Firm visit opens students up to possibilities

A 4am bus trip to reinsurance and data analytics companies in Sydney proved well worth it for senior actuarial students. Advice from experienced actuaries helped challenge stereotypes and uncover mysteries shrouding ‘real world’ actuarial work and career opportunities. Rahual Ram reports.

One early morning in May 2015, a group of 20 penultimate and final year ANU actuarial students boarded a bus up to Sydney to attend the annual AFEC Actuarial Trip. The aim of the trip was to provide an educational insight into the inner workings of actuarial firms and the type of work that could be expected from a qualified actuary in the industry. This trip has been a consistent tradition of AFEC for the last seven years and it was with excitement that I attended this trip as an organiser this year.

With this in mind, my team and I approached many Sydney actuarial firms including AMP, Reinsurance Group of America, Quantium, Ernst & Young, PwC, Zurich Financial Services and Deloitte who we were lucky enough to fit into our tight two day schedule. Being able to secure such prestigious and diverse firms was a real privilege for the students attending the trip as it gave a rewarding insight into the applicability of actuarial skills throughout the financial sector. Each company prepared a short presentation followed by a networking session where a range of actuaries from both the life insurance and general insurance divisions were present to answer any of the students’ questions.

“There is quite a bit of mystery and complexity that shrouds the actuarial trade which imbues a lot of uncertainty in students.”

For many of the students, this was their first time venturing into the financial capital of Australia so when we boarded our bus at 4am I received a lot of nervous questions on what exactly some of the firms did. In particular, the reinsurance and data analytic companies seemed to be shrouded in a veil of mystery as to their actual inner mechanisms.

It wasn’t till we actually visited RGA and Quantium that it became clear as to how the actuarial skills we learn in university could be applied to reinsurance and data analytics. The feedback from all the students was overwhelmingly positive in relation to both these companies. Most of us had walked in expecting a dull and boring discussion on the role reinsurance and insurance plays in the Australian economy but were pleasantly surprised by the diversity and complexity of the work undertaken. In particular, the presentations linked various skills, such as modelling risk and financial instrument pricing, that we had learnt through our university degrees with real life applications. This aided in clearing some of the mystery surrounding the actuarial industry by providing solid products to theoretical concepts for many of the students, including myself.

“it was surprising to see that all firms, including the corporates, didn’t fit into this stereotype.”

The students also appreciated the friendly and open atmosphere at RGA and Zurich. In the case of both these companies, we were greeted by the Chief Actuaries in their respective fields which shocked many of us as we were not expecting to be able to talk with actuaries who had progressed so far into the industry. RGA, in particular, had both their Chief of Pricing Actuary in the Asia Pacific Region, Alissa Holz, and Regional Head of Human Resources, Andrew Bishop, who had just flown in from Japan that morning, in attendance. They made time in their busy schedules to give us a presentation on why they decided to follow the path to becoming an actuary and what exactly their jobs entailed. Zurich also had a very informative presentation from actuaries in each of their operating divisions which really gave the students a well-rounded and holistic image of the actuarial industry.

“…the firms really helped to ease a lot of the concerns students had regarding the difficulty of the path to becoming an actuary”

AMP, EY, PwC and Deloitte all gave presentations from their actuarial divisions which the students, including myself, found extremely informative. In particular, the firms helped contrast the varying types of insurance such as life and general insurance. I found this helpful in compartmentalising the skills taught in the core technical modules at ANU such as Life Contingencies and Risk Theory. It really assisted in solidifying the theoretical material taught in these courses with real life examples. They also helped illustrate the divergence between corporate and consultancy firms in the types of work and applications of actuarial skills. The general view before the trip was that consultancies had a larger range of projects but longer hours whilst corporates dealt with repetitive work from 9am to 5pm each day.  However, it was surprising to see that all firms, including the corporates, didn’t fit into this stereotype. In fact, the corporates were relatively more innovative and diverse in their application of actuarial techniques.

I also received feedback from a range of students saying how the presentations from these firms changed their perspectives on pursuing their Part II and III qualifications. The general view was that the Part I qualification is relatively easier than the subsequent Part II and III exams which is an intimidating barrier for most students studying an actuarial science degree. However, through both the presentations and the networking sessions, the firms really helped to ease a lot of the concerns students had regarding the difficulty of the path to becoming an actuary. The team from PwC and EY were particularly helpful in this regard as they invited several recent graduates along who had just completed their first Part II exams. These graduates advised that Part II exams were very practical and hence, if you worked in the actuarial industry, you could easily relate to the material being taught making it much easier to understand.

Overall, the actuarial trip was a great and rewarding experience for all the students that attended. From an actuarial student’s perspective, it is quite difficult to make the link between what is being taught in university and the practical applications presented within the industry itself. There is quite a bit of mystery and complexity that shrouds the actuarial trade which imbues a lot of uncertainty in students. It isn’t till you talk with fellow actuaries that have walked down the path before you that it really becomes clear the kinds of diverse and interesting applications that actuarial skills have within the real world. That is why I believe the actuarial trip was an immensely valuable insight as the students not only got to meet future potential employers but were also able to pierce the veil and discover the interesting opportunities within the actuarial industry.  

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