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Changing Actuarial Roles: Holistic Understanding of Risk
October  2019

What attracted you to the actuarial profession?
Two main aspects: First, there are no predefined parameters/limitations to your role. If you randomly select 15 different actuaries, there is a strong probability that their roles are all markedly different. Whether you are more technically inclined or more strategic in thinking, there is a role, somewhere, to fulfill that.

And second, the credibility of the designation and technical foundation lends itself well to management and leadership opportunities; i.e., there are ample opportunities beyond “staying an actuary” that one can propel toward if interested.

Has your career followed the path you expected? How is it different/in line with what you expected?
Yes and no. As a curious individual who likes to understand a bit of everything, I had planned to do a few stints across Life, P&C, Consulting and Regulation before deciding where to delve deeper. I ended up falling into the Life area first in an opportunity in Asia and quickly discovered the ample variability in actuarial roles that existed within the sector itself.

I decided to stay in Life and ended up working across significantly different functions in highly interdisciplinary roles. All this to say that it fulfilled my original intent of doing and understanding ‘a bit of everything.’ That path continues now but has evolved into deepening my understanding of non-actuarial functions (medical, underwriting, R&D, etc.) and how it intersects within the business.

How would you describe your role today?
In a nutshell — it’s like being on a catwalk wearing several different hats. Due to the nature of the role (which includes orchestrating and managing all facets of a new solution), there is a strong need to understand enough about all major areas. Internally, the hats can span from business, pricing, underwriting, finance, marketing, operations and legal. Externally, it ranges from technological understanding all the way to biomedical applications. It is complex, fulfilling and never has a dull moment.

We think of actuarial work as intensely technical. Did your actuarial education prepare you for what you do today?
While not every actuarial exam will get to be applied in practice (different sectors/roles) or are more relevant in more junior roles, they were all useful in teaching technical, analytical and critical thinking skills. To me, these are the true fruit of the education as they are transferrable to future roles and ultimately make it faster to synthesize technical information needed to make a decision.

Out of coincidence, my advanced exams have had some direct application to my current role. I pursued the ERM/CFE track, which is a non-sector specific track covering a broad array of topics (from Monte Carlo simulation to strategic decision making). It ultimately prepares an individual to develop a holistic understanding of risks, so that whether in a manufacturing plant or a pension firm, risk evaluation can be done. Having that kind of understanding has been very beneficial in my role, where I deal with different companies, sectors, functions and risks regularly.

What do the changes taking place in the industry today mean for actuaries in the future?
Automation is taking over more and more functions throughout the life insurance industry. The actuarial function is no exception. Actuaries need to continue to step up their interpersonal skills and think about how they can translate technical insights into business decisions. Many employers cite that they have very intelligent actuaries, but that they’re unable to convey actuarial concepts to non-actuarial audiences. Training around business communication and interdisciplinary skills will be increasingly important as organizations move toward working more centrally (vs. by department).

Do you interact with new InsurTech players from outside the industry? What’s this experience like?
Yes, interacting with InsurTech players is a key part of my current role. Their organizational structures and cultures are very interesting. The management teams often come from varied backgrounds (medical, tech, etc.) and their office environments are generally a co-working area or unique space. Culturally, they are encouraged to test, learn, and fail quickly as they develop their minimum viable products. One of the challenges insurers/reinsurers face in partnering with these startups is the speed at which they work. SCOR set up a new team – Strategic Partnerships – in order to be able to work at the pace the InsurTech partners need.

What are the biggest challenges in working on innovation-driven solutions in the life insurance industry?
Keeping up with all the new solutions and players that are constantly coming into the field. Staying connected with InsurTech accelerators and incubators helps in alleviating some of these pain points. Another challenge is to be able to look at a startup (who often has a solution not related to insurance) and see if there is an insurance application — oftentimes there is. We encounter so many companies who didn’t realize the potential for their solution to be plugged into the life insurance space in some capacity. Wearing different hats definitely helps discover hidden potential for these firms.

What skills, qualifications are needed to fully grasp the opportunities of this new professional landscapes for actuaries?
For those aspiring toward management — the ability to look at details analytically while simultaneously looking strategically at a 30,000-foot view will be very important. Curiosity is another key trait. Interacting with non-actuarial people from different functional areas will help tremendously in understanding the overall business.

Do you think the new mission/vision of life insurers – helping customers live longer, healthier lives – will take hold or is this a passing trend?
I think it will take hold because it touches on something that all consumers have a self-interest in — themselves and their health. Not everyone sees the need for life insurance, but there isn’t a person out there who wishes to be less healthy than what they already are. Insurers are starting to drive toward what really drives an individual, and so the business focus is moving from protection toward prevention. This is a fundamental paradigm shift that is transforming our industry.

Who was a big influence on your professional career?
I had — and still have — mentors who have made a big impact on my career. I started seeking them out while in high school and continued to do so throughout university. They are all accomplished professionals who work in a multitude of fields (not just actuarial) and have been instrumental in giving guidance on paths to take and opportunities to consider.

My parents have been the largest influence — introducing me at a very young age to meditation and ultimately a holistic approach to health and wellness. This led me on a path to becoming a yoga instructor and helping teach others how to work toward inner peace. This side of personal development was key to the clarity and calm through all my actuarial exams and stressful work situations.

What new trends do you expect to emerge in the actuarial profession in 5-10 years?
Actuaries will be expected to understand a lot more than just actuarial science in order to meaningfully contribute to the business. There is a growing interplay of other disciplines within core actuarial functions (data science, AI, medical underwriting, technology, etc.). It will influence every part of the actuarial profession in some way, even for those who stay within the traditional field.

What advice would you give an actuarial student or an actuary just entering the profession?
Seek mentors. Meet as many and diverse people as possible. Get involved early in industry organizations and find opportunities for public speaking and volunteering. Be open minded and avoid falling into a fixed view of what an actuary should be. People are defined by the parameters they place on themselves, and there is no one-size-fits-all box in this profession.