Actuarial students take out competitive AFR graduate awards in fintech and data science

Two actuarial university students have taken out two separate awards in this year’s Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Future Leader Awards. We sat down with the winners to chat about the challenging awards process, life after uni, and the benefits of having a tub of lard when trapped on a deserted island.

The AFR’s Top 100 Future Leaders Awards recognise the top 100 university students within their field and is a collaboration with GradConnection Chandler Macleod and The Australian Financial Review.

The awards, which have been running since 2014, also features the Top 100 graduate employers.

The Future Leaders awards are separated into specific disciplines or broad subject matter categories including law, innovation, engineering, accounting, IT, data science, fintech and more.

As part of the awards process, student competition candidates run the gauntlet of an employer’s full graduate recruitment processes from start to finish. Candidates are then assessed in a group activity to determine the winners for each award.

Each award category is represented by a sponsored employer. While each category is different, candidates had to endure psychometric testing, IQ and EQ testing, rapid-fire video questions, interviews, virtual group activities, scenario-based problem solving and corporate culture quizzes.

This year’s award saw two actuarial university students take out the Data Science Award hosted by Quantium, and the Fintech Award hosted by FINEOS.

About the winners

Margarita Psaras took out the Quantium Data Science Award 2022 and is a final year Bachelor of Actuarial Studies student at UNSW. Margarita has already had an opportunity to work within the field, having been with Finity Consulting and Suncorp. Margarita is now at iCare NSW and is focused on completing her actuarial studies degree. Margarita has also spent time volunteering for the Actuaries Institute. She is a participating author for two Actuaries Digital articles about the need for higher maths participation for high school students. She has also been involved with the Institute’s Diversity and Inclusion initiatives

Arnav Bharadwaj took out the FINEOS Fintech Award 2022 and is a third-year Bachelor of Actuarial Studies and Commerce student at UNSW. Along with his studies, Arnav also works full time as a financial planning and analysis intern at Sanofi. Arnav is a keen supporter of the Actuarial Society of UNSW where he has volunteered in roles such as Sports Director and this year as Treasurer. He’s also involved in teaching, working as an Academic tutor at UNSW where he hopes to build on his interests.

(L-R): Margarita Psaras and Arnav Bharadwaj

Actuaries Digital: First off, congrats on the win in your respective awards categories. It’s very exciting. To start, tell us how does it feel to win?

Margarita Psaras: It’s become a bigger part of my journey than I expected because when I applied back in August, I think I did not have in mind the rewards that would come out of it as much, but rather just gave it a shot. I already knew it was very competitive. I thought I wouldn’t really stand a chance compared to other students across Australia. It was something cool to have on the side, gave me some motivation to continue on my work, continue on my studies and also have something to talk about to my friends. People would ask the usual question, like ‘what are you up to besides studying?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m doing this competition.’ I didn’t know where it was going to take me, but so far so good and fast forward to now I’m the winner for a category. So pretty, pretty exciting stuff!

Arnav Bharadwaj: I try not to bring it up in conversation too much! That was a really good experience. I was pretty shocked when I won it. I had actually heard about this award before. I think it was last year or so, I heard someone talking about it and I decided to look it up and I still had a couple of my friends had actually applied. Coming around to this year, I actually saw that the application was open. I thought, okay, I might as well give it a shot, see where it takes me, see if I can just learn a little bit more about what it’s like to go through the recruitment process.

Actuaries Digital: Candidates for the awards are basically put through their paces in a full-on graduate recruitment program. Tell us a little about what the process was like?

Arnav: I applied for the FINEOS FinTech Award. We had to speak briefly about how we’ve been involved within the wider community, and how we’ve kind of demonstrated ourselves as a potential future leader. I had to answer a couple of questions. Most of them were definitely related towards the FinTech industry, and it really allowed students like me or others who were actually going for this award to understand all the issues and the obstacles that the FinTech industry is facing in the future.

To determine who the winner was out of the 100, we had a group activity where we had to work with a couple of other students, and we also had another interview. So, there was a couple of steps to the process.

I did learn a lot. Something funny that did come up in one of the group activities was I didn’t know what a tub of lard was. I remember saying that in the group activity, and I’m not sure whether the person who was assessing wrote this down, but when they were also presenting the award on the awards night and they were building up to who the winner was. In their speech they mentioned that the winner didn’t know what a tub of lard was. I was like, “Oh, somebody else doesn’t know what a tub of lard was or I’ve somehow managed to win this?” And yeah, sure enough it turned out that was me! My name pops up and everything and yeah, it was crazy.

Margarita: I remember there being four stages. The fourth stage is the assessment center. For us it was a virtual group activity. I was with another four peers within my award category, and we had to solve this problem where we were stranded in Canada, a very cold region of Canada where it’s snowing a lot. It’s minus 20 degrees and you have to prioritize 12 items that you would use to survive and to also get to a town that is 40 kilometers away.

One of the recruiters from Quantium was there and testing just how we interact and how we work as a group, how everyone articulates their thoughts as well, the thought process behind the problem. Of course, under time constraints it’s still a bit of a challenge just get everyone to agree on a certain outcome, but in the end, turns out we were relatively close.

Actuaries Digital: What was the reason behind entering in the first place?

Margarita: I think it was at a time where lockdown was still on. I was working online. I was studying online as well. I wanted to do something new. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone as well, because I hadn’t done many competitions like that in the past. I participated in a few uni case competitions, but I was looking for something more than that. So, I thought maybe I should just give it a shot. And I think my main motivation was just doing something new and seeing where it’ll take me, but also to develop some skills through the competition.

Arnav: I think there was two main intentions. The first being to refine those skills when it comes to writing applications, doing interviews. Obviously, I’m going to be applying for jobs, I’m going to be doing all that kind of stuff, so any opportunity that I can get to learn how to do video interviews, attend workshops as well. And I think the second reason was just to learn more and meet new people. I think as someone who’s quite extroverted and I would like to think I’m pretty inquisitive, be having an opportunity to learn so much about tech industry, and be able to do that through one of the leading FinTech insurers was just a really good opportunity.

Actuaries Digital: Would you encourage other actuary graduates or students to take part in these types of rewards, do you think?

Arnav: Oh, 100%. I think any student that’s interested in any of the sectors that next year’s sponsors are involved in should definitely go for it. I think it was a super rewarding process. It taught me quite a bit as well. And not be scared or turned off by the fact that there’s quite a few people applying for it, because you know, you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. So just give it a go.

Margarita: Definitely, because I think it’s a more risk-free way of just reflecting on how you present yourself as a professional and as a person. It’s also a good way to see how a typical interview process works. Just gives you an idea of what to expect and how to interact with others as well, and how to build the best version of yourself as you can. It gives you that confidence to speak about the field that you’re in with some interest and also explore your options. It’s something you can balance relatively easily with your other commitments as well.

Actuaries Digital: The Australian public doesn’t always understand what an actuary does for society. Do you get annoyed that people don’t really know what an actuary does? Or is that something you just don’t think about?

Margarita: I definitely thought about that, especially when I was starting out in my degree and even just through high school. When I did decide I wanted to get into the actuarial field, telling others what I wanted to do, I was met with people not really knowing what it is. At first it was maybe a bit discouraging, but afterwards I realised that it’s justified that many people don’t know about it because it may not be talked about enough compared to other STEM disciplines.

I think the social impact that comes out of an actuary’s work is immense and it should be recognised a lot more. But I definitely think there’s room for just building that knowledge amongst others, especially now that the applications of the actuarial field are expanding quite a lot.

Arnav: As someone who values learning a lot and just understanding new things, I find it really interesting when I can explain to somebody what an actuary does. I don’t think it annoys me as such. I just see it as for them it’d be a learning opportunity, so it would be something that they can learn. And for me, it’s just another way to make sure that I understand what an actuary does and refine my of knowledge when it comes to that.

Actuaries Digital: What are you most excited about in terms of your next steps in your career?

Arnav: Obviously, finish uni. I do definitely want to be involved within some societies when it comes to this year and next year. I think it was just really fun and enjoyable for me to do it over the past two years and I want to keep on doing it. When it comes to after uni, that’s still something that I’m looking around for. Because I’m doing both actuarial studies and I’m doing a finance degree, I’d want to make sure that I explore both sides of my degree. Whether that be going into an actuarial role or being more focused towards the finance, that’s definitely something that I’m looking into and weighing up on. Right now working on a bit more of a financial role, but who knows, I might be working on an actuarial role later on, only time will tell.

Margarita: I’m excited to just put my interests into practice. To see what it’s really like to continue working on real life problems and being able to help other people through my work as well. I’m also excited for the possibilities of still advocating for the causes I have so far, for example, diversity and inclusion within the profession, but also the urge for high school students to take up higher maths in STEM education in general.

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