This article seeks to highlight some of the challenges faced by an increasing number of young actuaries working in non-traditional areas as the only actuary in their team.
A young actuary in a non-traditional role – a growing trend
At the time I was coming into the job market and looking for a graduate position, there was more supply than demand of actuarial graduates in Melbourne. Most life insurance companies had consolidated their actuarial functions to Sydney, Defined Benefit (DB) superannuation roles were shrinking, and both universities in Victoria (Melbourne and Monash University) were experiencing record high enrolment in their actuarial courses.
Not experiencing much luck in my job applications, with multiple disheartening final stage rejections, I resorted to cold calling (emailing) people, and eventually I met someone who introduced me to the founder of the startup I currently work at. The role involved data analytics applications for superannuation funds, so I can apply my actuarial knowledge and progress with my education. As a result, I joined the ranks of an increasing number of young actuaries working in non-traditional roles.
In the Actuaries Institute’s 2020 Year in Review, it was revealed that Data Analytics had become the 3rd largest practice area for actuaries. In 2010, Data Analytics was not even listed as a practice area in the annual membership statistics.
Technical challenges to overcome
Dealing with a lack of knowledge and experience
Working at a startup means working in a very small team, with each individual bearing a disproportionately large amount of responsibility. When I joined, I was the only person with an actuarial background in the company. As a matter of need, I became the subject matter expert on commercial and legislative matters relating to superannuation, as well as the technical expert on financial modelling. This pushed me to learn very quickly, which was very rewarding at the same time. However, as a recent graduate, I lacked the experience to consistently exercise good judgement.
When I don’t feel confident that I can complete a technical challenge with a high standard, I try to voice my concerns early to get the support from my colleagues to either:
- Limit the scope of the deliverable, to only the parts which I am comfortable with, or perhaps more often;
- Manage the expectation by presenting insights that are backed by directionally correct figures, rather than by numbers that represent the absolute truth. This leaves me with room to constructively examine the assumptions underlying the figures, without discounting the premise and value of the subsequent insight. At this point, I always try to listen to different views and assumptions, and use those views to improve the quality and delivery of my future work.
A well experienced actuary joined our company as an advisory board member soon after I joined, and now I can turn to him for advice on specific actuarial issues. If I ever had to deliver work with no room for error (for example: regulatory reporting), I would definitely insist to have my work peer reviewed before submission.
If there are no such person to assist you, I would like to point out that the Institute has a Members’ Sounding Board which facilitates contact between actuaries and senior members of the profession to provide an avenue for confidential discussion of sensitive or ethical issues.
I would highly recommend the Members’ Sounding Board to any actuary who may find themselves in a position where they have challenging decisions to make but no one to talk to.
Dealing with an identity crisis
Despite the new hire, I still do not have another actuary to work with on a day-to-day basis. I had obtained my Associate (AIAA) designation with the Institute recently, but at times I struggle with my identity as an actuary, wondering if I am living up to the values and skills that I am meant to embody. I read papers written by my professional heroes, or listen to their podcasts / interviews. However these provides no insight into who they are, how they think, their work processes, how they interact with stakeholders around them, or how they carry themselves day to day at work.
I have always been a social person, so I find the greatest solace in talking to other people. I attend events organized by Young Actuaries Program (YAP) or Social Networking Actuaries Group (SNAG) to re-connect with other members of the profession. In my experience, it is not uncommon to hear another young actuary express similar notions on the challenges we face at these events, and we can lean on each other for strength over some beers (or my preference of wine). I find great comfort in attending these events, and I really look forward to the resumption of face-to-face events.
I would highly recommend these events to actuaries who may feel disconnected from the profession.
Furthermore, I try to expand to network beyond the actuarial space, seeking out people whom I may simply have a candid conversation. I have been very privileged through my schooling to have access to three very strong alumni networks with very generous and forth giving culture within its exclusivity. I owe my successes to the people I have met along the way, and I fully expect myself to give back in the future when the positions are switched.
I would have struggled significantly if I have not had built up a sufficient support network.
Giving back to the profession
Having recently joined the Young Actuaries Advisory Board, I hope to bring to other young actuaries new avenues of connecting with each other and seeking support from more senior members of the profession, either through more networking events, facilitated meetups, or a re-launch of the mentoring program. Stay tuned as we continue to announce more events throughout the year.
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