Meet our grads
Gemma Smith

Studied: Bachelor of Commerce/ Bachelor of Economics
Joined Taylor Fry: November 2016
Location: Melbourne
Home team: General Insurance

Orange is the new background

How has your job evolved since you joined Taylor Fry?

When I first started, I felt out of my depth, even though I had an actuarial degree. There’s a big difference between the practicalities of the job and the technicalities of uni. I didn’t feel I had the context to understand all aspects of the job and be entirely on top of it, but I’m much more comfortable with it now. I’m becoming more involved in all the steps of the process and components of the work – such as the analysis and communication to clients. It takes a while to understand the work beyond the numbers, to develop the skills to draw meaning from them and to see numbers in a qualitative way for the client.

What or who has been the most significant influence in the direction your focus has taken?

The direction I’ve taken has been determined mostly by the general insurance projects I’ve been assigned, so the influence has come from my involvement in these. While there have been many opportunities to change direction if I’d wanted, I’ve chosen to stay in these areas as I gained more knowledge and experience in them.

What sort of on-the-job training have you received and how has it affected your work?

Most of my training has been on the job by senior staff. Because of our fairly flat hierarchy, I’ve been trained by whoever’s leading a particular project, which is often someone with more than 10 years’ experience. It’s so valuable to learn in a practical way, to see how things are done first hand and to have the opportunity to ask plenty of questions.

It’s so valuable to learn in a practical way, to see how things are done first hand and to have the opportunity to ask plenty of questions

What is the most valuable experience you’ve gained so far?

When I was encouraged to take on a role requiring greater responsibility than I had at the time. Stepping out of my comfort zone was hard but I learned I was capable and it gave me a lot more confidence going forward.

What are you studying and how do you manage to juggle it with work?

I’m currently studying the final few exams to become a Fellow of the Actuaries Institute and one of the hardest parts of this is juggling study and work. Taylor Fry is as good as it gets for study support. They provide generous study leave as well as plenty of moral support from others who’ve gone through the exact same thing.

Even so, it’s only realistic I use time outside of the study days offered, and it has taken a while to establish a routine. It’s probably something I didn’t do particularly well at first. Now, I try to have a strategy, to plan it out well and block out guilt-free breaks from study. On occasion, I’ve probably allocated myself too much free time, but I think it’s important to keep the fun in your life. I know when I’ve committed 100 per cent of my time to study, my mental state has suffered along with my exam performance. I’ve come to learn how crucial it is to wind down and regenerate myself after long study periods.

Gemma and Ben keeping the print-media dream alive

How did you become involved in our corporate culture?

Once you start working at Taylor Fry, you’re immediately part of the culture. I love organising things, so I was excited to take a lead organising Taylor Fryday, our annual company offsite day, and come up with activities everyone would hopefully enjoy. I’m based in Melbourne and it was a good way to expand friendships within the company and get to know people a bit better in Wellington and Sydney, with staff from all three of our offices coming together. It was great to spend time with people in Sydney and work with them leading up to the day, too.

Once you start working at Taylor Fry, you’re immediately part of the culture

What do you hope people gained from participating in the event you helped create?

The socialising aspect of all the offices coming together as one is something I hope everyone gains. It’s much easier to work on a job with someone in a different location when you’ve met them before and had a chat in person. Taylor Fryday also helps to emphasise our flat structure and reinforce that we are all equal.

How do you see the role of our company values?

Our values are important as a guide to behaviour for the whole company, not to dictate personalities but to ensure we’re all on the same page. Without values, an organisation ends up being dominated by key people, or the loudest people. Having values means we can allow for different opinions but we’re all working towards a common goal. The most effective way to implement values is to live them. Early on, our values were pretty clear to me from observing how people operated around me. The clearest value has always been integrity. In my experience, everyone consistently demonstrates accountability, openness and honesty.

Gemma briefly considered making her work colleagues her bridesmaids ...

What was important to you when you contributed to shaping the Taylor Fry values?

Values have to be genuine. It was important to me they wouldn’t be generic but specific to us – things that really say who we are – especially integrity, and responsibility to one another and our planet. It was also important not to be too prescriptive, rather reflecting what we were already practising as a company on a daily basis.

How challenging or easy is it to incorporate ethical thinking as a young actuary on a daily basis?

At this stage in my career, I feel as though it’s easy for me to be ethical – it seems very black and white. I consider myself an ethical person and I’ve never felt even slightly uncomfortable in my work and the decisions being made around me. Taylor Fry has created a culture of such ethical thinking and honesty. For example, any time I’ve made a mistake, I’ve had no hesitation in being immediately upfront. It has never crossed my mind to do anything else. This is expressly due to the culture Taylor Fry perpetuates. The senior people are very supportive. They make it clear there’s no point in being stressed, that it’s better to work together to improve and move forward. Everyone makes mistakes and you’re not going to be punished for it.

It’s also worth adding here that the actuarial study includes a professionalism course, which focuses heavily on ethical behaviour as it’s a crucial element of our profession.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes! I love the casual dress code here. It makes such a huge difference. And the flexible working hours. I didn’t really appreciate the flexibility early on when I began as an intern. I just turned up each day at 9am. But life becomes more complex, and now I do enjoy the benefits of that flexibility. If I sleep in, miss a train, have a doctor’s appointment or have to be home for the plumber, I know I won’t have to panic. All the stress is taken out of having to attend to the menial but important everyday things. It’s really beneficial to your mental health long term, especially during those inevitable times when you feel a bit rundown. I also planned my wedding recently and was able to work from home occasionally to accommodate appointments, and that was so great!

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