushed me outside my comfort zone (e.g. responding to this set of questions, doing the year-end video).

What do you hope to contribute/achieve with the committee? To invigorate the volunteers, support the working groups and hopefully give some value back as part of the LSC meetings we will hold two to three times a year.

Catherine also recently co-presented the 2018-2019 Life Insurance and Wealth Management Practice Committee annual update with Andrew Katon.

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