It’s not a surprise that a writer lives in many of us—even actuaries. Sometimes, we just have to take a leap of faith and put that first word on paper. Free the writer!
Aside from his work as president of RGA Brazil and his volunteer activities, Ronald Poon-Affat, FSA, CFA, FIA, MAAA, is the writer known as the “actuary out of the box.” In this Q&A, he shares what it takes to get your writing out into the world.
You are an avid writer. What does your writing usually focus on?
While insurance is a common theme in my articles, I try to be as diverse as possible. I have written about topics ranging from behavioral economics, leadership, mentoring, disruption by InsurTech companies and minimalism, to what makes people happy, personality diversity and coaching. I have a tendency to see insurance everywhere. Not many best-selling books or films discuss insurance, so in my writing I try to find aspects of these topics that are applicable to the insurance industry.
What inspires you to write?
The muse appears to be most active when I’m reading or bingeing shows on streaming services, and my ideas get digested and organized in my head during my marathon training runs. I am fascinated by the ideas of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman, and refer to their writings frequently. I have even found myself reflecting about risk management while watching Mad Men, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Fear the Walking Dead.
You are also an avid runner. What do writing and marathon running have in common?
These are the commonalities I see: Both demand stepping outside of my comfort zone, meticulous planning, trial and error and continuous micro-improvements. Additionally, I get a true feeling of satisfaction when I complete a good run or piece of writing.
Your writing appears in several platforms: Medium, LinkedIn, actuarial/insurance journals and more. What is your readership demographic, and which audience do you most want to reach?
While much of my writing is focused on actuaries, I also try my best to ensure the wider community of insurance professionals enjoys my output. Most of my articles are written for millennials, who already have a firm grasp of the basics of insurance and risk management. My articles challenge the reader to think outside of the box by provoking debate about current business models and how our industry might reduce the protection gap.
I try my best to ensure that a global audience can identify with my material, but I’ll admit I refer to American pop culture a lot. Indeed, I’m not sure many of my readers have figured out that I’m originally from Trinidad and Tobago and have lived in Brazil for the last 24 years! My most successful article so far has been a mentoring piece I wrote for a Gen Z audience—it has racked up just over 10,000 views.
Any advice for people who want to write but may be too intimidated to try?
There’s really no reason to be intimidated. All of us are already writers—think about the emails, texts or posts you write every day. By writing consistently, you will improve your skills and style.
Challenging yourself further requires a platform that’s easy to use and provides feedback from readers. I like Medium.com, as it is free for writers and has these features. I also encourage would-be writers to read a variety of authors, from well-known novelists such as Victor Hugo, to the opinion columnists in local newspapers.
If you need to be convinced that writing can be gratifying, maybe this quote by Issac Asimov will help: “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”
Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.
Copyright © 2021 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.