Fast Fast Forward

Tapping the Right Resources for Career and Business Success

Susan Cross, Chief Actuary, XL Catlin

By Susan Cross , Global Chief Actuary

First published in Actuarial Review, March/April 2017. Copyright Casualty Actuarial Society. Used by permission.

Everyone has their own definition of career success. I certainly do. Having spent almost 35 years in the insurance industry, I’ve celebrated many milestones – from surviving my first industry presentation to attaining my current position as chief actuary for a global insurance and reinsurance company  And I am not done yet. 

While I’m proud of my career achievements, I will be even prouder of what I accomplished if someone else, especially the new generation of female actuaries coming up behind me, can take from the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Career success takes on a whole new meaning if it can have a positive effect on someone else’s career, especially in the insurance industry right now. And that’s because we really need driven professionals who are ready to make an impact.

Industry estimates suggest that about a quarter of the 2.6 million insurance industry employees are getting set to retire by 2020. However, only about 3,000 students per year are graduating from university insurance and risk management programs, and so many others are choosing other career paths. Insurer can benefit from more of us, helping others, take advantage of insurance career opportunities.  

According to the International Labour Organization, roughly 865 million women will be entering the workforce worldwide by 2020. So there is a real opportunity to engage more women in the insurance industry and helping them get here can be a career milestone for many of us.     

Selling Ourselves – as Individuals and an Industry

Like most, I did not stumble on success but worked to achieve it. Even with a lot of hard work, no one should dismiss that luck also plays a role in career success. For instance, I consider myself lucky to have started my actuarial career at a consulting firm.  

Consulting is a hotbed of learning opportunities – opportunities to learn about being a good listener, developing expertise, and building a productive and powerful network to advance your firm’s business goals but also your career at the same time. At a consulting firm, these activities are aligned with your day-to-day responsibilities.  It’s expected of you. These are things you should be striving to do naturally and regularly to drive your career success. And, in my opinion, should be adapted as a part of professional development in most enterprises, not just consulting firms. 

For one, Consultancies sell their employees’ expertise. That’s what clients are buying, their consultant’s guidance and know-how. That’s why it’s important for consultants to build up their qualifications and develop an area of specialization, skills that made you stand out from the rest, early in their careers. At my firm, I became the “go-to” person for assessing asbestos liabilities and developing innovative approaches to emerging risks. Since I had the knowledge, I shared it – publishing articles, speaking at conferences and promoting my abilities every chance I could. 

This kind of sharing can pay off in multiple dividends giving you tremendous industry exposure and helping you develop relationships that could be instrumental in moving your career forward.  Collectively selling our expertise is advantageous for the industry too, is helping young graduates and professionals see the interesting potential that a career in insurance can present.   



Careers/work life balance goes in cycles and so will our ability to network. And that’s OK."



Networking – both internally and externally – is also very important career success strategy.  Networking certainly takes time. It involves getting involved in professional associations, like CAS, attending industry events and staying later for receptions that follow.  It can be a challenge, especially for women, at certain points in their career. Careers/work life balance goes in cycles and so will our ability to network. And that’s OK.  

​As a consultant, I was more outwardly focused on building a network. When I transitioned to work for an insurer, and started a family, my networking didn’t stop but shifted inward. And as my work /life balance lessened, my networking ramped up again with more involvement again in industry activities. What’s important though is to make an investment of time that works for you, but make it!

​An internal network not only helps to get a job done, but it can help us get a job done well. Plus, when new opportunities arise, like promotions or an opportunity to be part of a strategic initiative, an internal network is a valuable source of referrals and support. External networks are equally useful for a lot of the same reason. They can help in recruiting, vetting ideas and connect us with high potential candidates that can help us advance the industry even more.  

Give and Take

Sponsors and mentors can also help drive career success. Your sponsor is your biggest fan, someone that will advocate on your behalf. It is often not a formal position or designated role.  Early in career, my sponsor was my boss at the consulting firm. He recommended me for jobs led by consultants in other offices, giving me exposure to other senior consultants, involving me in stretch assignments, allowing me to show off my capabilities and learn new things, which of course, led to more opportunity.  

​Admittedly, there are a few actuaries on my team that standout to me. As their sponsor, whether they know it or not, I make sure that they are also known to others in our organization. If in a position to be a sponsor, be a sponsor, and speak up to advocate someone.  

​No matter where we are in our careers, we all have some knowledge and experience to pass on to those following. That’s being a mentor. You are someone’s advisory council, someone to turn to for guidance and advice. While some companies have formal mentoring programs, it’s not necessary. It can be done very informally, by taking an active interest in a colleague’s career aspirations, by starting a conversation.  

​An added advantage of mentoring is that it’s a two-way learning experience. Many of us are serving as mentors to Millennials and are learning as much from them. As they will be the majority of our workforce, learning how they like to work, interact, even buy insurance, gives us added insight to what lies ahead for our industry.

​As the insurance industry and others face talent gaps, selling our expertise, building strong networks, advocating for others, and learning more about what drives this next generation will be invaluable knowledge to help us drive more industry success, and in turn, our own career success.    

Susan Cross is Chief Actuary for XL Catlin. She leads and oversees all major actuarial functions for the company worldwide, including the establishment of unpaid loss and loss expense reserves, pricing benchmarks and related financial provisions. 




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