Sophia has the distinction of being in charge of the risk management portfolio for the 16th Commonwealth Games which was held in Malaysia in 1998. She was also the first woman and first Malaysian to win the ASEAN Insurance Council’s Award for Young Managers in 2009. She has authored two books for the Malaysian Insurance Institute and contributed many articles to the Edge Malaysia, a leading business and financial publication.
Areas of focus
Insurance (life, general, takaful) | Strategy | Actuarial Science| Finance | Risk Management | Pricing Strategy | Product Development | Compliance and Governance
Sophia Ch’ng brings more than 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, ranging from life insurance, general insurance, takaful business and insurance shared services. A qualified actuary, she has performed various senior roles in a number of insurance companies such as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Appointed Actuary (AA), Head of Strategic Planning, Head of Product Pricing and Product Management.
Since 2004, she has been involved in various Board committee meetings as a permanent invitee, including the Main Board Committee, Risk Management Committee and Audit Committee. Currently, Sophia is a Consulting Actuary at the School of Mathematical Sciences at Sunway University. Prior to her current role, she was Chief Financial Officer at AmMetLife Insurance Berhad and Zurich Insurance Malaysia Berhad.
Her career began in the software and consultancy industry in 1995, starting as a Treasury Consultant. From there, there was a two-year stint at the Commonwealth Games where she was Assistant Manager and then Head of the Risk Management Department. Then, with both ING Insurance and Prudential Assurance Malaysia, she took on roles as Assistant Vice President of the Actuarial Department and then Senior Manager of the Actuarial Department respectively.
Following that, she spent nine years at Great Eastern Life Insurance (Malaysia), moving up the ranks from the Signing Actuary into Product Pricing and Marketing, Strategic Planning and finally, Senior Vice President and Head of Finance and Investment Operations Division.
Her life philosophy
“During trying moments at work, I have always told myself I am most stretched because I am facing the unknown and this is the point at which I learn in the fastest way. With this mind set, I look at trying moments as just another steep learning curve that I need to overcome.”
“We learn the most during stressful moments, the moments when we are facing and overcoming new challenges”.
Her proudest moment (career wise)
When she won the Young ASEAN Manager Award in 2009 – the first woman and first Malaysian to win this award.
She is passionate about two things in particular:
- Increasing the insurance penetration rate; and
- Grooming the next generation of talent.
Sophia argued that the insurance industry is a major component of the economy by virtue of the amount of premiums it collects, the scale of its investments and, more fundamentally, the essential social and economic role it plays by covering personal and business risks.
“However, this region suffers from low penetration and under insurance that could negatively affect the long-term development of the economy. Hence, I have been and will continue to contribute to the insurance industry. Ultimately, a strong and growing insurance industry will benefit society by providing risk sharing, risk pooling and risk transfer abilities. These are inherent in the insurance business model and are fundamental for a well-functioning economy,’ she explained.
She also added, “At the same time, a key factor for the development of the insurance industry is good quality talent. This is also where my passions lies. After volunteering for more than 10 years in education and professional development in the actuarial field, I have started to focus more time in this area since last year. Recently, I have also started to expand my focus into mentoring the next generation of women leaders. This involves many areas but I believe that with the right sort of guidance, more women will be able to leverage the opportunities present to move up in their career.”
- President-Elect, Actuarial Society of Malaysia, 2018;
- Fellow, Actuarial Society of Malaysia, since 2010;
- Fellow, Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (UK), since 2000.
1985 | BEc Actuarial Studies from Macquarie University, Australia
A short story that defines me
Sophia first realised the importance of the insurance industry when she was the Assistant Manager – Risk Management of SUKOM 98 Berhad. She was the Risk Manager for the 16th Commonwealth Games held in Malaysia in 1998 and one of her key responsibilities was to formulate the insurance programme for the Games.
She decided to insure the volunteers of the Games with not only personal accident insurance but term life insurance too. This proved to be crucial as one volunteer, in particular, who was diabetic, died of complications from a small injury during the Games. The small term life assurance helped his non-working widow to support their school-going children and helped them through the difficult period.
“It was the true essence of insurance that I saw from this event (that is protecting loved ones and giving people a second chance) that motivated me to enter the insurance industry,” Sophie explained.
How Sophia handles conflict and negotiation
“In my opinion, conflicts usually arise because of a lack of communication and misalignment of interests. When I am faced with conflict, I will usually start by mapping out the stakeholders and spending time to discover their interests. Then, I will communicate with them individually to get their buy-in and alignment of interests. The more common interests you discover, the more easily conflicts can be resolved. When you get to a point where you cannot get total alignment, this is the point at which negotiation begins. In this case, it boils down to the weight of advantages and disadvantages of each individual party and how well each party communicates to get to a point where both can agree. I have long found that a pre-existing good relationship helps to make the whole process more effective and pleasant. This is why I believe relationship-building should also be a key factor in any of your daily dealings with people,“ Sophia explained.
Can you share three things you believe women need to do in order to make it to the most senior levels of leadership?
First, ambition. I find that women are as smart and as hardworking as men. Hence, it is usually not a lack of capabilities that results in fewer women at the top. Given the same capabilities and efforts, I think that a women, equipped with the following, will have a good chance of climbing the corporate ladder.
Often, women are not as ambitious as men. Sometimes, through the passage of time and change in life situation (new family, getting married), women may possess less career ambition. If they want to become a top leader and they follow this through with all the right actions, they can definitely achieve the same level of competitiveness.
Second, having a clear understanding of business. Besides being great in a specialised field in a corporation, having a clear understanding of the strategy, the financials and the interactions that will bring the specific business to success, are definite must-have’s for making good decisions and for being a senior leader.
Last, but not least, is good stakeholder management. Effective stakeholder management is rooted in good people skills and communications skills. These ultimately benefit a corporation in the effective implementation of initiatives and efficient operations.
You were the first woman and first Malaysian to win the Young ASEAN Managers Award some years back. What did that win mean to you? What do you believe led to that win?
“The annual YAMA honours outstanding young managers for their achievements, contributions and dedication to the insurance industry as well as recognises their potential, talent and leadership qualities. The award was organised by The ASEAN Insurance Training & Research Institute (AITRI) and ASEAN Insurance Council (AIC). Since the Young ASEAN Managers Award was first introduced, Malaysia has not won the award. In 2009, the Life Insurance Association Malaysia asked for the industry to nominate a strong candidate. I was nominated, and finally, was able to make Malaysia proud by winning the award. I also hope that I will set a positive example for women, to encourage more women to take on senior leadership roles. The selection criteria were stringent based on the vision, leadership, contribution to the industry and contribution to the company. I believe that I won based on strong results and vision,” Sophia clarified.
As the award is meant for visionary and forward-looking managers who also have strong implementation capabilities and who can bring significant improvements to the industry, Sophia’s credentials and achievements indicated that she was the rightful winner. During her tenure at GELM, Sophia was involved in various projects including one which grew the investment-linked portfolio from RM80 million in 2002 to RM530 million (US$155 million) in 2008. She was in charge of product pricing and she successfully led a “Risk Based Capital (RBC) taskforce” to adopt the new RBC framework at GELM. She was also the insurer’s appointed actuary for five years. Through these various roles, she contributed to maintaining the company’s number one position and continued profitable growth.
In an interview you did with Update some years back, you said that the major stakeholder in your life is your family. Tell me more – what does this mean to you and how does that affect the decisions you make?
Sophia shared, “Family is the ultimate driver for me. Ultimately, only a happy family will lead to a fulfilling life. As a mother of two children, the toughest decision for me has been balancing a very demanding workload and the precious time spent with my family. Recently, I have been fortunate enough to move towards more flexible engagements which have enabled me to work from home. At the same time, I am still fulfilling my passion in insurance and education by providing consulting, lecturing, mentoring and authoring books.”
As someone who has held many senior financial leadership positions including that of Chief Financial Officer, how do you define financial leadership?
“Financial leadership involves both operational and strategic aspects of an organisation. A good CFO will be able to support his or her organisation in a wide range of functions. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Providing input and direction towards the company strategy and being involved as a key decision maker in senior leadership/management and, in particular, making financial sense of any business decisions by providing relevant analytics, cost management and financial projections;
- Ensuring the smooth financial function in financial reporting/ financial statements, tax, treasury and capital management;
- Being part of management control functions for assuring appropriate and adequate governance and internal controls, risk management and compliance;
- Accounting and stakeholder communications and investor relationship management;
- Last and not least, talent development and succession planning.”
Sophia Ch’ng FIA is a strategist, actuary, Chief Financial Offer, consultant, author and lecturer. In her various C-suite roles, she handled a variety of important projects ranging from developing the company blueprint, product strategy, distribution strategy, asset liability management, capital management, participating life fund management, staff optimisation, LIFE Framework implementation, legacy mis-selling resolution, SOX (Sarbanes Oxley) implementation to LEAN process improvements. She has also worked on a number of mergers and acquisitions as well as new company set-up projects. She is the author of Life Insurance Companies Accounting and Financial Reporting and Regulatory Environment of Life Insurance Product, Sales and Operations, both published in 2018 by the Malaysian Insurance Institute.