Kris Kerwin: goals, visions and the quest for expanding your comfort zone

Interview conducted by Jing Lang, FCIA

Kristopher (“Kris”) Kerwin, FCIA, is often mistaken for being much older than he is. Perhaps it’s his salt-and-pepper hair or maybe it’s because he has five kids, but he is not yet 39. Kris carries himself with humility and quiet confidence. At client meetings, always impeccably dressed, he’d take out a slim notepad from his breast pocket as he jots down follow-up items. Rest assured, what he writes down gets done.

A meticulous planner, Kris spreadsheets his mornings into 30-minute increments. His day starts at 4:30 daily, when he enjoys some personal time and gets a start on his day, answering work emails and either running on his treadmill or weightlifting before his children wake up at 6:45.

Kris’s latest fitness goal is to join the 1,000-pound club – lifting a one-repetition-maximum total of 1,000 pounds in squat, bench press and deadlift. He is super-pumped to join the club by the end of 2024.

In this interview, Kris Kerwin, Vice-President, Business Development, GFS Canada at Reinsurance Group of America, Incorporated (RGA), shares his insights on life and career.

1. What drives you?

Goals. Always goals. There’s nothing like a good stretch goal to get me going. I’m driven by all types of goals: Professional, athletic and personal. I’m so obsessed with achieving new things that I sometimes forget about other important things in life that are not tied to achievements. On the flip side, if it’s a goal of mine, it will get done, no doubt about it.

2. This July marks your 17th anniversary with RGA. What do you love about the organization?

The culture. Everything is about serving clients and helping them be successful, which I find extremely fun and fulfilling. I feel empowered to speak up, share ideas and drive changes that will end up benefiting our clients.

3. You have worked in pricing, valuation and most recently, business development. What aspect of each area do you enjoy the most?


As Dominic Hains, our Canadian CEO said, reinsurance pricing is a nice balance between direct pricing and actuarial consultation. You work with clients who have critical deadlines, but since they speak our language, they are able to communicate their needs and requirements clearly and effectively. They know what they want, and they know how to ask for it! Pricing teams see a great variety of products as well, so the diversity makes you a well-rounded actuary. I also loved being exposed to different aspects of client experience and the different philosophies involved in the work.


I originally planned to work in valuation for two or three years but found myself staying for eight! My time there involved two very different yet challenging roles. First, I led a small team responsible for calculating the reserves for longevity, group insurance, creditor and living benefits reinsurance. I loved how empowering it was to propose and make process improvements, especially those that reduce time and risk. The benefits of creating and deploying these changes are multiplied because you reuse your processes much more often and save precious time.

The second position was in capital and financing, where I was responsible for our statutory capital filings, financial condition testing (FCT) reporting as well as our financing needs. My priority was to make sure RGA Canada was never short on capital. FCT is an extremely interesting project to be part of and I encourage anyone who wants to learn what their company is made of to at least read their own company’s report or, even better, help write it. You see what generates excess capital over time, what drains it and what are the largest risks to which your company is sensitive.

Another neat aspect of this capital role was all the great industry discussions surrounding the Life Insurance Capital Adequacy Test and what it would look like under IFRS 17. There was so much brain power in those meetings! I got to meet and collaborate with many leaders and learned so much more than I ever expected I would.

Business development

From the beginning of my career, I knew I wanted to do business development (BD). Around 2008, I saw a job posting for a dream BD role at RGA. I printed it, highlighted the requirements, and pinned it to my cubicle wall. I looked at it every day. I knew I needed to get varied experience in both the front and back office to be able to serve our clients well in that role.

Fast forward to 2022: I achieved my goal. I’ve occupied business development roles since 2022 and I’ve loved every minute of it. I often catch myself smiling and feeling so happy and grateful for the work I get to do. I especially love spending time with partner-clients in face-to-face meetings, listening to their needs and finding solutions. I get to collaborate with truly good, smart people. Doing everything in our power to help clients be successful is fun and fulfilling.

4. You are an avid CIA volunteer. Tell us about your volunteer experiences.

I first participated on the Critical Illness Research Committee’s Project Oversight Group. It was my first volunteer experience. At the time, I had young kids, was busy at work and always thought, “I’ll volunteer one day, but not now.” My mentor back then simply signed me up and told me you’ll always find time for things you want to do, and they were right. It was fun, I learned a lot, and I met some nice industry colleagues. Well worth it.

Then 2019, I became Chair of the Continuing Education: Individual Life and Health (ILH) Subcommittee. We were responsible for providing continuing professional development (CPD) content in the ILH track. The main CPD event is the CIA Annual Conference but there are also seminars and webcasts. In this role I also met with some amazingly passionate actuaries across the country. I really had fun and I guess it showed.

I was asked to become chair of the Continuing Education Committee. It was similar to the ILH Subcommittee, but I had to let go of curating individual sessions and instead focus on what the CIA’s whole CPD system’s purpose is: what it offers to members, how it helps them progress in their careers, and how the CIA at large supports industry growth and development. What I really enjoy about the role is collaborating with my colleagues and shaping our committee’s vision with the support and encouragement of outstanding CIA staff members. You would be surprised to see how many emails and meetings go into planning the Annual Conference, yet it’s all worth it when you wrap up a successful event.

5. You have fundraised several times for your community. Why is that important to you?

When you feel lucky in life, it’s good to give back, and giving back to our communities has always been core to RGA’s values. They generously give us a day off for volunteering every year because it is that important to RGA as a global organization.

I started off my fundraising efforts for Extra-Life, which benefits the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals through gaming. I picked up streaming games during the COVID-19 lockdown and during two Game Days in 2021 and 2022, I livestreamed playing video games all day, raising $3,000 for Extra-Life. That’s when I realized that if I can raise that much sitting on my butt, imagine how much I could raise if I did something strenuous.

Since I was already running marathons, I had the idea to try running 80km to raise money for a charity. I chose to fundraise for United Way (Centraide in French). RGA is a great ongoing supporter of United Way because it is an amazing charity that ensures your money goes to organizations within your local community to help those who need it most. On April 28, 2023, I ran 80km on my treadmill and livestreamed the full eight and a half hours. Together with RGA’s matching donation, we raised $9,600. It was a very gratifying experience and something I would like to do again.

6. You are an actuary, a gamer, a volunteer, a father of five, a husband, a runner, and now a weightlifter. Any tips for us mere mortals on time management?

First, I go through phases and don’t do all that every day. I do try to optimize my time as much as possible. My general rule is simple: deliberately choose what and where you want to invest your time and energy. In my case, it’s activities that make me happy and contribute to my mental and physical health or my career. I also make it a habit to check in with myself during the day, asking myself if I’m investing time and energy in the things that matter. If the answer is no, I refocus and adjust to meet my needs and goals. For example, I have deleted many social media apps as they were not contributing to my happiness. I only watch TV and movies with my family or when I’m on the treadmill.

My other best practice is to combine activities. Listen to audiobooks while exercising. Run or bike to work – if you add in an audiobook, that’s a hat trick! I want to be clear this is not multitasking. I don’t multitask. Too many studies show how much time is wasted when your focus changes from one task to another. I reserve time to deeply focus on one task at a time, and I silence the notifications on my phone and computer to preserve my focus.

Finally, I do have an amazing secret weapon behind everything I do: I have my best friend and partner without whom none of this would be possible. My wife Anh (Hieu Anh Nguyen) is a pillar of support for my family and me, enabling me to dedicate myself more fully to RGA, our partners, and my goals. Her contributions are immeasurable, and I am profoundly thankful for all the ways she uplifts our family.

7. What does personal growth mean to you?

This is a deep one. For me, personal growth is progress towards a goal that was previously outside of your comfort zone. It’s looking back with pride at where you come from, where you are and where you’re going. You can spot growth in all aspects of life.

8. How do you define success and fulfilment?

Success and fulfilment are ongoing. Set your goal, break it down into achievable steps, reach it, celebrate it, then do it again. The bigger the goal, the stronger the feelings of celebration and fulfilment will be. Something we actuaries have in common are the actuarial exams, which are extremely challenging. When you pass the last one and the struggle is over, the feeling is incredible. The feelings of accomplishment and pride I experienced lasted many months and continue to be a source of confidence and self-encouragement for me.

9. What are your core values?

I am:

  • Faithful: I am extremely faithful to my family, friends, and colleagues. When I feel like I belong with someone, I would do anything to help that person.
  • Accountable: I always try my best to keep promises and communicate proactively if anything deviates from the plan.
  • Purpose-driven: I would say this is my most defining core value. This is how I’m wired, deep down. If what I’m doing isn’t checking off some kind of item on a list, I feel like I’m losing my time. Someone once told me that this was a sad way to live, but I feel incredibly happy.

10. Why the 1,000-pound club?

After the 80km run, I was looking for a new challenge. During a marathon race in October 2023, I had a lot of time to think, and decided I would pivot from running to weightlifting. A few years ago, I listened to a bodybuilding audiobook, and the messages and lessons from it really stayed with me. I wanted to give that program a try.

Since then, I’ve been weightlifting five times a week. Three of those days are with my 13-year-old son. It’s definitely much more fun to have a training partner and this is great bonding time. At a lunch in March 2024, a very strong gentleman told me about his goal of joining the 1,000-pound club. Only a very small percentage of people can do that. It really spoke to me. Several colleagues and I decided to take that ride and join that club.

To make it a little more unique, here’s my plan: Once I reach the capability of lifting those weights, I will lift “the 1,000lbs” one morning, then take a solo marathon run. This is my new health goal and I feel really happy and excited to work towards it.

This article reflects the opinion of the interviewer and respondent respectively and does not represent an official statement of the CIA.

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