PwC senior associate Fan Jia won the Trainee of the Year accolade at this year's PP Rising Star Awards. In this article, Professional Pensions speaks to Fan and PwC partner Victoria Tillbrook about the award.
What does winning the award mean to you?
Fan Jia: As someone at the beginning of their career, being recognised by the industry means a lot to me. It's reassuring to know that I'm stepping in the right direction; it's also encouraging to see that I can make a difference despite not having ten years of experience. I think it's always going to be a reminder of what I'm capable of and motivate me to keep going whatever challenges I may encounter in my future career.
Victoria Tillbrook: I'm really happy for Fan for winning the award. Her work has been well recognised within our team for a long time so I'm glad it's now recognised by more people, and it also shows how well our whole team is regarded by the industry. As a wider pensions team at PwC, we have a number of finalists shortlisted for the awards - Jenny Copeman, Ross Breckon, and the DC Master Trust Advisory Team - all excellent young people making their unique contributions to the industry. To me it's really important to celebrate young talent in our industry - they don't just shape the future, they are the future. It's also promising to see the diversity in our winner and finalists. We have come a long way in supporting diversity as an industry, and it's great to see this being celebrated by the awards.
What's been the biggest achievement in your career so far?
Fan Jia: I was born and raised in China and I am a keen linguist so I've always had an acute awareness of cultural and societal differences, and a passion for bridging them with information and compassion. When I set foot in the UK pensions world, one thing that struck me was how complex (but fascinating) it was and how little international investors understood it. This lack of understanding could - and in many cases did - result in misinformed decisions jeopardising member benefits and business prospects alike. So I decided to do my bit to drive awareness of UK pensions among international investors, especially Chinese investors.
I authored the UK's first bilingual employer covenant guide for Chinese investors on LinkedIn, and promoted the same topic in Mandarin on the largest social media platform in China. The posts attracted over 2,000 views and sparked wider discussions. Within an hour of posting, the Chinese bidder to a high profile UK business liked my post and engaged with my team for pensions advice, which I subsequently helped deliver. I've since worked on a number of projects involving international stakeholders where my culturally adapted approach has added real value to all parties driving towards a common goal.
How has your firm supported you to achieve your success?
Fan Jia: My team has been very nurturing and supportive, which is indispensable to what I have achieved. We have a career coaching system where each team member is paired with a more experienced member of the team, which I have benefited immensely from. I'm also grateful for all my colleagues who have been extremely generous with their time, listening to my aspirations and offering me realistic and practical advice to be the best I can while still being myself. PwC is a great platform with a diverse pool of talents and many opportunities to explore, I'm privileged to have access to these all from Day 1 of my career.
Victoria Tillbrook: At PwC we have a focus on creating an inclusive workplace culture where everyone can reach their full potential. We have made our diversity target public in our annual report and are committed to making continuous improvements in this area. As a team, we do so by promoting an inclusive culture, and through senior level accountability, fair work allocation, recruitment practice, and progression coaches. We still have a long way to go but the achievement so far has been encouraging as we have seen more and more talents from a diverse background making achievements which were perhaps not possible 10 or 20 years ago. This is particularly relevant to the pensions industry, as not only does diversity resonate with those who work in the industry, it matters to those who we serve as well. Earlier this year we held our first virtual Women in Pensions event, where we discussed what we as an industry can do to support fairer and more inclusive pensions and retirement outcomes - both on a gender, ethnicity and generational basis. A report by The People's Pension shows that the average gap between a female pensioner from an ethnic minority group and a male pensioner from white ethnic groups is 51%. The statistics are shocking, and as an industry we have a long way to go to address this.
What challenges have you faced, and how have you dealt with them?
Fan Jia: I came to the UK six years ago to pursue postgraduate studies, and that was the first time that I had to use English as a language to communicate on a daily basis. However, what I found most challenging was not the language, but the more intangible aspects of everyday life and encounters in a new country (which is in every way different from mine), knowing that even the tiniest and most mundane tasks could feel so foreign and scary. I had to relearn many things to adapt to the "new" norms, which anyone who has been through a similar journey could testify to the daunting feelings involved.
Being aware that I was from a background immensely different from my peers, I chose to embrace it rather than hide it, celebrating my uniqueness and encouraging others to celebrate theirs too. I jumped on the opportunity when my team initiated a DC master trust proposition, different from the team's core covenant offering. I invested time developing an in-depth understanding of the technicalities from scratch, became the go-to person for certain technical areas, and helped coaching the wider team. I shared my experience with others who see being different as a challenge and became part of PwC restructuring team's diversity group to promote greater inclusion of staff from a wide variety of backgrounds.
What are the most important lessons you have learned in your pensions career so far?
Fan Jia: The most important lesson I have learnt is to always be proactive in working towards your goal rather than waiting passively for opportunities. An ancient Chinese saying goes "those who do, usually achieve; those who go, usually arrive" - if one keeps finding excuses to postpone actions, they are unlikely to make any difference. Many of the initiatives and challenges I took on this year were new and different. Had I not charged ahead regardless of the unknown, I would not have achieved what I did.
What is your top tip for someone looking to progress or start a career in pensions?
Fan Jia: Be curious and be bold. There is so much to explore in this space and so many opportunities waiting to be discovered. Come and join us!
Victoria Tillbrook: There wasn't much diversity in the industry 10 or 20 years ago, but looking at the winners of this year's Rising Star Awards, we are seeing many emerging talents from a range of backgrounds making the industry now an exciting place to work. Fan's achievements are a real testament to this.