Pivoting through a pandemic crisis

In a special edition of the Asia Insurance Review, CEO Elayne Grace is featured as one of the insurance and risk leaders in the Asia Pacific sharing insights on leading a team and company through the pandemic crisis.

Like most countries the emerging catastrophe appeared almost overnight and immediately tested the leadership of our country, community services and businesses. The Actuaries Institute was no exception but given the profession’s deep understanding of pandemics and awareness of its potential implications, we were well placed to respond quickly.

The Institute’s first priority was to protect our people; members, students and staff. Our council acted quickly and decisively. Within days of becoming aware of the serious threat on our shore, the institute decided to close its doors; staff were asked to work from home, meetings and events were suspended and examinations deferred.

Staff flexibility was a success factor as a number of our personnel work from home on a regular basis and are geared for remote working. However, our disaster management plan provided for all staff to have access to a remote working platform, which was deployed immediately.

A major issue was how the institute would carry out its primary role as an education institution. This required deep consideration of safety, operational and commercial issues. Council determined safety was paramount and moved to postpone educational activities, including examinations, until a technical solution could be found. We are now planning to introduce online exams later this year.

Although constrained by ‘social distancing’ rules imposed by government, the Institute executive has been adaptive and innovative to maintain activities. This is no mean feat given the socially-interactive learning and professional development activities that are a regular feature of the Institute’s operations. Our insights sessions are regular information-sharing events that attract around 100 participants. Most attend in person and less than half would participate by webinar.

However, in our first session involving a new technology platform we had over 400 registrants – an amazing outcome.

Quickly adopting technology to create new ways of working has allowed the institute to maintain a high level of services. I believe the current enforced restrictions will lead many organisations to reconsider how to best engage with its stakeholders especially those that have to manage a geographically diverse group.

One crucial approach has been to communicate with staff and members regularly. We need to maintain physical distances whilst keeping our social networking intact. Apart from daily face-to-face team meetings, we have established a strong suite of communication initiatives to support our members including; regular bulletins, Actuaries Digital articles, a dedicated pandemic resource portal, a COVID-19 Blog and a high-level C-19 working group with over 70 volunteers to provide guidance to the profession.

Of course, as with virtually all organisations, we have taken a keen focus on our budget. This is particularly the case for my organisation, which is a non-profit body; we are spending our members’ money so we have been extremely aware of the need to continue to provide value to members who are also subject to the same health, financial and social pressures affecting the community.

However, our commitment to our members and staff is not the limit of the Institute’s objectives. The Institute is adamant that we should also exercise the profession’s experience and deep skill sets to help policymakers and the wider community come to grips and understand relevant aspects and impacts of the coronavirus. As one of our members says, ‘spread data not the virus’. Our C-19 group has published on issues where the profession has relevant expertise to help inform policymakers’ deliberations.

If I can encapsulate the Institute’s strategy into four messages, they would be:

  • Put your people first; members, students and staff.
  • Review your core objective and stick to it.
  • Communicate, communicate and communicate again.
  • Support the community with your skills and experience.


The original article was published in the June 2020 Asia Insurance Review (pg.11)

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