London Stock Exchange Group’s Ava Lau won the Pensions Manager of the Year award at PP’s inaugural Rising Star Awards. She tells Kim Kaveh about her successes to date.
What does winning the award mean to you?
It's a huge honour to have won this award - especially as there is an array of talent in the pensions industry. It has reassured me, and hopefully other people, that hard work is recognised.
For someone of my age, gender and ethnicity, I remember feeling completely out of place at industry conferences earlier in my career. Winning this award has given me the confidence to go further, to make a difference and to become a role model in the industry.
What's been the biggest achievement in your career so far?
I attribute my success to being continuously curious of the opportunities around me, and being in a supportive environment at the London Stock Exchange Group.
In the three years that I have worked as pensions manager, not only have I been involved in the long-term strategic discussions of the company's defined benefit scheme at board level, but I have led changes in other areas also.
I set up and reviewed pension and benefits arrangements in multiple jurisdictions. I conducted an all-employee town hall in Hong Kong, set up pension plans in Israel and Taiwan, and put in place commuting insurance in Japan.
I also worked with the senior management teams of our providers to shape their product offerings and to help them to understand the needs of their clients and customers, and launched a financial wellbeing programme to our colleagues.
Also, not forgetting my day job of being the executive for our trustee board to ensure the smooth running of a £700m pension scheme.
What challenges have you faced, and how have you dealt with them?
It's not easy balancing and juggling different priorities for the multiple stakeholders that I work with, but that's my job as a pensions manager!
It's a pivotal role so it's important that I build my network and have regular conversations with my stakeholders to understand their interests and priorities.
What are the important lessons you have learnt in your pensions career so far?
I started my career studying to become an actuary and at that stage, technical skills were essential to get myself qualified. However, in more recent years, I have learned that although pension matters are technical, pure technical skills do not guarantee success. There are softer skills which enable you to be heard and to influence.
I am privileged to have learnt from those around me on communication, collaboration and stakeholder management - a lot of this relies on building a trusted relationship with everyone I come across.
What is your top tip for someone looking to progress or start a career in pensions?
Think of it as a door that will open to a variety of opportunities. Carve your own career path - be agile and ready to adapt to change. Be resilient - ideas get things started; resilience gets the job done.
Any technical qualification is only a start - look around you and learn from others, formally or informally, and ask questions and get feedback.
Also, be ambitious but have the humility to listen, and look for opportunities to serve outside of your main role.
Together we manage trillions of assets and are in some way directly or indirectly responsible for someone's retirement wellbeing. You will have an inherent sense of satisfaction when you know what you do has helped enrich someone's security in retirement.
What else can the industry do to get better at supporting and encouraging the rising stars of pensions?
First of all I would like to thank Professional Pensions for organising the awards. Quite often when people look for role models in the pensions industry they look for the grey hair - ‘pensions' is rarely a word in the young people's vocabulary after all!
These awards have increased the profile of younger generations in the industry, which enables us to share ideas on how to better serve pension members.
Increasingly the topic of pensions has entered the mainstream media, thanks to auto-enrolment, but I think we can still do more.
When you get the average person on the street talking about pensions, that's when we can say that we have truly made an impact. And what better encouragement is there than enabling those early on in their career to be proud to tell their friends that they work in the pensions industry?