Sunday, 23 July 2017

Beyond reasonable doubt

Ex-lawyer Tony Ni found his niche (and his wife) when he switched careers. The RGE China risk and insurance manager offers his verdict on the challenges still to come.

Risk management attracts talent from a wide range of disciplines. For RGE China’s Tony Ni, his legal training and early career in that field served as a preamble to the challenges of risk.

Ni graduated from Shanghai University in 1997 as a lawyer. But after three years as a judge’s assistant and legal assistant, risk and insurance beckoned.

“Legal is good work, but I was very young then and I wanted to try other challenges or opportunities and see if I could transfer my [legal] work to other areas,” he says. “As a coincidence, I saw in the media that an insurance company was recruiting people with a legal background, so I sent in my CV.”

That company was ING Group, which had just bought the financial services and international businesses of US health care giants Aetna in 2000. ING set up a joint venture life insurance company with Chinese insurance company CPIC. Here, Ni would enter insurance as an underwriter.

“Before I joined [in 2001], I didn’t know about insurance,” he says. “So all the insurance knowledge that I got was from that role.

“Most of the life insurance companies like to recruit underwriters who have a medical background, not legal. Life insurance underwriters should evaluate the health level of the insured. However, my boss recruited people from different backgrounds as they have different points of view to evaluate people’s health.”

After just over two years at ING, Ni moved to New China Life as branch chief underwriter.

“New China Life was a new start-up then. They hoped to recruit people from foreign companies. They recruited me [and] by then I had a very good sense for the life insurance work.”

In 2006, he says, a friend from British firm Standard Life asked if he was interested in leaving Shanghai for Tianjin. “I had never left Shanghai before that, but I was recruited firstly as the head of underwriting and claims, then after three years I became chief underwriter.”

Ni would meet his future wife at Standard Life. She was based out of the Nanjing office, so in 2010, he moved to the city to take up an in-house role as risk and insurance manager at RGE China.

tony ni


RGE is a global holding company for a group of resource-based manufacturing companies, with operations in pulp and paper, palm oil, specialty cellulose, viscose staple fibre and energy resource development. With operations in Indonesia, China and Brazil, its businesses – and industry sectors – present Ni with a challenging risk profile to navigate.

“My role [at RGE] is firstly about supporting and handling ERM (enterprise risk management). The second aspect is following EHS (employee health and safety) issues and business continuity issues,” he says.

“We need to do enterprise risk management first. According to the results of the ERM, we can know which risks we can transfer to insurance… We needed to identify the different types of risks and how serious the risks were because more and more entities are being set up in China, [and we are] building more factories. So we needed to know to understand the different risk levels of the different entities,” he says.

The role involves working alongside insurance brokers and their risk engineers to gather information on the risks and the insurance solutions needed to cover certain risks, explains Ni.


RGE sees business continuity as its greatest risk. “We need to keep the production lines running,” he says. “We cannot accept any issues happening. So we need to support all related departments [and] people to make sure that no big issues happen.”

Other major concerns stem from the external environment, such as the economy and China’s industrial transformation. However, in spite of growing societal worries about cyber risk as a whole, it is not a large issue for the group, says Ni.

“More and more people are discussing cyber risk, but in our group it seems that our bosses don’t think it’s so serious or urgent that we need to consider solutions. That is probably different to the other companies – we are very traditional.”

Ni expects this to change in the next few years. But he expects his key focus to remain fixed on economic risk, regulatory risk and risks associated with the industrial transformation.

He does believe that risk management will become increasingly important in China: “There are not enough qualified people in China to do risk management,” he says.

“Sometimes we ask the insurance brokers or other external consultancies to [offer] support because our experience is very limited.

“If we do more improvements in China, more and more people [will] know the importance of risk management.”


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