Nor everyone associates empathy and insurance, but Hetul Patel has learned that the combination of the two helps with success.
What’s your story?
I’m Chief Actuary of a top 10 global reinsurance company. Over my 20 years of working, I have demonstrated a track record in generating profitable growth, turning around companies and, building and leading great teams. I have focused on driving better decision making through the use of data and analytics. I started my career in London, then spent 13 years in Singapore, before moving to Germany in 2021, where I’m now based.
What excites you most about your industry?
The most exciting thing about commercial (re)insurance is that it helps to make the world go around. Without insurance, which protects against downside risk, very little works – planes can’t fly, businesses can’t trade, banks won’t lend, innovation will be stifled etc.
This makes it very interesting for me – part of my job is to learn and keep abreast of a wide range of areas. From a macro level such as geopolitics, economics and climate change, to a micro level on specific industries or trends. So, with a constantly and rapidly changing world, it’s never a dull day.
What drives you in your career to push beyond what other people consider normal?
I would say three things:
1. To make the companies I work for great. I like to set challenging and ambitious goals for myself, and my team to really move the business forward.
2. As an actuary, it’s expected that I have a strong technical skill set. I’ve been determined to make sure my commercial awareness and market knowledge is equally as strong.
3. To have as broad and diverse working experience as possible. This helps to form a well-rounded view and creates more opportunities.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
Tailoring presentations, content, technical terms etc. to the person you’re speaking to is critical to getting the message across or your desired outcome. I lead a very technical and analytics heavy team. If we can’t articulate our findings in an easy to understand and implement way, we’ll never get buy-in to deliver superior results.
I’ve also found empathy goes a long way. In financial services, there’s lots of people with high IQ’s but EQ can be lacking – it’s a great way to build strong relationships and be a successful leader.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You shouldn’t be scared or embarrassed to fail – I think human nature makes this very hard to do, but it’s something I try to practise and one of the key things we teach our children. This quote by Michael Jordan is one of my favourites on this subject:
“I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Who inspires you?
Not a who, but a book – the only book that has changed my life: The Ugly American by Ben Mezrich. Up until I read it, I never thought I would live and work anywhere other than London (even though I love to travel). Six months after reading the book, I moved to Singapore and haven’t looked back. Not only has it been an incredible life experience, but working internationally has accelerated my career.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
I was recently selected to join the Veblen Directors Programme. They promote DE&I on boards and help members to get a PLC directorship. The content they cover is very broad: from investor relations, improving ESG, personal branding, financial fundamentals etc. I’m learning lots and have an apprenticeship board position with Incergo, a newly listed company that acquires franchise operations.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Very little, if anything. Yes, it would have been great to have picked up a few more skills earlier in life or brought Bitcoin at one Dollar, but I wouldn’t do anything material differently. Those key decisions, whether they work out or not, always provide some form of opportunity – learning from a failure, a new experience etc. I think dwelling on the what if’s makes it harder to enjoy the present and be happy.
How do you unwind? : I like to unwind through travelling and embracing new experiences, whether it be holidays, sporting events, adventure activities etc. Closer to home, I play several sports with golf being top of the list at the moment – It’s both challenging and a great way to network. I also enjoy investing in various asset classes as I get to put my analytical side to work, whilst saving for the future. Finally, spending time with my family is very important and fun for me.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your career?
Networking matters. A lot. When I started my career, I assumed it was all about talent, hard work and delivering results. Whilst this is of course important, it’s only the starting point. Having a broad and trusted network, both personal and professional, is crucial to being successful – regardless of what your definition of success is. I can point to several opportunities that I have had because of my network. You need to be brave enough to take the opportunity and then deliver.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. A great book on understanding bias’s and using data to aid decision making – the principles can be applied professionally across any industry, as well as personally. Driving better decisions or outcomes is a key part of any analytics related role.
Shameless plug for your business or career:
It would be great to hear from any board chairs or CEOs of listed companies that are looking to widen the diversity on their own boards. Particularly if they have any pinch points or areas of concern where the board could use more support. Whilst I might not have all the answers, I have access to a lot of people and resources through the Veblen Directors Programme.
How can people connect with you?
Social Media Links?
This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.