Interview: Aon associate consultant and Sewing Bee finalist, Man Yee Woo

I don’t know about you, but I’m an avid watcher of any competition television show that is prefaced with ‘The Great British’. Be it baking, sewing or even pottery (although, admittedly, the latter is missing the ‘British’ from its title), I love getting invested in a calming and surprisingly absorbing competition about things that I have no skills in whatsoever. This year’s Sewing Bee was no different, with me and my partner sitting down each week to marvel at the creations of amateur sewers. I was therefore delighted to speak to one of this year’s stars of the show: Aon associate consultant, Man Yee Woo. Man Yee made it all the way to the final, impressing the judges along the way with her creativity, eye for detail and technical sewing skill. We discussed her role at Aon, her time on the show, and whether her experiences as an actuary helped her handle the pressure of the sewing room.

What area do you work in at Aon?

"I am currently working in Aon’s International Wealth team as an associate consultant. I started off with an internship in 2016 in the UK Retirement team and was given the opportunity to come back as a graduate actuary – I took it without any hesitation!"

What made you want to become an actuary?

"To be completely honest, I didn’t really know much about actuaries or what they do until my second year of university.

"My friends in their final year were joking about how I might struggle to find a grad job without any formal work experience, so I got really worried and started looking into internships for a maths undergrad. I spent nine weeks interning at Aon and found it very interesting and fulfilling to be able to utilise my mathematics and people skills to help make an impact. I had no doubt that I wanted to come back for a grad role!"

What do you enjoy most about your job?

"The people, the purpose, the satisfaction from problem solving… I could go on and on!

"It’s not quite as heroic as being a doctor or a firefighter but I really enjoy being able to help to make a positive difference in my role, for example, advising companies on benefits reform to ensure their employees around the world are receiving adequate benefits for retirement!"

What is the defining moment of your career to date?

"I’ve always liked meeting new people and trying out new things. After 4 years of working in the UK Retirement team I wanted to explore other areas of pensions so I applied for a rotation to the International Wealth team. This was a defining moment of my career because I never thought I’d be stepping away from UK pensions and it was also very scary because I had very little knowledge of benefits provided overseas.

"This opportunity came at a really good time because I took some time off to film the Sewing Bee in between the move to my new role, so it felt like a fresh start and I was really looking forward to it!"

What was it like appearing on the TV? How did your fellow actuaries react?

"I’ll let you into a little behind-the-scenes secret from the Sewing Bee. Some of the set-up in the studios is fake and we were clearly told not to lean on any of the pillars and walls just in case they fell like dominoes!

"I received lots of positive responses from colleagues in different offices after the first episode was aired. Throughout the series, I received an incredible amount of support from everyone at Aon, which I’m really grateful for. Apparently, even other actuarial consultancies noticed it, too!"

How were you able to balance your job with appearing on the Sewing Bee?

"The filming took place in September and October last year which actually clashed with the actuarial exams. I was lucky that my team was very understanding and provided me with the support and flexibility to take some time off from work and study so I could make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity!"

Were there any skills from your job as an actuary that prepared you for being on Sewing Bee or helped you while you were on the show?

"I was convinced that my experience of studying for actuarial exams and being under stressful exam conditions would help prepare me to compete under pressure in the studio, but alas, the situations were very different, and I did find myself panicking when running out of time! However, the attention to detail that I’ve developed as an actuary did come in handy for the pattern challenges where we had to follow lengthy and often overwhelming instructions to make the garment."

Will you keep on sewing now that the Sewing Bee is over?

"Of course! Sewing has always been an important hobby of mine and will continue to be in the future. Though I’m not sure I’m ready to take it up full-time, I would love to start a little sewing club to share the joy of sewing with other actuaries."

What advice would you give to future actuaries?

"There are so many different types of actuaries with various roles and responsibilities. I would highly recommend getting in touch with different people at networking events or via LinkedIn to find out more about their day-to-day role and see which one interests you the most!"

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