Lessons from the revamped Superannuation and Retirement Applications subject

Adam Barrow and Kevin Li recently completed the Actuaries Institute’s revamped Superannuation and Retirement Applications subject. Find out more about the subject and Adam and Kevin’s key learnings and tips for passing the course.

The recent developments in superannuation and retirement income legislation are expected to provide plenty of opportunities for aspiring actuaries to shape the future of our superannuation system and make positive impacts on the retirement of different generations of Australians.

At this juncture, we thought it is a good time to provide an update on our revamped superannuation and retirement examination subject and have our new qualifying actuaries in this space to share their experiences and perspectives.

What does Superannuation and Retirement Applications involve?

Superannuation and Retirement Applications is the final subject in the Fellowship Program, for those actuaries interested in specialising in this practice area.

This subject promotes the concept of the actuary as an expert advisor on retirement funds in the Australian environment. The subject reviews the external environment, global longevity funding issues, the role of retirement funds, regulation and how government policies have a significant impact on fund operations and member outcomes.

The subject explores actuarial roles across the Australian retirement sector, including defined contribution funds, retirement income products, benchmarking, projections, risk management and regulatory and policy issues. The overall goal for the actuary is to work with all stakeholders to ensure the best possible outcomes for retirees. The intention is to show students that actuaries are not just technical experts but are also strategic advisors to trustees, sponsors and other stakeholders.

This subject is made up of online readings and resources, weekly in-depth tutorials with invited guests working in the superannuation and retirement sector, and discussion forums to share further questions and insights. The Chief Examiner draws on significant personal experience in the sector as well as the active support of the Superannuation and Investment Practice Committee, Education Faculty and Independent Examiner, to ensure the content is current, relevant and will help students broaden their thinking about future career opportunities as an actuary.

The subject is offered once a year (commencing January each year), with formal assessment via one written assignment and one three-hour exam. Since the launch of this subject, the pass rates have been consistently high, reflecting both the course quality and the dedication of the students.

PS The SRA course no longer covers the statutory actuarial role and specific responsibilities in relation to defined benefit superannuation funds in Australia. A separate short course will be offered from 2023 that addresses this content in detail, for any interested Fellow.

Sharing from our new qualifying actuaries

As a professional body, we are very excited to see our first new cohort of young actuaries graduating from this revamped subject, which is designed to be more relevant to the future of our superannuation and retirement system. Below please find the sharing of their experiences and perspectives:

Adam Barrow

Adam Barrow.

Occupation: Senior Consultant – Actuarial & Financial Risk at KPMG Australia

Work experience: I started off in the actuarial team at KPMG as a graduate back in February 2020, and the team was very encouraging to pursue both associateship and Fellowship. Whilst I was in the Life Insurance team, I had the opportunity to work across many different areas including long service leave valuations, insurance in super, and, more recently, projection model for superannuation clients.

University: University of New South Wales (and one semester at the University of Maryland, USA)

Hobbies: I play in a basketball league with mates from High School. I also like to stay active by going to the gym which helps to balance out my love of food.

What led you to study the course, and what has been your overall experience now you have qualified?

There were two main reasons why I opted to do Superannuation and Retirement Applications (SRA). Firstly, I had the opportunity to attend a Superannuation and Investments Practice Committee meeting in September 2021 as I was completing my second Fellowship subject – Life Insurance and Retirement Product Development. I was really impressed by the committee members themselves and was inspired after listening to their discussion around the contributions and real impact they are making in the superannuation and investment space.

That, coupled with Janice’s ad in the meeting boosting small class sizes and high pass rates, made me consider SRA as my final subject. The second reason came from the introduction of the Retirement Income Covenant. I saw the retirement income space as a new and emerging area and wanted to learn more. So, instead of following my cohort into studying Life Insurance Applications, I opted to do SRA as my final Fellowship subject.

My employer really supported me as well, as I now work across the life insurance, superannuation, and retirement income teams. I look forward to using all the content I learned across all of my actuarial studies to continue to develop myself as an actuary of the future!

What tips do you have for students studying? How did you manage the pressures of work, life and study?

My advice would be to embrace how you prefer to study and to plan accordingly.

After almost eight years of studying, I have tried and tested various ways of studying. From attending in-person lectures at 8:00am, to cue cards, taking notes by hand, and making voice recordings, I think I may have tried most of the possible ways to intake information. Your Fellowship subjects shouldn’t necessarily be a time to reinvent the wheel – go with what you know works! For me, one strategy that worked best was handwriting notes. Embrace your favourite study methods!

The second tip I have is to be organised and plan. A favourite quote of mine is “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. Treat your exam prep like an elephant, and take small bites to reach your goal. This also helps with creating good habits every week and avoids the panic of cramming right at the end. Try to also factor in time to socialise, exercise, and recharge, as these are all important to avoid burnout.

Now you have qualified, what do you plan to do with your qualification?

This is a good question – and I don’t know if I have a clear answer. I never really thought about post-qualification while studying; I was always focused on the finish line. I have since realised that while I have finished my Fellowship studies, there is really no finish line, and that there is a lot more to learn as an actuary!

For the short term, I am currently focusing on retirement income and the changes coming about with the retirement income covenant.

That is just one area though and qualifying seems to have opened many options for the future. I hope to continue to learn about the different roles an actuary can play, and further decide on where I want to end up long term.

What emerging topics in retirement income do you want to share with others?  

I really like the Retirement Income space as there is so much new and emerging. Australians seem currently fixated on allocated pensions as the preferred retirement income product, but many different companies are developing new and innovative products that are aiming at providing better outcomes. I would love to share my excitement about these products, and making a difference to Australians in retirement.

Kevin Li

Kevin Li.

Occupation: Analyst – Retirement Consulting team at Willis Towers Watson

Work experience: My work experience has largely been working with Defined Benefit superannuation funds in more traditional actuarial roles such as funding and accounting valuations, but have had many opportunities to work on other interesting projects, such as investment modelling and defined contribution projection models.

Consulting in the superannuation industry has been a great experience, as I get to work on a large variety of projects that keeps the work interesting and engaging. The variety comes from getting exposure to other specialties such as insurance, investments, risk management, M&A, etc, and the superannuation industry constantly going through change itself.

University: Melbourne University (Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Actuarial Studies)

Hobbies: Outside of work my hobbies and interests are wide and varied. I am quite enthusiastic about keeping up with the latest technology, and enjoy powerlifting, tennis and going to the snow.

What led you to study the course, and what has been your overall experience now you have qualified?

My overall experience studying the Fellowship program was fairly positive. I found the textbooks prepared by the Institute to be very well structured and easy to follow, albeit a struggle to get through the huge amounts of text! I appreciate the efforts that the education team put into redesigning the course structure, so the exam is less ambiguous and actually tests the content and learning objectives from the course materials.

I found that having some working experience was especially beneficial in helping me understand the content and formulating answers for the assessments. I took a year break from exams after finishing university instead of immediately commencing the Part IIIs which made it much easier for me to progress.

One area of struggle was the significant amount of life insurance-specific materials and assessment in the Valuations and Product Development subjects. Extra time was needed to familiarise myself with these contents due to my relatively limited experience with such products at work.

What tips do you have for students studying? How did you manage the pressures of work, life and study?

Definitely to not fall too far behind schedule. The enormous amount of content and readings requires significant time investment and will build up as you get behind.

I squeezed in a lot of study time with work and life during downtime while out and about. A lot of study sessions were done on my phone while on the train commute, a great replacement for mindless social media scrolling.

Work-life balance is a struggle especially when work gets busy. To manage competing priorities I believe it is important to plan everything in advance, plan out study leave days and consider how it would align with work deadlines. Having some work experience also helps here with workflow management.

My key tip is to learn to say no, when work becomes unmanageable you should turn down extra work and let colleagues know as soon as possible if you expect issues with current work.

Now you have qualified, would you tell us more about what you plan to do with your qualification?

Despite qualifying, I know the learning does not end here. There is still a lot to learn and the world is constantly evolving which will require keeping up with.

I hope that in the near future I can take a more leading role in delivering consulting services to clients to meet their various needs. The qualification will open up more doors to taking on bigger responsibilities in project teams, relying on the strong reputation that actuaries have built over time and I hope to continue to build upon it going forward.

What emerging topics in retirement income do you want to share with others?  

The topic of aging populations and the resulting financial impacts in Australia and the rest of the world is one that I find interesting to share. While it is great that people are all living longer around the world, the social and economic impacts are significant and have required major policy reforms and personal change.

Particularly for the younger generations like myself, the age pension as we know it may not be as sustainable due to the shrinking working age population. The role of superannuation and self-funded retirement income will become increasingly important as more of the population has a full career of contributions and investment earnings. I find that many of my peers still have little idea on what super is and how it should be used, and underestimate the impacts of starting their savings early or retiring with inadequate savings.

I think the recent superannuation reforms to have more ‘intelligent’ defaults and minimums are clever steps to ensure that a large proportion of the population is well funded for their retirement. It is interesting to see how the situation develops and if we can indeed reduce reliance on the age pension.

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