Perspectives of a young actuary

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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Xun Chun’s experiences however, dispelled what appears to be an outdated myth.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(R). 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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