Deciding which direction to take your career path in can be tricky. Martin Mulcare asked eight qualified practitioners how they came to be actuaries and why they love their work.

Gaurav AgrawalGaurav Agrawal

Admittedly, I had not heard of the term ‘actuary’ until I was sitting my Higher School Certificate exams and contemplating what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Having spoken to few people around me, and done well (enough) in my exams, I had the dilemma of accepting an offer for Dentistry at the Gold Coast – away from family, living the independent life – or to enrol in an Actuarial Studies program, 10 minutes away from home. As you can probably guess, I took the latter option and while it didn’t present the ancillary benefits of being able to go to the beach every day I have never looked back.

Given there is much talk these days about actuaries pursuing ‘non-traditional’ career pathways, it is pleasing for me to be able to speak about my career to date as being anything but traditional. I spent almost first five years out of university working for regulators – first the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and then the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA). In that time I gained exposure to unique insights, industry knowledge and some very knowledgeable people (including actuaries), all of which has shaped my thinking and informed my aspirations for what an ‘ideal’ career path might look like for me.

Currently, I am an Actuarial Analyst in the Consulting and Research team at Rice Warner, where over the past eight months I have undoubtedly fast-tracked my learning and gained exposure to some very interesting and again slightly non-traditional work encompassing tenders, benchmarking, member experience projections and funeral fund valuations. Having recently qualified as an Associate, I now set my sights on achieving the Holy Grail that is FIAA and embarking on roles in markets overseas. One thing that I have taken away from my experiences to date is that our profession is certainly very highly regarded across roles and disciplines and if nothing else, the ‘actuary’ tag is always a great conversation starter.

Lucy GoulopoulosLucy Goulopoulos

Like most people, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after finishing school. I chose actuarial studies because I liked maths, and because it had a fairly specific career at the end of the degree – Actuary. I graduated from University of Melbourne in 2013 and while I am now (almost) an Actuary, the opportunities have been a lot broader than expected.

It turns out being an Actuary doesn’t just mean you work in insurance. Having previously worked in investment banking and data analytics, I am now an options trader at Optiver. I work in a small team and our job is to provide quotes and trade option contracts on Hong Kong index futures and listed stocks. I negotiate trades over the phone with brokers located in Hong Kong, while my colleagues make trades electronically on the screen via a high-speed connection to the exchange.

The skills I gained training as an Actuary are the same as those I now use day-to-day. A lot of the job is problem solving – the market is like a puzzle, and we take all of the information available to come up with a solution for the best trades to make, while managing our risk exposures. There is also a big focus on teamwork, almost like playing in a sports team – as soon as the market opens the team turns into competition mode, with the aim to work together to kick as many goals as possible before the final buzzer.

My advice to any prospective actuaries would be not to feel boxed in and consider your “options” as your degree really can take you anywhere.

Tom McCutcheonTom McCutcheon

I finished high school without a burning desire to do anything in particular. So I picked a course that sounded interesting, a Bachelor of Science at UNSW majoring in Biochemistry and Genetics. Actuarial studies sounded a bit “mathsy” and boring. I learned a lot of very interesting things, including that scientific research was not for me. I took a bit of time to work out what I really wanted to do: I sold shoes for a couple of months; I worked in a radiology clinic for a while and saw scans of quite a few unfortunate people.

Finally I went back to UNSW to do a Masters of Actuarial Studies. During this course I did a vacation program at Ernst & Young and met some fantastic people – and did some work that wasn’t “mathsy” and boring. I spent a bit of time getting through the Part III exams. I may have been faster if the Investments course hadn’t stopped being offered after I’d only had a couple of goes (or maybe this was a blessing). But during this time I managed to break several bones (mostly my own playing rugby), get married and start a family (although small children and studying are nearly mutually exclusive).

While I have finished the formal learning requirements, the Professionalism Course has reinforced to me that the Actuarial profession offers a lifetime of learning opportunities.

Niroshan SathiyamoorthyNiro Sathiyamoorthy

I’m Niro and I currently work for a health insurer. I am part of a small team of actuaries and business analysts reporting to the Appointed Actuary.

Coming from a GI pricing background, I would say one of the big surprises for me was the high degree of regulatory and parliamentary involvement within the health industry. It did take some time for me to acclimatise to the idea of a single rating factor system and the constraint of one price change per year. This, nevertheless, makes the monitoring of business mix particularly important for my role.

Work as an actuary of a health insurer can be quite seasonal. For my team the busy period generally begins in July, with statutory obligations (insurance liability valuations and FCRs) taking the majority of our time. This is usually followed by the “premium round” process where we are involved in the setting of new rates effective April 1 the following year.

The favourite aspects of my job include building predictive models, sharing insights across the business and the 9:30am cappuccino.

Although maths is what I love doing at work, music is what I love doing outside of work. I tutor drum kit, guitar, keyboard and the Miruthangam (a South Indian drum). I also direct a Bollywood band where we undertake tours in Melbourne and Sydney. Before committing to actuarial studies I released my first music album and, now that my exams are over, I’m looking forward to hopefully releasing my next album later on this year.

Vaibhav SharmaVaibhav Sharma

Coming from a family of engineers, it wasn’t the easiest of decisions for me to choose a career as an actuary. I had always envisioned following in the footsteps of those before me. So what made me do it? Well the challenge of being able to provide valuable insights to support and influence decision-making in a range of uncertain environments was too hard to resist.

After completing my tertiary education at Macquarie University, I was fortunate enough to commence my career at the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), a world-class financial regulator. My responsibilities included providing specialist advice and better understanding key insurance risks across life insurance institutions in Australia. I loved every minute of it but my curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to understand how these institutions came to their conclusions – and so, I moved to Rice Warner.  Here, I am involved in a vast range of consulting projects across life insurance, superannuation and investments that range from remediation and market entry strategies to running large-scale tenders.

I feel fortunate to be in a role unraveling challenges and improving the end results for clients. I have gained an immense breadth of experience and been provided with unmatched exposure to the financial service industry. One of the most enjoyable things has been interacting with and making new professional acquaintances. I have been able to grow my network in both an interactive and technical capacity.

So, what’s next? A few more exams, of course! In the coming years I want to continue to nurture and develop my skills and take up the challenge of adapting and applying these in overseas markets.

Looking back, becoming an actuary was definitely the right decision.

Fiona TsangFiona Tsang

“Good pay” and “high fail rate” are two things that are often associated with actuarial studies when you hear about it as a high school student. For me, the fear of failing maths, a subject I thought I was really good at, was enough to discourage me from considering actuarial studies at university. 

However, somewhere along the way, an Actuary was able to convince me that the very high probability of failing will be justified by not only good pay, but also a wide range of career opportunities and a chance to join a well respected profession. Next thing you know, I became one of the first to graduate from Monash University’s pilot actuarial program.

I began my career as an actuarial analyst at Mercer three years ago. From traditional defined benefits to non-traditional areas like predictive data analytics and comparing different retirement income systems, I’ve had the opportunity to experience and witness just how versatile the actuarial skill set is. I now appreciate the doors that an actuarial qualification can open.

With the intention to pursue non-traditional areas of work, I’m currently the Product Manager for Mercer LifetimePlus. The emphasis on post retirement, particularly longevity risk and income stream products, is increasing as baby boomers head into retirement. Being able to develop and promote solutions that will positively impact their retirement is extremely exciting and rewarding!

Meg YangMeg Yang

By chance, while still studying at university, I was asked to help organise a trip for a group of Chinese tourists in Australia. Back then I hadn’t traveled around Australia much so this seemed like the perfect excuse to explore and also try a worthwhile business opportunity. Without a second thought I had started my own travel agency and kept the ball rolling for over six months. This was until I realised just how demanding my actuarial course was! I then faced the problem: an entrepreneur or an actuary? My answer was obviously the latter. Now, being an Associate, I proudly believe I made the right choice.

After graduating, I joined Mercer as an actuarial analyst within its Retirement department. My enthusiasm for super stems primarily from my university studies. I was intrigued by the Australian system, where the pressure of saving enough for retirement is largely shifted onto individuals’ shoulders. I was interested in how actuaries could help build a better pension system to protect individuals from a poor retirement. At Mercer, I was given the opportunity to be involved in the production of the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, which evaluates different pension systems around the world. More recently, I have worked on the Mercer Retirement Readiness Index, which helps super funds monitor whether their members are on track for a comfortable retirement. I enjoyed every minute working on these interesting projects.  

When I’m not working or studying, I have a deep passion for horse riding, and believe that there is an elegant if not effortless beauty to the sport. Hopefully one day in the near future, I can work as a Fellow of the Institute from Monday to Friday and become an amateur equestrian over the weekend!

Kevin ZhongKevin Zhong

So why actuarial studies? Many of my friends and family members asked me this question when I decided to attend Macquarie University to pursue a degree in actuarial studies. And to be honest, I actually didn’t know why back then. I guess I chose it because I get bored easily, I love challenges, and of course, I am good at maths. So I decided that actuarial studies was the right degree for me, and I have never looked back. I love the ability to apply maths and statistics techniques to solve complex problems in the financial world and making a difference.  

I joined APRA in its 2012 Graduate Program. During my time in APRA, I have rotated through Industry Analysis and Statistics, and I am currently working as a Frontline Supervisor (Diversified Institutions Division).  I am responsible for supervising large Australia and multi-national corporations, mainly in the life insurance and superannuation industries. What I love about my job is the wide variety of issues and problems we get to solve. I also enjoy the challenge of being up to date with the latest industry and global trends, and being exposed to different industries, Senior Management and Boards of Directors of different entities. However, above all of those, what I love the most about my job is making a difference and contributing to the financial stability of the Australian financial markets, especially protecting the beneficiaries of financial institutions. I will be moving into the Actuarial Services (Life Insurance) in March where I will have the opportunity to be exposed to more traditional actuarial work.  

I am amazed how much actuarial studies had to offer and I am excited to see where it may take me in the next stage of my career. But for now, back to prudential supervision!

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