I am an Actuary – November 2016
Following the Professionalism Course, Martin Mulcare presents the most recent instalment of the ‘I am an Actuary’ series. Read on to find out more about six young and ambitious actuaries.
Standing on top of the spire of Centrepoint Tower in Sydney is a long way from the Professionalism Course. However, my career has managed to take me from the top of a tower to being able to call myself an actuary. I was a latecomer to the actuarial profession. While finishing my Engineering and Commerce degrees, I thought a management consulting job was where I wanted to be. I stumbled upon Trowbridge Deloitte and Actuarial consulting. It was a great role, solving business problems with rigorous logic behind it. I knew I had a bit of study to do, but how hard could it be…
So my actuarial career started at Trowbridge, where I enjoyed working on a variety of challenging projects across the financial services industry, including what were then non-traditional areas like customer analytics. After my 8th year of study post school, and no end in sight, I decided to take a break. I made the big decision to go back to work as a structural engineer. I was able to work on iconic projects including modelling Centrepoint Tower as part of its redevelopment, BridgeClimb and a 1000m high building.
However, the actuary in me was still there, and so after 6 years working as a structural engineer I made my way back. Deloitte again offered me a role where I could utilise the skills and expertise I gained in engineering within an actuarial team. Late in 2015 I made the move to a corporate role at TAL. It is here that I have been able to see the value that actuaries make to peoples lives on a daily basis.
So 12 years after I sat my first 100 series exam, I found myself sitting in the Professionalism Course so that I now can call myself an ‘Actuary’.
Signing up for actuarial studies at the end of my school career, it’s fair to say that I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. Someone had told me that it was a good option if you liked maths but didn’t want to end up an academic. I had some sort of inkling about lots of very hard exams, and some further study after uni. But as someone who never shied away from tough academic situations, this didn’t put me off.
Little did I know that it would be eight years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears before I would finally be on the cusp of becoming a qualified actuary. I took a couple of years off to travel along the way, and started my graduate position at Finity Consulting in 2015.
Going from spending a year in hostels where the toughest challenge was trying (unsuccessfully) to not get robbed, starting work was hard. My brain was rusty and the learning curve steep. After floundering a little, I eventually rose to the challenge.
I now spend most of my time valuing Christchurch earthquake liabilities (yes, they still exist). I also dabble a little in pricing, and various other projects.
I’ve found the consulting life to be pretty much as advertised – yes, there is the opportunity to get involved in a lot of different things. Yes, you do learn a huge amount. And yes, the hours are long! Let’s just say I’m looking forward to my upcoming holiday… but in truth, I love the job and have found it to be a great starting point for my career.
During Year 12, my high school economics teacher mentioned I should look into something called “actuarial studies” as a possible career option. A couple of Google searches painted me a career path which promised a lot of problem-solving in a business context using probability and statistics. The prospect of getting financially rewarded for doing something I enjoyed was quite difficult to say ‘no’ to, so I promptly put down actuarial studies at UNSW as my first preference. Five years later, I came out with a double degree (with a maths major purely out of interest) and no regrets.
My actuarial career started in IAG as a motor pricing analyst, where my main role was to provide statistical analysis of the expected technical cost and customer elasticity on the motor portfolio, all of which are factored into devising pricing strategies. One of the most valuable lessons I have learnt in the last 3.5 years has been how to communicate technical analysis to a non-technical audience. This is crucial in transforming solid insights and knowledge from data into actions which deliver real value for both customers and the insurance company.
Given the recent popularity in “big data” and “machine learning”, I have had opportunities to try out newer data science techniques in order to glean deeper insights into our customers’ behaviour. I think the growing popularity of data science provides actuaries with new opportunities not only as practitioners of these methodologies but also by being the bridge which connects data science to better decision making within the company.
The first time I heard of the actuarial profession was from one of my sixth form teachers in the UK, who mentioned to me in passing that it was a great career for mathematically minded people. I had already decided I was going to be a doctor so ignored the advice. Yet when I moved to New Zealand my love of mathematics won over and I decided to study it at university instead of medicine.
Throughout my degree, I always had an actuarial career in the back of my mind so I jumped at the opportunity to start work as a GI Pricing Analyst straight after I graduated. This provided me with a massive variety of work, from generalised linear modelling for technical rate reviews to algorithm system design, migration and testing, to using GIS software for mapping earthquake claims.
More recently I have moved into Portfolio Management. I am now focused on profitability and premium growth at portfolio and brand levels, as well as recommending solutions for declining books. This gives me the opportunity to engage with stakeholders across the business. I love that in my job as no two days are ever the same.
The profession is much smaller in New Zealand than in Australia, with only three of us studying in Christchurch. The Professionalism Course held in Sydney recently was a great chance to meet people and it struck me how diverse the profession is. I was inspired to take control of my own career and make the most of my opportunities.
I’m not your typical actuary. I’m outgoing, definitely not risk averse, actively seek change, and I don’t have a good eye for detail.
Originally I planned to use the skills I got from actuarial studies for get-rich-quick algorithmic trading. Wrong! Then, whilst at UNSW, I interned in superannuation at Mercer, but in classic Gen Y style I needed to find myself, so deferred a semester to become a ski instructor in Canada. Besides, doing Part II at uni meant deferring wouldn’t even delay my graduation. Awesome!
I strongly considered a career as a ski instructor but returned to Sydney, taking an offer at a non-bank mortgage lender creating forecast models for non-conforming RMBS. Upon graduating, I moved to their subsidiary (a securitisation-focused credit fund manager), created models/processes which allowed them to grow five times in three years without hiring more staff, and became a portfolio manager along the way.
One Valentine’s Day, I delivered roses for fun as a courier. Using a route optimisation app, I finished hours before all other couriers, so I started exploring optimisation algorithms in R. Then, I taught myself Python and started a route optimisation SaaS business (tarotrouting.com) in my spare time. We’re now onboarding our first few users, and I’ve cut back to part time at the investments business.
Actuaries: Don’t ever think you’re locked into a career path and don’t hesitate to change specialisations or jobs. You can always go back to your old career (or equivalent) if you realise you don’t like the new one. And if you know anyone who needs route optimisation…
Finishing high school and having studied unit 4 maths and music/music extension I was faced with two paths. To embark on a music career or take the safe option of doing a course like commerce, law or engineering. After speaking to many people including accountants and actuaries alike I chose to take the safer commerce path at the University of New South Wales. It was only in my second semester of my first year that I chose to take the actuarial path, a difficult one but one that I have not regretted to this day.
I began part time work in the last year of my degree at Wesfarmers Insurance whilst completing my triple major in Actuarial, Finance and Financial Economics. During my time at Wesfarmers, I enjoyed an array of projects including pricing, reinsurance, natural perils modelling and economic capital modelling. As a smaller general insurance company, this gave me exposure to all aspects of building an Actuarial Control Cycle from scratch.
After the IAG and Wesfarmers merger in 2014, I worked extensively with the CGU pricing team in Melbourne after eventually settling in a more business facing role in a portfolio and pricing role in the Commercial Insurance underwriting division. From there, I moved into a technical pricing role in Workers Compensation. I eventually settled into an Actuary role in the IAG analytics team where my duties could range from big data to detailed technical pricing or machine learning.
Outside of work I enjoy snowboarding, skiing and playing the guitar. One day I wish to work overseas and be a snowboarding instructor – as well as a fully-fledged Actuary!
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