Perspectives of a young actuary

Read­ing time: 4 mins

Xun Chun Tee, a 2016 grad­u­ate of ANU, dis­cuss­es with cur­rent stu­dent Felix Ryan his expe­ri­ences study­ing actu­ar­i­al and the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties actu­ar­ies face in the com­ing years. 

I think many read­ers would agree that the actu­ar­i­al pro­fes­sion is under­go­ing a process of rapid change in terms of job oppor­tu­ni­ties and edu­ca­tion. As actu­ar­ies begin to find employ­ment out­side of the tra­di­tion­al areas of insur­ance, the skills that new actu­ar­ies need will only expand and diver­si­fy. But how will these new require­ments and oppor­tu­ni­ties be affect­ing actu­ar­i­al edu­ca­tion and career expe­ri­ences? I inter­viewed ANU grad­u­ate Xun Chun Tee on his time at uni­ver­si­ty and his per­cep­tion of the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties actu­ar­ies cur­rent­ly grap­ple with.

Xun Chun under­took a bachelor’s degree of actu­ar­i­al stud­ies, where he achieved out­stand­ing results. The mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary nature of actu­ar­i­al work, job sta­bil­i­ty and numer­ous career paths attract­ed him to the actu­ar­i­al pro­fes­sion. Fur­ther­more, with ANU’s world-wide rep­u­ta­tion and resources meant that Xun Chun had no qualms about study­ing in Can­ber­ra. Xun Chun also had a last­ing impact upon the uni­ver­si­ty lives of oth­er actu­ar­i­al stu­dents; He co-found­ed ANU’s only actu­ar­i­al soci­ety (ASOC), was a high­ly-respect­ed tutor and a self-moti­vat­ed research assis­tant. This com­bi­na­tion of extra-cur­ric­u­lar involve­ment and incred­i­ble aca­d­e­m­ic results assist­ed him in land­ing a job as a finan­cial trad­er in Ams­ter­dam straight out of uni­ver­si­ty.

Dur­ing the inter­view, Xun Chun revealed him­self to be pas­sion­ate about the actu­ar­i­al pro­fes­sion and its future tra­jec­to­ry. An issue I believed actu­ar­ies face was that the actu­ar­i­al qual­i­fi­ca­tion is not wide­ly known rel­a­tive to the finance or sta­tis­tics degree. Com­mon opin­ion sug­gests that actu­ar­i­al is a nar­row degree prepar­ing one for a career in insur­ance only, while attempt­ing to break this mold ends in futil­i­ty as employ­ers pre­fer the tra­di­tion­al financiers or sta­tis­ti­cians over the lit­tle- known actu­ar­ies.

Con­se­quent­ly, I asked Xun Chun what he thought the major prob­lems fac­ing actu­ar­i­al grad­u­ates were in both edu­ca­tion and job oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Xun Chun’s expe­ri­ences how­ev­er, dis­pelled what appears to be an out­dat­ed myth. Empha­sis­ing the broad nature of the actu­ar­i­al train­ing, which tra­vers­es areas from eco­nom­ic the­o­ry to sta­tis­tics to finance and com­put­ing, Xun Chun describes an actu­ary as a mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary mas­ter who is high­ly prized and renowned to employ­ers. He believes, this has allowed actu­ar­ies to com­pete with finance majors and sta­tis­ti­cal mod­el­ers for roles in data sci­ence, finan­cial trad­ing and man­age­ment amongst oth­er occu­pa­tions. In his case, the actu­ar­i­al qual­i­fi­ca­tion unveiled the less­er-known career of finan­cial trad­ing, a job demand­ing the syn­the­sis of finan­cial, sta­tis­ti­cal and com­put­ing knowl­edge. As the impor­tance of data becomes both increas­ing­ly crit­i­cal and mul­ti-faceted, the actuary’s unique under­stand­ing of data analy­sis and a pletho­ra of dis­ci­plines will make them more employ­able in the future.

How­ev­er, Xun Chun does note that on occa­sions the lack of under­stand­ing of the actu­ar­i­al qual­i­fi­ca­tion in the wider pop­u­lous is at best, a minor prob­lem. Unlike most pro­fes­sion­al employ­ers, at a uni­ver­si­ty lev­el, non-actu­ar­i­al stu­dents often have dif­fi­cul­ty under­stand­ing exact­ly what an actu­ary does. Even actu­ar­i­al stu­dents he knew felt lost in the numer­ous aca­d­e­m­ic fields in which they were tra­vers­ing and con­fused about the career options avail­able. The actu­ar­i­al soci­ety, ASOC, was there­fore to act as a bea­con of light; an aca­d­e­m­ic sup­port net­work for stu­dents pro­vid­ing men­tor­ing and tutor­ing ses­sions while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly hold­ing work­shops with pro­fes­sion­al actu­ar­ies who dis­cussed the skills that their careers required. Not only this, but Xun Chun hopes that ASOC rais­es the pro­file of actu­ar­i­al stu­dents on cam­pus and in the wider com­mu­ni­ty, as well as keep­ing actu­ar­i­al stu­dents up to date with the institute’s poli­cies and changes in actu­ar­i­al edu­ca­tion.

Xun Chun believes the most promi­nent prob­lem in actu­ar­i­al edu­ca­tion is the inad­e­qua­cy in prop­er pro­gram­ming skills. Actu­ar­ies are usu­al­ly not taught beyond tra­di­tion­al com­put­er basics as it relates to data analy­sis, such as excel or R stu­dio®. Xun Chun believes that mod­ern data ana­lyt­ics requires high­er lev­el of com­pe­tence in pro­gram­ming, as increas­ing­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed soft­wares is need­ed to analyse the larg­er vol­umes of data being pro­duced and solve more com­pli­cat­ed busi­ness prob­lems. Issues fac­ing inno­va­tion and devel­op­ment in busi­ness and tech­nol­o­gy, such as machine learn­ing and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, require both sta­tis­ti­cal skill and pro­gram­ming prowess to be solved. Many oth­er uni­ver­si­ty cur­ricu­lum stu­dents, such as in sta­tis­tics and com­put­er sci­ence degrees, are already taught com­put­er lan­guages and cod­ing that will mod­ern­ize their sta­tis­ti­cal appli­ca­tion and allow them to tack­le these prob­lems. Actu­ar­i­al edu­ca­tion how­ev­er, has gen­er­al­ly stuck to the tra­di­tion­al busi­ness, eco­nom­ic and finan­cial overview cou­pled with heavy sta­tis­ti­cal knowl­edge and lim­it­ed coding/programming skills.

What are the impli­ca­tions if actu­ar­i­al edu­ca­tion does not change? Xun Chun states that actu­ar­ies risk being rel­e­gat­ed to insur­ance and re-insur­ance indus­tries, while oth­er quan­ti­ta­tive degree hold­ers with greater pro­gram­ming skills will dom­i­nate roles of data analy­sis and man­age­ment in the work­force. Actu­ar­i­al job options could poten­tial­ly there­fore be lim­it­ed by a lack of under­stand­ing in pro­gram­ming.

Xun Chun and I are opti­mistic that actu­ar­ies can over­come these hur­dles and become the dom­i­nant and pres­ti­gious pro­fes­sion in the com­ing decades. Only actu­ar­i­al has the broad under­stand­ing of a pletho­ra of busi­ness and finan­cial sub­jects as well as tech­ni­cal sta­tis­ti­cal mod­el­ling. All that essen­tial­ly needs to be added to this expan­sive edu­ca­tion is some addi­tion­al pro­gram­ming and cod­ing cours­es, that at least in ANU can be picked up via elec­tives. Fur­ther­more, com­bin­ing one’s actu­ar­i­al stud­ies in a dou­ble degree with com­put­er sci­ence is also ide­al; ANU is unique in the exten­sive vari­ety of degrees which can be fused with actu­ar­i­al. As a stu­dent soci­ety, ASOC is here to inform stu­dents regard­ing the impor­tance of pro­gram­ming to their job oppor­tu­ni­ties; and more gen­er­al­ly the chal­lenges and prob­lems fac­ing actu­ar­ies and how to tai­lor their edu­ca­tion to account for them. Xun Chun has demon­strat­ed crit­i­cal fore­sight in say­ing that actu­ar­ies of the future must pos­sess a busi­ness edu­ca­tion and sta­tis­ti­cal abil­i­ty, but also be adept in pro­gram­ming and soft­ware manip­u­la­tion.

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About the author

Felix Ryan

Felix Ryan is a second-year actuarial and politics/philosophy student at the Australian National University (ANU).

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