Donal Nugent, journalist

Accountants are often at pains to point out they are more than number-crunchers. However, when your career involves both ACCA membership and senior actuarial roles, it can be no surprise to find a love of mathematics bubbling under the surface. Jennifer Loftus FCCA, CFO and risk officer with insurer Acorn Life, was so enamored of the subject at school that ‘by the time I was in fifth year I was doing maths exam papers for fun. It was like a hobby, I got such a thrill out of the problem-solving aspect of it.’

When she set her sights on becoming an actuary, the appeal continued to centre on the technical side of the role, but Loftus credits ACCA with helping expand her view of what she could achieve. ‘I had no aspirations to management when I started out and probably didn’t think I had leadership skills. When I began studying ACCA, I started thinking more seriously about purpose, ESG issues and the social impact of my role.’

Long-term commitment

Loftus joined Acorn Life straight out of college in 2003, little guessing the company would prove the mainstay of her career. ‘I had the travel bug and fully expected after a few years I would be working abroad. However, I’m from Mayo and I identify strongly with the west of Ireland. I found I didn’t want to leave Galway, where Acorn Life is based, and instead I would use my annual leave in single bundles to travel.’

‘Acorn Life remains the only 100% Irish-owned life assurance business’

Company ethos has, of course, also been integral to her long-term commitment. ‘Acorn Life was founded by businessman Gerry O’Connell in 1989,’ she explains. ‘It was a brave move to set up a standalone insurance company in Ireland at the time and today it remains the only 100% Irish-owned life assurance business. This is something I feel passionate about in terms of serving our customers. As the company has grown, I really feel I’ve been part of a journey.’

Career overlap

ACCA entered the picture at the suggestion of a colleague who ‘saw an overlap between my role and accountancy in terms of financial reporting. I was spending a lot of time interrogating profit and loss accounts, and found I really enjoyed it. Also, as an actuary, I tend to bring risk mitigation into my life. ACCA is widely known and recognized, so I saw it as something of a career insurance policy if I wanted to change path.’

‘There has to be a reciprocal relationship between an enterprise and its stakeholders’

The strong focus on ethics in the ACCA syllabus resonated so much that Loftus came first in Ireland in the subject. Questions around responsible management and leadership continue to engage her. ‘Businesses don’t have a divine right to exist,’ she says. There has to be a reciprocal relationship between an enterprise and its stakeholders. I see myself as very much guided by the four Ps – people, purpose, planet and profit.’

Company background


Acorn Life has 11 branches across Ireland and employs over 300 people


Funds under management of €936m


Company named among Ireland’s best managed companies by Deloitte


Acorn Life established in Galway by businessman Gerry O’Connell

Spotting potential

A love of mentoring has also played a part in the development of her leadership style. ‘Seeing the potential in others is a huge part of management and gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction. It’s very rewarding to help people discover abilities they may not have realised they had.’

Loftus remains an avid learner herself and recently completed an MSc in Data Analytics. ‘I had to catch up on CPD a few years ago and I found my eyes opened to the new opportunities out there because of advanced computing power. I did the Master’s through the Springboard programme. It opened doors I thought were closed and has left me very excited about AI and the advances that data analytics will bring.’

‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’

Indeed, Loftus reflects that ‘bringing together ACCA and my actuarial qualifications has given me a holistic view of the finance function. As an accountant, I assess past data and as an actuary I focus on the future.’

Creative side

Holistic could also be used to describe what Loftus calls her ‘parallel existence with the children’s theatre company Branar,’ where she is a board member and director. Based in the West of Ireland, Branar has won acclaim for its highly imaginative and engaging approach to theatre and the arts.

She is particularly proud to be involved in the Acorn Arts Flag project, which sees the company work with students to bring ambitious arts projects to life in their schools. After a break during the Covid years, it has now returned as the Digital Arts Flag, reaching more children in more schools through a virtual approach.

Loftus has also been known to express her creative side more directly as a participant in Galway’s celebrated Macnas parades, which she describes as ‘a bomb of colour and positivity’. As to what drives a career seamlessly built on two complimentary disciplines and lightly subverted by a zest for creativity, Loftus says: ‘I have a quote framed on my desk that says “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. This has been a guiding star throughout my career. It can be daunting to find yourself in at the deep end, but navigating it will always prove worthwhile.’



Chief financial and risk officer, Acorn Life


Joins Branar theatre company as board member and director


Head of actuarial function, Acorn Life


Becomes member of ACCA


Joins Acorn Life as trainee actuary