Under the Spotlight with the YAAB – Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels, Consulting Actuary at Mercer, features in the latest edition of the special Young Actuaries Advisory Board (YAAB) ‘Under the Spotlight’ series.

A summary of myself in sentence…I am the sort of person who loves challenging themselves in all aspects of their life. Whether it is through my main hobbies (running and soccer) or at work learning new skills or taking on new projects and roles, I find having challenging goals keeps me motivated, driven, and focused.

Why did I join the YAAB?…Whilst at university I had a mentor who was a qualified actuary working in the industry. He helped me develop the skills I needed to find a graduate job and prepare for life as an actuarial student working full time and studying. Now as a qualified actuary I want to pay it forward and help others in the way I was helped.

What do I enjoy the most about being involved with the YAAB?…I am thoroughly enjoying working with a diverse group of actuaries who are all striving towards the same goal of improving the connection between university students, young actuaries, and the Actuaries Institute. Due to the diverse nature of the board, we have been able to come up with interesting ideas and channels to help drive young actuaries’ engagement going forward.

What excites me about the influence the YAAB has on the future direction of the Actuaries Institute?…The fact that we have influence in the first place is very exciting. I am grateful that the Actuaries Institute has trusted us and given us some creative freedom to come up with ideas that we think will help drive the future direction of the Actuaries Institute and the engagement with young actuaries.

My favourite energetic pursuit…Is long-distance running, particularly running marathons. I love pushing myself and setting challenging goals to strive for and have decided that I want to run a marathon on every continent of the world. To date I already have Europe and Australia ticked off, and I had planned to do Asia and North America in 2020 but COVID postponed those endeavours.

Running a marathon, my favourite hobby.

Not many people know this but I…Can recite the alphabet backwards in under five seconds. A useless skill, I know, but I am a keen trivia player and on a few occasions during a speed round we were asked to provide a specific (e.g. 7th) last letter of the alphabet. At the time our team could not answer, so I decided I would fill that very niche knowledge gap.

Short description of my career…Following graduation I worked for six years for a superannuation consulting firm where I focused on defined benefit consulting to public sector funds. I then moved to Australia and worked as a general insurance reserving actuary for 15 months before finding my way back into superannuation consulting where I have been for the past three years.

I became an actuary because…Maths and problem solving were what I enjoyed in school and growing up and I also wanted to make a positive difference to society. I felt that the actuarial profession allowed me to make a difference using maths and problem-solving. Whether it is providing insurance for people in their time of need or creating better retirement outcomes, actuaries play a significant part in shaping the society we live in.

Where I studied to become an actuary and qualifications obtained…I studied actuarial science at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland where I obtained my Part 1 exemptions. Following university, I worked and passed my remaining actuarial exams, qualifying as a Fellow of the IFoA before moving to Australia in 2016 and transferring to be a Fellow of the Actuaries Institute.

I am most passionate about…Developing young actuaries to become the best they can be. As well as being an actuarial consultant, a significant part of my role at Mercer is as a people leader. This allows me to nurture our junior team members both technically and with regards to the softer skills required to perform the role well.

What I find most interesting about my current role…Is the work I have been doing with a variety of superannuation funds providing strategic advice on the Member Outcomes (SPS 515) regulatory requirements. This allows me to help the superannuation funds create better retirement outcomes for their members which is one of the main reasons I became an actuary originally.

10 years from now, I will be…No longer classed as a ‘young actuary’ under YAAB’s definition. From a professional perspective, I expect there to be significant changes to the actuarial industry in the next 10 years, so I do not know what I will be doing. However, I look forward to finding out what challenges will arise.

Who has been the biggest influence on my career (and why)…There have been many people who have strongly influenced my career to date, so it is hard to pick just one. From my dad telling me about what an actuary does and putting me on this path when I was 17, to the actuaries I worked with when I graduated from university who taught me most of what I know from a technical and soft skills perspective.

Why I’m proud to be an actuary…I am proud to be an actuary because it took many years of effort and dedication to get to where I am today. I actually failed my fellowship exam five times before qualifying on my sixth attempt, but I never gave up. That experience, however painful and demoralising it was at times, made me really value becoming an actuary.

The most valuable skill an actuary can possess is …Being inquisitive and not just accepting a methodology or solution because “it was done that way before”. There will always be new, more effective, and efficient ways of solving the same problem and as actuaries, we should be looking to figure out what those are. That way we can drive creativity and progress in what we do.

My best advice for other young actuaries…Do not be afraid to take a risk early in your career. I moved from Scotland to Australia with no job waiting for me because I wanted to experience a different lifestyle. I can definitely say it was a fantastic decision, although scary at times when I struggled in the first few months to find a job in Australia.

Presenting at a recent networking event at Monash University.

Actuarial capabilities I use in my current job…From a technical perspective, I still use what I learned at university and the actuarial exams regarding superannuation. On a daily basis, the work I complete requires one of projecting liabilities into the future, analysis of experience, or superannuation fund accounting. From a soft skills perspective, I use a significant amount of what I learned during my Communication, Modelling and Professionalism course when engaging with my clients.

Skills actuaries should enhance to become more effective in my field of work…A skill I think that is very underrated in all areas of work is having empathy. If you are able to put yourself in your stakeholder’s shoes then you will not only better understand them, but also build stronger, trusting long-lasting relationships, get to the crux of their problems much faster and this usually results in better outcomes for everyone.

One of the most creative applications of actuarial capabilities that I have used in my career…Was for a university who were struggling to come up with a way of ranking applicants for a post-graduate course and deciding who to offer positions to. Although not a traditional actuarial problem, I used the actuarial control cycle and modelling skills to create a parameterised spreadsheet that combined all the inputs into one output score which could be used to objectively rank all applicants.

The most challenging job or project I have worked on and why?…Was a large superannuation fund re-organisation that involved combining 35 funds into one and involved transferring over $5 billion of assets and liabilities, and 10,000 members. The project was far-reaching and it was my job to project manage and get nods of agreement from all 35 funds, a government department, four actuarial consulting firms, investment advisors, and administration teams; as well as perform the actuarial calculations for my client.

Catch up on more Under the Spotlight profiles.

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