I am an Actuary – October 2019

This month’s I am an Actuary column highlights eight actuaries who have unexpectedly embarked on their actuarial journey, to discover a passion for the profession – in particular, the way in which actuarial work helps people positively. 

Chantal van der Helm

It was (probably) a rainy evening in Amsterdam when my partner and I were having dinner, when he (casually) said, “You know, my boss informed me today that a vacancy is coming up in Sydney, and he wondered whether I would be interested”. Very much to his surprise (and maybe even to mine), my answer was “Let’s do it. I’ll quit my job, join you on this adventure and learn how to surf and become a better runner”. After that evening, it only took a couple of months (and a little bit of stress and worries) before we landed for the very first time on Australian soil.

I only ended up on a surfboard once and, even though I’m still running, I don’t think I’ll ever qualify to become a professional athlete but I still believe that taking this opportunity is one of the best decisions of our lives. Every now and then I reflect on what I’ve been able to learn and achieve in the last two years and it still blows my mind.

After I started working for PwC during my studies, first as an intern followed by an interactive collaboration with the university when writing my Master’s thesis, I decided to work for a corporate following graduation. However, moving to Australia has brought me back to consulting.

My daily work at EY gives me the opportunity to develop myself both personally and professionally, expand my actuarial knowledge and meet so many talented people. During my time in Australia I’ve been able to work on audits and valuations as well as appointed actuary work (amongst others). I’m really thankful to EY for giving me this opportunity, and I’m confident that there’s a lot more to learn in the future!

Giacomo Tarantolo

Even if I had known what an Actuary was when I was younger, I would not have wanted to be one when I grew up. I had aspirations of becoming a professional gamer, or the Wolf of Wall Street. Nevertheless, knowing my passion for finance, my Dad suggested becoming an actuary as it would allow me to choose my career at the end of my degree rather than at the start.

Shortly after starting my Bachelor of Actuarial Studies and Applied Finance at Macquarie University, I was fortunate enough to receive the Deutsche Bank Investment Banking Scholarship. I worked 4-8 weeks each year in various corporate finance teams and gained invaluable insight into the finance industry.

Upon completing my studies, I successfully gained my Part I and IIs. However I wasn’t sold on becoming an actuary or an investment banker. I decided to work with Mercer’s Institutional Wealth Division, where my role involved capital market assumptions modelling, insurance clients’ portfolio construction and post-retirement product development.

Through working closely with senior actuaries such as David Knox and Richard Boyfield, I discovered a passion for product development and solving the longevity dilemma faced by many in retirement. 

Recently I accepted a position at Allianz Retire+, an Australian specialist business created to meet the unique needs of retirees. This role requires me to integrate technical actuarial skills with innovation and creativity to test and enhance current and new products. This type of role challenges actuaries to apply traditional principles and techniques to unfamiliar structures and designs.

Having now completed my CERA qualification and progressing through the rest of my Part IIIs, I know my Dad was right – becoming an actuary allows you to make an informed decision about your career at the end of your degree, rather than the start.

Jack Dong

Law, technology and data…sounds like the usual ingredients in problems most organisations have to face nowadays. Add in a few actuaries, accountants, lawyers and we now have the perfect team to help our clients develop fully integrated solutions. So what do I actually do?

I graduated from UNSW in 2011 and my career started in the same place as most readers – insurance.  As a fresh graduate at QBE, I navigated through a world of spreadsheets and SAS outputs. During the second year of my graduate program, I became interested in the concept of ‘data analytics’. I decided to test my luck in a newly created role which involved building up the analytics capability from scratch within the Fraud and Internal Audit function of QBE. In 2016, I came across an opportunity to work as an assistant manager in the forensic data analytics practices area of EY. The experience in professional services helped me understand the importance of transforming computer outputs to actionable insights.

In 2018, I made the move to a top tier Australian law firm, Clayton Utz, where I manage a team of brilliant actuaries, mathematicians and data scientists who work together with our legal teams to  deliver cutting edge solutions to our clients. We work on a large variety of matters ranging from utilising NLP techniques to classify compliance incidents during the Royal Commission to building complex financial models to help our clients evaluate liabilities before attending regulatory disclosure, commercial mediations or court hearings. Every day, we solve exciting new challenges with innovation. 

I believe the most valuable aspect of the actuarial profession is that it teaches us how to think logically and anticipate risks. This opens up our career to an unlimited spectrum of possibilities, far beyond our mathematic imaginations. 

Justin Xu

Being an actuary may be the destination – but the journey throughout this process teaches us to be aware, to evaluate and to monitor various risks, a disciplined practice we describe as the control cycle. 

After I got my bachelor’s degree in actuarial science seven years ago, I worked as an actuarial analyst for a top life insurance company in China. It was that real and practical workplace that allowed me to gain deeper insight into what the responsibility for an actuary is.

This role is not purely the calculation of numbers, the more important purpose is that how those numbers drive and balance the benefits for all stakeholders, including customers, the management, the board, and even colleagues in other departments.

When I realised the necessity of reviewing my career, I came to Australia two years ago to pursue my Master’s degree in Actuarial Studies. Any benefits? Definitely! The most precious achievement for me is the recognition of humanity in decision making from an actuarial perspective. For example, when designing products, I think we should also care for people in poverty, not only for profits. Another important point is that the development of non-traditional areas, like actuarial models for supermarkets and analysis of solutions for climate changes, inspires me to re-consider the role of an actuary can what we can do for society, not only now but especially in the future.

Now that I have graduated from ANU I may soon be back in a corporate environment. There are plenty of fields waiting for me to explore and I am very proud that I am still on my way to being an actuary.

Katherine Roach

I am currently the Head of Client Engagement at Hyper Anna, an Australian software technology start-up. Our product is ‘Anna’, an AI powered Data Analyst. Our mission is to remove barriers to access and understanding data, enabling anyone at any time to gain business insights at speed. Sounds pretty cool right? Well, you can find out more here: https://www.hyperanna.com/ 

Okay, plug over, let’s talk Client Engagement which is about ensuring that our customers have a long and successful relationship with ‘Anna’. For me, that results in a dynamic mix of strategy, project management, relationship building, product and data analytics. Woah – that’s a mouth full – and a far cry from the days of multiple decrement models.

I decided I wanted to be an actuary when I was 16 while looking through a careers book and only getting to ‘ac’ before asking my dad “I want to be an actuary, is this a good idea?”. He quickly said “Yes!” with a big smile on his face, stealthily closing the book before I might change my mind. While at university, I knew I didn’t want to work in a traditional role as an actuary but rather use the skills and apply them in a field of my interest. I am thankful for my time spent in actuarial consulting and the skills I learnt, giving me the ability to empathise with our clients around their challenges, the knowledge to help educate them on data literacy, and the means to collaborate with the world class data scientists and engineers I get to work with every day.

My advice to other young actuaries is to create the opportunities you want – you have a fantastic skillset that is in high demand and can be applied to a wide range of roles and industries.

Ravneel Kumar

Bula Actuaries!

After graduating with Bachelors in Mathematics & Physics from the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, I was all out looking for a job. I had enrolled in the Masters in Applied Mathematics program while working as a part time graduate assistant at the university. I was browsing through the newspaper and saw a job advertisement for an actuarial analyst. I had never heard of actuarial work before but surprisingly I had met the key requirement (a high Mathematics GPA) and so I applied. With no expectations, and assistance from Mr. Google, I went for the interview and got the job.

I was required to study and work full time which was very challenging, especially with a family (as I had got married in the same year). During the time I have been studying, my wife and I have been blessed with a beautiful daughter, Riddhi. It’s definitely a challenge balancing full time work, study, and family. With the great support of my wife, daughter and employer – BSP Life – I persevered and I am very proud to be one of the few qualified local actuaries currently in Fiji.

There have been uncountable learnings from my actuarial journey so far which involved handling pressure situations, applying new techniques for problem solving, understanding data, taking on a self-learning approach to handle situations and managing expectations.

Actuaries are rarely known in Fiji, therefore I always need to be prepared to explain what I do when asked by anyone in Fiji.

I look forward to commencing Part III exams next year.

Roy Wang

Initially I was greatly intrigued by the title of an ‘Actuary’ which was a very cool term to a first-year university student. The exception requirement at Monash University (Bachelor) and UNSW (Master) was Distinction and it was both scary and challenging. I didn’t know whether I would be able to achieve it but the thought of not wanting to miss this awesome chance to push myself forward overweighed the fear of failure. I followed my heart. What a good feeling! Back then, I had little idea about my future career but believed in a simple philosophy that the harder a major, less people choose it which translates into less supply. We all know what less supply means in the commercial sense.

I have had various roles throughout my career: marketing, valuation, product design and risk management. Currently I work in the pricing team at AMP, handling both retail and group pricing. I truly appreciate my previous and current managers who have guided and trained me. All these experiences helped me form a holistic view about insurance. I really enjoy working for AMP because it has a supportive culture, people with passion and interesting projects.

It’s no secret that ‘actuary’ is a respected profession and a financially rewarding career. But I think there is more to it. I have always pondered what should be the core of an actuary and the insurance industry. Everyone has their own answer.

My answer is simple: to protect and to help. Not just running the model. Actuaries are there to help deliver a product to the policyholders when they need it the most.

Outside work I am really into photography and there are so many interesting themes: portrait, landscape, sunrise, sunset, wildlife, fireworks and the list goes on.

Sidd Gandhi

It was around the end of Year 8 that I decided to become an Actuary, driven by my desire to utilise my strong mathematical skills and apply them in a practical work setting. I worked extremely hard during college to achieve grades good enough to enroll in Actuarial Studies at ANU. The journey through university was amazing because of the lifetime friendships I made and the ever-helpful lecturers I came across.

However, securing a graduate job in the actuarial profession was a nightmare for me given the supply of actuarial students and tough competition. I applied for several companies and made it to the last round on a number of occasions only to be rejected, leaving me disheartened and low on self confidence. But I persevered and managed to get a job in pricing at IAG by the end of the year. I was fortunate to be part of a fantastic team and work across a number of commercial insurance products in both short-tail and long-tail business. My tenure at IAG was quite memorable and I am still in touch with my team mates. 

Two years later, I switched to Suncorp where I worked in long-tail class of business in commercial insurance pricing. This time I was again lucky to be surrounded by a very easy-going team. Recently, I moved to Allianz to work in reserving, as I want to try all functions of actuarial (pricing, reserving and capital). My goal is become a qualified actuary which will require not only passing exams but also further experience. Post qualification (if that happens), I would like to explore data science as well as gain some experience in the UK.

I am delighted to be part of the actuarial community in Australia, an extremely intelligent yet humble profession.

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