The University of Iowa

Alumna reflects on actuarial career

April 27th, 2020
Ling-Ling Wang

Ling-Ling Wang

After moving to Iowa from sub-tropical Taiwan, Ling-Ling Wang (MS actuarial science ’88) found herself enjoying Iowa’s four distinctive seasons. Enrolled in the UI’s prestigious actuarial science master’s program, Wang was no stranger to long hours of study, making her appreciate walking along the bank of the Iowa River to take a break. “Flowers blooming on the trees in spring and the splashing of golden and red foliage in fall are my favorite memories of the UI campus,” says Wang.

Wang’s hard work as a graduate student paid off when she passed all of the Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA) exams before she started her first actuarial job. “I learned most of the basic actuarial technical knowledge from the UI,” says Wang. “My Iowa experience provided me with good foundations for starting an actuarial career. The actuarial program helped me prepare for the ASA exams.”

While equipped with solid knowledge and skills, in the early years of her career, Wang struggled with effectively communicating technical aspects of actuarial analysis to colleagues without an actuarial background. In order to improve her communication skills, she joined a Toastmasters club in Des Moines, Iowa, for a few years. “I also needed to constantly remind myself who the intended audience was.  I always tried to make my communication easy to understand for the intended audience,” reflects Wang.

Wang’s career spanned 28 years across various actuarial disciplines both in the U.S. and in the People’s Republic of China. She takes great pride in working as chief actuary in some of the leading Chinese insurance companies. “I participated and contributed to the rapid growth of the insurance industry in China at a time of rapid growth and development in the industry,” says Wang. “I was actively involved in the regulatory rule setting stage both at local and international levels.  I helped reshaped the actuarial functions in each of the companies I worked for to provide better support for my employers with a different strategic focus for each company. I helped to advance the actuarial profession locally by focusing on developing my leadership and managerial approach to include both team building and staff coaching. In the early part of the 21st century, experienced actuaries were not available in the Chinese market, though that is no longer the case. It was very rewarding to see my staff grow and mature, many of whom have since gone on to leadership roles with major insurance companies.” Wang considers her thirteen years working in China as the most enjoyable part of—and the greatest accomplishment—in her career. 

“My Iowa experience provided me with good foundations for starting an actuarial career. The actuarial program helped me prepare for the ASA exams.”

As an industry leader with diversified experiences, Wang developed a valuable perspective on navigating cultural and management style differences. In her opinion, the ability to respect, empathize, and adapt with an open mind is crucial for success and needed to be successful in the insurance industry, no matter where in the world the career may take one. “We need to realize that, even in the same geographic location, cultures and management styles are different across companies,” Wang reflects. “There are no written documents to explain this side of the business world. It is a trial and error process and a balancing act as well. Observe the environment around, respect what’s already in place, and recognize the accomplishments of your predecessors and colleagues. At the same time, I would gradually persuade others, especially the CEOs, that things can be improved in a more sustainable way.”

The UI’s strong alumni network in the actuarial community was beneficial to Wang’s professional development. “Three supervisors at my first job at Principal Financial Group were UI alumni. I had staff members who were also Hawkeyes. In China, several chief actuaries in major insurance companies and seasoned leaders of consulting firms are Iowa graduates. In my personal life, I met one of my closest friends while taking classes at the UI,” says Wang. For recent UI alumni entering the early stages of their actuarial career, Wang has the following advice: 

  • First, you need to be responsible for your work, take initiative, and think about what you are doing. If you don’t understand something, ask questions and seek guidelines. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone will be making mistakes. But make sure you learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them.
  • Second, learn job and industry knowledge, and never avoid information that doesn’t seem to be related to actuarial techniques. One important actuarial role is to help the business grow and control major financial risks. The broader the knowledge base you can build in your early career, the better solutions you can provide later. 
  • Finally, be resilient. You will likely fail a few times in your career. Don’t give up easily. If you stick to it and learn from failure, you will come out stronger than ever. I often found myself learning and growing the most during difficult times. 

Currently retired from full-time employment, Wang works part-time serving on two boards - one with the Society of Actuaries; the other with a joint venture life insurance company in China. This arrangement allows her to spend more time with her family, which is especially important in order to care for her elderly mother and mother-in-law. “I also look forward to coming back to campus to have conversations with current actuarial students after the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Wang.