I am an Actuary – May 2020
In this edition of I am an Actuary, learn about the challenges faced and the opportunities embraced by seven actuaries in kick-starting their career in the profession.
My journey to becoming an Australian actuary has been unconventional. I was born and grew up in Beijing, China. I spent five years in France from 2012 to 2017, where I finished my Bachelor degree (and Masters) in Applied Mathematics and Software Engineering. I enjoyed working in Paris for HSBC in the role of risk controller in Global Banking and Markets. I also had an opportunity to study in South Korea for six months in 2016 as an exchange student – such a world traveler!
I came to Australia in 2018 for the Masters of Actuarial Science program at Melbourne Uni. I joined Deloitte as a part time analyst in their Advisory business at the same time. I finally graduated (again) last December and I became a full time Advisory analyst in the Quantitative Financial Solutions team within Treasury and Capital Markets.
I’m mainly working on Financial Modeling and Validation as well as Valuation of Financial Derivatives. The thing I most enjoy about my work is facing many different clients and helping them solve their tough but interesting problems. This has not only increased my knowledge but it has strengthened my ability to multitask and to manage stakeholders.
It may seem that I am on a mission to add more letters after my name. In addition to my two Masters degrees, I also hold the French National Engineering certificate and recently I gained my Financial Risk Management certificate. Currently, I have finished most of Part 1 and now my focus is on Part 2. Hopefully I will smash it soon and add another qualification. Actually, it’s not about the letters.
I love studying because it helps me gain knowledge about new things, helps me satiate my curiosity and helps me feel updated and competent in the world.
With the stress of the trial HSC exams behind me, I began to stress about what I was going to do after high school. Talking with countless friends and family, maths was the central element and led to me picking Actuarial Studies at UNSW, although I didn’t have a clue what the degree entailed.
Even throughout my first year I still knew little about the field as I saw friends pick up jobs in the industry at firms I’d never heard of. But a year later, halfway around the world at the Pennsylvania State University, I started to grasp more about the role of actuaries and how versatile and useful their skillset was.
After my 3rd year, I was able to intern at EY and was exposed to a range of work across their four diverse teams I was able to learn from colleagues from around the world with government, retail banking, general and life insurance clients.
After my final year (and a South American escape) I returned to EY as a graduate in the life insurance team. Three months in and I’ve worked with some incredibly talented people. I have been able to further develop my skillset on an extensive range of projects including remediations, reconciliations and system reviews.
Both studying and working towards becoming an actuary has taught me a range of intangible skills that aren’t just applicable at work, but can help anyone strive for more in other endeavors.
These experiences, both working and travelling, have opened my eyes to how applicable an actuary’s skills are and how much we can still learn from cultures and wider experiences.
Throughout high school I was always confident with numbers. Being a relatively slow writer, I was even using maths symbols in essays. Having been inspired by my maths teacher’s experience working in a casino, I thought I had better get into this actuarial thing. Upon returning home from Tassie I studied… you guessed it… actuarial studies at UNSW.
While I haven’t gone down the path that a beady-eyed high-school version of me envisaged, I have been blessed with numerous opportunities. I was fortunate enough to kickstart my professional career interning at APRA. There I learnt about the various regulations and capital standards life and general insurers in Australia must comply with – and the importance of good coffee.
During my third year of university, I interned at Guy Carpenter, a reinsurance broker. There I developed my ability to conduct catastrophe modelling eventually building my own model to normalise losses from catastrophes in Australia.
It was during this internship that I believe I received the simplest yet best piece of actuarial advice so far in my short career – follow/investigate the uncertainty.
Fast forwarding from that, I also interned at EY where I am currently working as a graduate in the Actuarial Services team. A few months in and I have already worked with some unbelievably talented people across an expansive variety of engagements ranging from value at risk assessment for cyber risks to product benchmarking. It is exciting to anticipate what the future may hold.
You have finished your degree, started your first full-time job and settled into your new role. That is the familiar rhythm of early professional life. One month later, everything changes. Donald Trump’s “hidden enemy”, a grim global virus that has distanced and united us all, is the backdrop against which I will look back on my early career for years to come.
It would be hard to not like mathematics and choose actuarial studies as a degree at Macquarie University, let alone complete the degree and continue my actuarial education through the Actuaries Institute. But an actuary also knows that there is truth beyond the numbers.
That is what fascinates me about the profession. Anyone can quote a statistic to advance their agenda. It takes experience, expertise and judgement to add real value, which is what an actuary in training strives to attain.
Prior to my current role, I worked with Risk Frontiers for over two years, a catastrophe modelling company based in Sydney’s north. It is home to a diverse team of passionate colleagues specialising in flood, earthquake, bushfire and other extreme risks.
Then, in February 2020, I started an exciting role as an actuarial consultant with KPMG, also in Sydney. I have already worked on both traditional and non-traditional actuarial projects alongside a brilliant group of friends and colleagues. Against the backdrop of the grim global virus, it will be the experiences, empathy and resilience that we gain as a cohort which I will look back on for years to come.
I had just finished my year 12 and it was the final day to submit my university course preferences. All the hard work across 13 years of schooling came down to this moment – I had to choose how I wanted my career (and whole life for that matter) to pan out. A mere 15 minutes to the deadline, and I was still undecided: An Actuarial degree or a Bachelor of Aviation? One side of me wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and pursue a career as a commercial pilot. But the other side of me knew that I just couldn’t give up my unparalleled passion and interest in mathematics – and an actuarial career that would allow this to blossom.
Fast forward four years and I’m an actuarial graduate from the University of Melbourne and one year into my career at EY. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at university, absorbing myself in intriguing mathematical concepts and challenging myself against other capable students in case competitions. I often took extra mathematics subjects outside of the actuarial pathway to satisfy my desire for the subject.
I subsequently accepted a graduate role in EY’s Banking and Capital Markets team after completing an internship there at the end of my second year. I work in a relatively non-traditional actuarial practice area, assisting clients with managing their credit, market, liquidity and treasury risks.
My EY experience has been highly rewarding. I’m surrounded by an extensive network of talented professionals who share a wealth of knowledge. Perhaps my greatest opportunity has been the ability to interact and share my insights with senior stakeholders at reputable organisations, right from day one.
Reflecting on my actuarial journey thus far, I’m appreciative of the opportunities it has provided me to develop both personally and professionally.
On Australia Day 2013 my husband and I arrived from the UK on a one year working holiday visa. We moved here to Manly, to live near my two sisters (including my identical twin).
At this point, I didn’t even know that I wanted to be an Actuary. I started doing some temporary analytical work and also worked in hospitality. I play women’s football (soccer) and joined the local team. My professional sports career didn’t take off so, utilising my degree in Mathematics, I found a role as a statistical analyst at Suncorp in their general insurance pricing team.
I think they liked me because my experience was slightly diverse to the actuaries. (It definitely wasn’t from my answer to the interview question: “How many pianist tuners do we need in Australia?”). Little did they know that 6 months later I would be taking CT1, the first of many examinations as I was sucked in to becoming an Actuary.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that Suncorp gave me, which lead to my move into a permanent position as an Actuarial Analyst at Zurich Financial Services Australia. I have been there for five years now. Let’s fast track those five years:
I am now a citizen of Australia; with two beautiful young girls, aged 3 and 1; living in the Northern Beaches; almost finished with my Part 2; still playing football; loving the beach; and enjoying the Manly sea swim called the Bold and the Beautiful.
Although studying is tough, I am managing a healthy work life balance. Zurich has allowed me to be flexible whilst I focus on motherhood and in continuing my professional examinations. I am very excited about what the future holds for me and my family.
Throughout high school I was only really interested in two subjects: music and mathematics. Based on the recommendation of a family friend, I applied to do Actuarial Studies at UNSW and after receiving the offer, it became apparent that I would not become the next John Coltrane.
In my first year of university, I was fortunate enough to start working as a Research Analyst at Rice Warner. I started to learn about the inner workings of superannuation and retail life insurance. After blindly signing up to do study actuarial studies, it was in this role where I was actually able to start responding to people when they asked, “What does an actuary do?”
At the end of my third year, I completed a vacationer program at EY and was presented with the opportunity to join the Life Insurance team on a casual basis, transitioning to a full-time role as a graduate at the start of this year.
Working with the incredibly talented people in my team at EY and learning from them has further solidified my passion for actuarial consulting.
A key highlight from working at EY was being sent to Disney World in Florida to attend the 2019 EY International Intern Leadership Conference.
Outside of all things actuarial, I like to spend my spare time keeping myself active, whether I’m at the gym, surfing or playing football. However, I’d definitely prefer to be off in a foreign land exploring different cultures.
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