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Agency on hunt for the best analysts

Published on Thursday, 07 Jun 2012
Susanna Lam
Photo: Berton Chang

With a growing portfolio, AM Best Asia-Pacific has grown from 18 staff members last year to 22 this year. Susanna Lam, the company’s managing director, expects hiring to grow even faster in the near future, due to growth potential in several emerging markets.

“Asia is one of the growth areas. In the past, demand in Asia was not as high as it is now, as domestic players did not see the need for ratings. Now there is a very big growth potential,” Lam says, explaining that increased demand for insurance and reinsurance in the region, as well as the Southeast Asian insurance market opening up in 2015, provide strong demand for AM Best’s ratings services.

AM Best is a global ratings agency, issuing credit and financial ratings specialising in insurance companies. The Hong Kong office was set up in 1999, with three people, to serve Asia Pacific, in addition to the over 100-year-old, 500-employee headquarters in New Jersey, and the 70-staff ratings office in London. Two marketing offices in Dubai and Miami opened this year.

The ratings serve a large customer base, from individuals who want to buy insurance from a stable insurer or to invest in shares, to companies interested in mergers and acquisitions, possibly buying into domestic companies in Asia Pacific.

“The balance sheet only shows you the strength of a company at one point in time. But ratings come with an outlook and we also incorporate country risk methodology in our rating analysis,” Lam says.

AM Best has grown its stable of analysts year after year and is now recruiting more associate financial analysts. With a mission of providing unbiased and reliable information, the company protects its transparency, credibility and integrity.

“We have a very clear firewall between the rating and non-rating sides,” Lam says. “At the same time, candidates should be team players and want to be part of a successful team. They should be self-motivated and pro-active, using initiative to make things happen.”

Two to three years’ experience, including extensive insurance experience, is preferred, plus an understanding of how insurance firms operate. Alternatively, applicants with a strong background with banking research units, accounting firms or in a position as an economist with a financial firm, are also welcome.

“The successful candidates will also have a good understanding of the regional and worldwide economies. Whatever happens, every minute can have an impact on an insurance company,” Lam says.

She says the company seldom hires from the competition and usually recruits people with a very good knowledge of the insurance industry. 

“No matter what level they come in at, fresh hires receive six months’ structured training,” Lam says. This includes rating methodology, process and procedures, plus compliance to safeguard the company’s credibility and integrity.

“The hires will also be required to sit an individual licensing examination for securities and futures intermediaries, because credit rating agents are now regulated by the SFC (Securities and Futures Commission),” explains Lam.

All ratings results are decisions from the ratings committee that involve people from the other two offices as well, she notes.

Regulations require 20 hours spent on continuing professional development, which usually involves seminars on ratings methodology, changes in policy and procedures, compliance, or specific insurance markets and regional markets.

Senior management participates in management and leadership programmes, presentation and communication skills training to polish skills that are necessary for moving up the career ladder.

The ratings team, which now consists of 12 people, went on a team-building trip to Kaoshiung in Taiwan in March, while the team on the other side of the firewall will have another team-building programme later.

The position has some very special benefits, Lam says. “The job offers a very good exposure as contact is usually made with the C-level executives such as chief financial officer, chief risk officer or even the chief executive,” she says.

Lam adds that in a smaller company such as AM Best, there is a chance to handle a wide range of tasks which – combined with the regional exposure in the Hong Kong office that oversees the whole of Asia Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand – offers a very exciting opportunity to grow. The job also involves a lot of travelling and provides international work exposure.

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