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Leading from the front
The Asia-Pacific region has reached the tipping point of 30% of senior roles held by female leaders, according to Grant Thornton’s Women in Business research.
Insurance Business Asia’s Elite Women of 2023 are at the forefront of this. They possess grit and determination and have seized the opportunity to make a difference.
This year’s cohort of 22 outstanding female leaders in insurance have triumphed over stubborn stereotypes, achieving significant success within their organisations and inspiring others.
“These obstacles are not insurmountable, and progress is being made to overcome them,” says Tulsi Naidu, APAC chief executive at Zurich Insurance and a former Elite Woman of 2021. “Companies are recognising and acknowledging these obstacles, addressing biases, providing support systems, implementing inclusive policies, and creating equal opportunities for women to thrive.”
Fellow former 2022 Elite Woman Violet Chung agrees. The senior partner at McKinsey & Company offers the following observations on the common traits shared by female leaders in insurance:
inspirational leadership that motivates others to be better
pursuing a career path with boldness
serving as an outstanding role model
ensuring great impact is delivered
attracting the right talent
“My aim is to take financial advisory to the next level through social media awareness. We are working in a digital connected world. When we are empowered with knowledge, that’s when we can make good financial decisions that impact not just our generation but also future generations”
Jaslyn NgPrudential Assurance Company
A new era of female leaders breaking barriers
The need for female role models is becoming increasingly clear.
“The lack of representation of women in senior and decision-making roles creates a scarcity of role models and mentors, making it more difficult for women to navigate their careers and envision themselves in leadership positions – and indeed can reinforce the unconscious bias of what leadership looks like,” asserts Naidu.
For Lei Yu, QBE Asia’s chief executive for North Asia and regional head of distribution, obstacles are an opportunity to grow and strengthen the team bonds she has built within her organisation. Since 2019, Yu has driven profitable growth and turned the company’s performance around. She has prioritised innovation and modernised traditional insurance practices in tandem with employee engagement. She counts among her successes a recent survey showing 85% of QBE Asia staff are highly engaged.
“I feel very fortunate and privileged to lead such a highly engaged workforce,” she notes. “We did a lot in the past few years to ensure our colleagues feel cared for, and we invested in their development.”
Among Yu’s notable accomplishments are:
leading successful digital transformation projects resulting in QBE Hong Kong clinching three industry awards
forming the QBE Hong Kong Circle, an employee network group promoting gender equality and fostering a supportive and inclusive environment
addressing regional economic challenges as a Pacific Basin Economic Council board member
The Elite Women have tackled obstacles relating to gender bias, lack of women in leadership positions in Asia, and work-life balance that can create the incorrect perception that women are less committed than men.
“It’s important to remember it’s not just one person, you have your whole team, and you can overcome obstacles together,” explains Yu. “Focus on taking baby steps to make changes.”
To motivate others to keep moving forward, Yu draws on her experience leading a team of women on a trek to Mount Everest base camp. As a collaborative leader, she has focused on promoting flexible work policies and parental leaves within her organisation. Over 50% of QBE Asia staff are women, including in technical roles such as underwriting.
“The next phase of my career is about how I can attract more women into the insurance industry and help more women break this glass ceiling,” she adds.
She highlights how the post-Covid acceptance of remote working has led to some benefits.
“Many women in insurance struggle to balance work and family responsibilities, and flexible working has helped women to manage their obligations.”
“We can only transform our industry to be more relevant if we attract more young people and women, and we can modernise with the use of digital technology”
Lei YuQBE Asia
What challenges have Asia’s female leaders in insurance risen above?
Singapore-based financial services director Jaslyn Ng has led her all-female team at Prudential Assurance Company adeptly. She credits her background in the HR sector with instilling an ability to connect in a genuine and ethical way.
In addition, her insights and financial knowledge in service of others has amassed her a following on social media and the conference circuit.
Despite only joining the financial services industry over five years ago, Ng is regarded as a “legendary” figure for achieving sales breakthroughs. Her resilience and ability are evidenced by adapting to challenging personal circumstances, including divorce and parenting two children.
“I’ve been through a lot in life, and any of the obstacles I faced could have defeated me,” she explains. “When I feel like I don’t have an ounce of energy left, I think about my kids, and I find the strength to move on because I want them to grow up in the best and healthiest ways possible.”
Ng’s top-performing achievements have been recognised by the insurance trade association The Million Dollar Round Table, from which she and her agency received the following awards:
Top of the Table 2023
Multi-Million Dollar Agency 2022
Court of the Table 2019–2022
Million Dollar Round Table 2018
Ng’s leadership skills fast-tracked her into management. She was promoted to financial services director within five years, was certified as a high-net-worth advisor and completed the ChFC designation within seven months.
Armed with the realisation that female role models are scarce and women lack representation in senior and decision-making insurance roles, Ng prioritised sharing her success story with other women. She is also a prolific contributor on LinkedIn and has written books to help guide financial consultants.
“My team are all working mothers, and I want to push that out to the wider community to help women succeed,” she explains. “I want to pay it forward and inspire more women leaders; that is my key motivator.”
Building networks is key for Asia’s leading women in insurance
As chief commercial officer at Aon Asia-Pacific, Jane Drummond consistently drives double-digit growth and exceptional employee engagement. Her ability to foster positive relationships while propelling the organisation forward is evidenced by employees rating her as the top manager that “connects with me as a person”.
She has distinguished herself as a leader in risk management and insurance solutions, and her unwavering passion for serving clients led to the creation of the Aon Insights Series, Asia, a platform to connect leaders who make enterprise-wide risk decisions.
That initiative regularly attracts registrants of more than 1,500 and is now hosted in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Singapore. Sub-events are also being created in person in Manila, Tokyo, and Hong Kong for the first time.
Drummond aims to continue blazing a path for colleagues to challenge, innovate, and deliver market-leading solutions. And she is resolutely focused on mentoring aspiring female leaders to reach the next level of their development.
“I am always willing to step up, challenge, lead and support all colleagues in our day to day to service delivery in APAC and globally.”
She has earned a reputation among her peers, insurers, and clients for being efficient and effective over her 25-year career. Her biggest strength is unquestionably communication, closely followed by positivity and ‘woo’.
“Woo is the ability to win over others, and I thrive on meeting new people and winning them over, which aligns to my passion for sales,” explains Drummond. “My philosophy and approach to obstacles is that tomorrow is another day and therefore another opportunity; you must be resilient and be ready to pick yourself and your team back up.”
Drummond’s outstanding accomplishments include:
sponsoring Aon’s partnership with the Pan-Asia Risk Management Association, maintaining platinum sponsorship for a decade
delivering Aon United, a blueprint guiding employees to bring top-notch service to clients, credited with kick-starting a significant culture shift toward agnostic client leadership
championing DE&I initiatives such as Dive In and WIN
“I thrive on problem-solving and helping colleagues to achieve their goals, and I hope to continue this well into the future”
- Cindy Kua
Co-Founder and CEO
- Cynthia Yeung
Senior Vice President, Construction Practice Leader
- Diana Gobeawan
Director of Travel Partnerships, APAC
- Goh Geok Cheng
- Jenny Lim
Chief Executive Officer
Howden Insurance Brokers
- Jess Tan
Chief Distribution Officer
Etiqa Insurance Singapore
- Karren Tan
Head of Recoveries and Subrogation Malaysia
Crawford & Company
- Loh Guat Lan
Managing Director and CEO
Hong Leong Assurance Berhad
- Monami Mukherjee
Director and Head of P&C Analytics, Asia Pacific
- Nikki Davies
Group Diversity and Inclusion Director
- Shirley Tan
Chief Marketing Officer
Etiqa Insurance Singapore
- Stella Soh
Head of TPA Singapore
Crawford & Company
- Tanja Magas
Chief Data and Analytics Officer
- Teresa Wong
Chief Risk Officer and Head of Sustainability Risk
Zurich General Insurance Malaysia
- Veronica Grigg
President of Asia
Crawford & Company
- Yen Yen Koh
General Manager, Singapore
The Elite Women 2023 report is proudly supported by the Association of Professional Insurance Women (APIW).
Founded in 1976, the Association of Professional Insurance Women (APIW) is the premier organization committed to the career advancement of Women Insurance Professionals. As an inclusive national association, APIW’s goal is to provide women insurance professionals with unparalleled opportunities for professional development and networking. APIW’s regular programs address the latest developments and issues affecting our industry, helping members prepare for leadership roles within their organizations by providing a broad, comprehensive view of the insurance business.
Additionally, on an annual basis APIW celebrates the accomplishments of outstanding women in the insurance business through a variety of acknowledgments, including honoring the APIW Insurance Woman of the Year and providing scholarship aid to young women studying insurance.
APIW encourages all members to actively participate in the organization, assume leadership roles and work on collaborative projects. Whether women insurance professionals are looking to expand their network of professional contacts, hone their leadership skills, or advance their career, APIW is here to help members achieve their goals.
APIW originated in New York and over the years has continually expanded its reach to a number of cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Hartford, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Miami and San Francisco (Bay Area).