For decades, the upper levels of the financial services industry has been, as it is often said, a male dominated field. Local studies and surveys have noted the under-representation of women in senior leadership roles, with 3 out of 4 female employees citing the need for flexible working arrangements to empower them in the workplace, which may then see more women leaders in c-suites and boardrooms.
Nevertheless, as the popular saying goes, the future is female.
In the spirit of “International Women’s Day”, we recently met with Chong Wan Leng, the Appointed Actuary of Great Eastern General Insurance Malaysia. In this article, she shares with us what it takes to become an Appointed Actuary and why she thinks more women should pursue STEM roles.
1. First, can you tell us about your education background? Why did you decide to go into the actuarial field?
Ever since I was in high school, I have always been passionate about mathematics and numbers in general, which would probably explain why I enjoyed studying subjects such as economics and accounting. This eventually led me to pursuing a degree in actuarial science, where I was able to use mathematics to analyse complex data and solve problems involving risk and uncertainty.
2. You’ve pretty much achieved the dream of every Actuarial graduate! What does the role of an Appointed Actuary entail?
An Appointed Actuary is actually a statutory role that Bank Negara mandates in every insurance company in Malaysia, and our main responsibility is to ensure that the company has sizeable insurance reserves, which is made up of premiums that customers pay up front when purchasing insurance plans. If an insurance company has good monetary reserves, it will then be able to cover claims that customers make from their insurance policies.
3. Can you describe the process of becoming a qualified actuary? What kind of challenges did you face along the way?
In order to become a fully qualified actuary in Malaysia, you would first need to pass all the examinations as mandated by a recognised international actuarial association. Upon passing these exams, you will be recognised as a Fellow, and once you have gained at least 3 years of relevant work experience, you will be eligible for a nomination. The company can therefore nominate you for the position of Appointed Actuary to Bank Negara Malaysia.
For me, it took about 8 years to become an Appointed Actuary, and one of my main struggles in obtaining my Fellowship was balancing my time between working and studying. There were many occasions where I had to sacrifice my weekends to study for my exams, and looking back, I think that is the biggest challenge I had to face in my career journey. But I made it, and here I am now.
4. You have several years of experience as an Appointed Actuary in the insurance field. What attracted you to join Great Eastern Malaysia?
To begin with, I think the company has long established itself as one of the leading insurance providers in Malaysia, and I felt that it could be a great platform for me to advance my career. Also, as a numbers person, I actually analysed the company’s financials and found that they have been performing consistently over the years, which is an indication that the company has good fundamentals and cultivates an environment where their employees thrive.
5. Which of Great Eastern’s staff empowerment initiatives do you feel have most enhanced your career journey?
Flexi Working Hours, for sure! I really appreciate the flexibility the company provides, especially as a working mother. I get to come in at 7.30AM in the morning and can leave as early as 4.15PM, which allows me the flexibility I need to accommodate to my family.
6. Last but not least, do you have any advice for young women, particularly in the STEM field, who are looking to kick-start their career?
Generally, I think a lot of women were hesitant to pursue a career in the STEM field, mainly because there was a perception that it is male-centric. But this is not so true anymore. More and more women are venturing into STEM, and the era we are in is constantly deconstructing gender stereotypes.
We shouldn’t be restricting ourselves to traditional career paths; we too can be adventurous and explore the possibilities out there. In fact, I would even say that the STEM field will greatly benefit from an increased participation of women as we tend to be more detail oriented and analytical, to a certain extent.
My other golden advice for female professionals would also be to speak up in the work environment. Learn to be eloquent, to be assertive, and to let your opinions be heard. It’s important to remember that you have a voice, and your voice does matter.
Inspired by Wan Leng’s story? Learn more about the opportunities available at Great Eastern Malaysia.
As part of the Great Eastern team, you will be making a difference the moment you walk through the door. If you’re looking to kick-start your career like Wan Leng’s, learn more about the exciting career opportunities at Great Eastern here.