Bringing clarity to a complex world – Meet Helen Rowell

APRA’s Deputy Chair Helen Rowell understands the value of finding clarity in complex projects with many different stakeholders. A foundation that stems from high school, Helen has solid actuarial training which she’s used across various disciplines.

Helen’s recalls her maths teacher talking to her about the actuarial profession. The teacher told Helen: “you know, there’s this really difficult course that you should try. Lots of people try it and fail, but maybe you should give it a shot.”

Helen investigated and found the actuarial program at Macquarie University had a strong reputation. At the time it was the only university in Australia offering the course. She received a scholarship with AMP and that’s where she began her actuarial journey.

Helen focused on superannuation at AMP, but her actuarial training made Helen adaptable to new fields in her career trajectory.

She moved across roles in super general insurance, banking, life insurance, and up through organisations over a number of years, to become one of the financial sector’s most senior regulators, and a champion for change.

“Actuarial studies give you a really good grounding across many industries and in a number of different disciplines including risk, finance, statistics and probability.

Complex judgement

At APRA, Helen worked on the major reform of the capital framework for life insurance and general insurance. It was a complex project to develop a harmonised framework that was going to work for both life insurance and general insurance. Helen describes the project as exciting but no easy task.

“It was a complete reframing of the structure of the capital requirements, particularly for life insurance, but also in how we dealt with things like catastrophe events in general insurance.”

Helen and her team had to engage with many different stakeholders including boards and CEOs right through to actuaries and auditors, to explain how the framework would come together.

“There were lots of different opinions and views that needed to be reconciled. And a lot of complex judgments to be made about how we achieved the outcome that we were looking for.”

Helen’s leadership of this comprehensive and rigorous review lifted resilience in the life and general insurance industries.

Clarity in complexity

Helen’s skills and abilities as an actuary also helped her lead a multi-stage project to implement major reforms to the prescriptive rules governing the superannuation industry.

She was a key player in driving a flexible new principles-based superannuation prudential framework that struck a clear policy balance, supporting a more financially secure future for all Australians.

“Actuaries tend to have very good technical understanding but are also able to take a big picture or more strategic view, says Helen.

“We are able to translate those complex ideas and issues into simple communication and concepts. We’re also able to make complex judgments in a very robust and rigorous way.”

The core of the actuarial skill is to be able to pull information, analyse and distil it and make those informed judgments that drive major, and in some cases, industry-changing decisions.

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