This month, we introduce you to Joanna Chardon, Chief Product and Pricing Officer at Wakam, the digital French insurer that provides products for large European platforms and insurtechs. Among its clients, Wakam counts well-known names in the tech industry such as Deliveroo and Uber. In 2021, its turnover reached €450 million; a growth mainly driven by international business.
Joanna Chardon is one of the big names in pricing in France. As Head of Wakam’s Advanced Pricing Analytics, Pre-sales Pricing, Products and Underwriters teams, she talks to us openly about her career as an actuary.
Hi Joanna! What a pleasure to make this interview with you today. You are undoubtedly one of the leading figures in the field of pricing in France. Can you tell us about your career path?
After my studies at the University of Gdansk in Poland, I started my professional life as an actuary in the Technical department of AXA XL (formerly AXA Corporate Solution). I oversaw the evaluation of specific risks such as asbestos, pollution or pharmaceutical risks. An experience far away from mass risk pricing, in which I later specialised by participating in the creation of AXA’s direct entity in Poland in 2007. This exciting adventure led me to pursue my career in a new entity of AXA Global Direct. I held several successive positions as the global pricing teams grew. We built excellent teams in an international and very entrepreneurial context.
In 2018, I joined AXA France to build the “Center of Pricing Excellence” and help the local pricing teams to refine and industrialise their existing pricing methods and processes.
Finally in June 2020, I decided to join the insurtech Wakam to support its international growth and expansion.
Why this turn in your career after so many years at AXA?
Big companies are very formative and can offer the opportunity to work on large-scale projects. Indeed, I have spent almost 20 years in this environment, working in many different positions without ever getting bored. If you are looking for a well-defined job, to be part of a group with defined processes, to gain experience and to have a certain stability, a big international firm seems to meet these expectations perfectly.
However, with the explosion of the insurtech ecosystem, I simply wanted to explore these new distribution approaches in the insurance world. The opportunity that arose at Wakam corresponded perfectly to this desire. At Wakam, we are immersed in an insurtech culture, but we are also in partnership with many start-ups in different European countries. A change of scenery is guaranteed. Working in this environment requires a deeper commitment. You shouldn’t arrive with too many certainties but rather with a positive attitude of looking for solutions. You must also participate fully in the growth and success of the company in order to fulfil your potential. In the end, it requires a very entrepreneurial attitude to see opportunities where others do not.
Wakam is an insurtech with strong values (freedom, curiosity, excellence…) Has its corporate culture brought a new dynamic to your way of working?
At Wakam, everything moves very fast. The progress we’ve made in only 2 years is incredible. All “Wakamees” are free to tackle tasks of any scale and proactivity means not just taking orders from the boss but suggesting actions to customers to improve the product or service.
In such a culture, the executives are behaving like coaches rather than typical managers. In other words, it’s more about accompanying those who “move mountains” to help them reach their goal and realise their ideas. This is a very different attitude from what I have seen in bigger companies. At Wakam, we cultivate a mentality of entrepreneurs who see the same reality as others, but who manage to find ways to transform it. Of course, this creates a whole new dynamic that requires a strong team spirit and the ability to take risks. Facing obstacles is also our daily routine.
What do you like most about your job at Wakam?
In such a varied and dynamic environment, you learn at high speed. It’s very satisfying and challenging. I have an incredibly passionate and dedicated team, really! They are very motivated people who are progressing very quickly. It’s great to support them in their progress. The human relationships are very enriching at Wakam.
Your team is made up of various profiles (end-to-end and pre-sales). How does this impact your role as Chief Product and Pricing Officer?
I am responsible for several teams: Advanced Pricing Analytics, Pre-sales Pricing, Products and Underwriters. These are teams that are growing very fast. In 2 years, we have gone from a very small team to 25 people (and we are still growing!). Together with my managers, we have succeeded in building high-performance teams with great cohesion, where each person is in their place. It’s a mix of balance and complementarity in our approach to managing projects with collective objectives. On a daily basis, I simply try to live up to their ambitions.
Can you tell us about one of the challenging projects you are currently working on at Wakam?
There are a lot of very important projects at Wakam. It is challenging to manage them all at the same time. However, with our rapid growth, we are focusing on the industrialisation of our processes and practices. In this context, I can probably mention the project to develop our APIs, which will allow us not only to manage our numerous pricing models but also to collect data dynamically to allow almost instantaneous pricing adjustments. This is a high impact project that brings together the pricing, IT and data teams.
What are the current and future challenges for all those working in pricing?
Most pricing teams are sitting on a huge wealth of strategic information. In the course of their work, they accumulate a ton of performance data that could be used to better inform several strategic decisions. Providing data to decision makers is a key responsibility for most pricing teams. But doing it right is a significant challenge.
According to Women in Finance, less than 30% of senior managers in finance are women. What advice would you give women to reach the highest positions?
Shirley Chisholm, the first black female member of the US Congress, once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Women must continue to demand their place in leadership and decision-making. We must remain authentic. We must not misrepresent who we are. As a woman, I certainly don’t have the same way of managing teams as a man and this is exactly how I make a difference.
An experience during your career that has marked you the most?
My experience is the fruit of an incremental learning process, an alchemical relationship between its different constituents. Everything is important – every encounter, every project, every assignment. To cut them out or isolate them would be to reduce them. At times, details that seemed insignificant before come back to me with great precision. It is a whole that leaves its mark as it goes along.
A lesson learned during your career?
To really believe in the intelligence of people and their full potential. I believe that simplicity and common sense have a bright future.
If you could change one thing about your job?
Not only in my job, but more generally, I aspire to a more inclusive and tolerant society that is open to differences with a kind of collective intelligence. It is an intelligence that can be learned, maintained, and passed on.
Let’s finish with our last signature question, the one we ask everyone to end an interview. Whether personal or professional: what would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
In general, I make my choices in accordance with my intuitions, so it’s not a question of daring, but rather of maturing ideas or the right moment. I dream of certain trips to discover very different ways of life, but compatible with the climate challenges. An idea that needs to mature further.
Thank you very much for your time and your answers.