‘Hands-on, and by example’: Paul Carrett on leadership, his actuarial career and working in Asia

A single brochure from the Institute set Paul on the path to being an actuary, landing him in the boardrooms of Hong Kong. 

The first member of a Queensland farming family to go to university, Paul Carrett followed his love of maths to executive roles in Asia. Now a Managing Director and Head of Asia Pacific in Brookfield’s Insurance Solutions business, Paul speaks with Asia Liaison Manager, Kitty Chan, about his journey thus far, working in Asia, and why he’s looking forward to attending ICA 2023.

Kitty: What inspired you to pursue a career in the actuarial profession?

Paul: Good fortune, mainly! I was the first person in my family to have the chance to go to university, and among the least worldly-wise 17 year olds (even for country Queensland). The Institute was kind enough to send me a brochure describing the actuarial profession, and it seemed like a great place for someone who liked maths and needed to earn a living as soon as possible. I was sold on that single brochure.

Kitty: Can you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an actuary, and how you got involved in the industry in Asia?

Paul: I started my career at the Office of the Australian Government Actuary, and then moved into consulting and completed my exams. Somehow, I ended up writing a lot of papers and investment courses for the Institute. I will be forever grateful to the Institute for this experience.

It was extremely helpful career-wise, as it extended me in terms of thinking critically, writing and speaking to the standard required in the public domain.

Around this time, I moved into banking and finance. I moved to Asia when invited by my then employer (Goldman Sachs) to cover insurance companies in the region. I was 34, and it felt that it was “then or never” to take the leap overseas.

Kitty: What similarities and differences have you noticed between Australia and some of the Asian countries you have worked in, specifically with regards to cultural and business practices?

Paul: The cultural differences are important and to be respected. Positive stereotypes generally have some basis in reality, negative stereotypes can safely be ignored.

My experience has taught me, however, that working across Asia is not that different to anywhere else. If you are competent and genuinely care about the people you are working with, things get “done” just fine.

Kitty: Are there any standout experiences that have shaped your perspectives on the industry and its future in Asia?

Paul: At one point we had to execute one of the largest currency transactions ever undertaken in Thailand. The whole “street” knew we had to do the trade, in relatively illiquid markets, and we had the Central Bank watching us closely. It was – no pun intended – a street fight. It reinforced everything I had come to know about Asian financial markets. They are incomplete, illiquid, and how you trade is extremely important.

One of the best compliments I have (inadvertently) received in my career was from a bank telling me they “knew” I still had a lot to trade when we were virtually done. I’m happy to say that we showed enough rat cunning to get the trade done tidily.

Kitty: What are the biggest trends or developments currently shaping the insurance industry in Asia, and how are you and your team responding to these changes?

Paul: The sector is under pressure from investors with only a few notable exceptions. Companies need to repair balance sheets and investor perceptions after the damage wrought by low interest rates. It is a great industry that serves an important societal need but we need to broaden the capital solutions available to insurers, including reinsurance, and to help companies source better matching assets for their liabilities.

Kitty: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Paul: Perhaps oddly for someone who has worked in non-traditional fields most of their career, my main role models are all actuaries. There was an entire generation of actuaries in front of me who were great examples. People like Mike Barker, Paul Scully and Fred Rowley. They all seemed to be so widely read (Thomas Kuhn came up a lot), thoroughly professional, and they thought, spoke and wrote with wonderful clarity.

My background is rather humble so to have encouragement from such people early on in my career gave me a lot of confidence and the sense that I could “make it” in finance.

Kitty: What do you consider to be your biggest career achievement so far?

Paul: Hopefully it will be that which I have in front of me right now at Brookfield! Looking back, it would be building out the investment team at FWD where I was the Chief Investment Officer. It was a relatively small group of people, but they pulled off some remarkable transactions and built some great infrastructure.

Kitty: How would you characterise your leadership style?

Paul: Hands-on, and by example. I am the son of a farming family! You just can’t ask people to do things you would not do yourself.

Kitty: What advice would you give to aspiring executives?

Paul: Personally, I like people who have shown an ability to become expert in one field, who can then go broader. If you genuinely care about people, the management side of things will come to you naturally via learning from your better managers and a little reading. This does not make it a casual process; it still needs to be quite deliberate.

Getting some sales training is also very important. At some point, all senior people are salespeople. Getting a new risk process approved via a committee, for example, is a sales process, I assure you.

Kitty: I’m looking forward to catching up with you in Sydney for ICA2023. Which sessions, topics or themes are you are most excited to explore?

Paul: There are some innovative things happening on the product side. Beyond this, there are some speakers who have been doing some useful work on mortality heterogeneity, which is something I have an abiding interest in, going back to my time in the Office of the Australian Government Actuary.

Speaking more broadly, conferences like these offer value through exposure to more people and more ideas. It is a chance to engage with both and to think beyond the immediate things in front of you. Effectively, it is a way to invest time in thinking about things that may not be urgent, but are important for the long-term.


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