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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Working overseas: Hong Kong - Paul Murray

Paul Murray,
Life and Health,
Swiss Re,
Hong Kong,
Special Administrative Region of China
— three years

Explain what motivated you to seek employment overseas
A persuasive boss suggested it would be good for me and, after a visit to look around, I didn’t want to look back on the opportunity and say “If only...”

How did you find the role you are doing?
I was moved as part of an internal transfer, that involved three different people rotating across three roles. It was therefore quite a complex thing to achieve, involving two of us transferring across continents.

What attracted you to the region?
Hong Kong is an incredibly exciting city and, although it can feel a bit cramped at times, you easily get addicted to the fast pace and choice of things to see and do. The scale of the opportunity in the developing markets in Asia is also very alluring.

What were the main challenges you faced when moving overseas?
My role is regional so involves travelling across Asia-Pacific working with a wide range of cultures. Working out how to get the best out of people who come from a range of different backgrounds requires a delicate balance between setting demanding objectives, understanding what is achievable and knowing how different cultures respond to different management styles.

What are the main differences you have found to working overseas compared to the UK?
Due to the regional nature of the role I do, there is a huge range of things happening, and this is quite typical of Hong Kong, where many Asia regional headquarters are based. Fifty per cent of my time is spent travelling around Asia, so I find myself quite thinly spread, and this naturally impacts on personal time, but I try hard to keep weekends free from work.

In terms of work, the combination of scarce data and quite aggressive product design across Asia also needs a much more open-minded way of thinking to what we are used to in more developed markets like the UK.

What is the most topical industry issue facing actuaries in the region?
Product development, particularly in the health space, is a very hot topic. Many companies are also interested in Solvency II developments — for some who are part of a regional European group, this is a more pressing issue, but others are still watching with interest as local regulators are likely to respond in some form over time.

What is the best thing about where you work?
I would say the opportunity to travel to a wide range of very different and interesting countries within about four hours’ flying time. And the weather is a bit better than London!

And the worst?
Hong Kong suffers quite badly from pollution, particularly in the summer months. There is a strong lobby within Hong Kong for clean air to be taken more seriously politically. On clear days, a walk through the many national parks can be a remarkable experience, and it may surprise many people to know that two thirds of the island is a protected national park with many walking trails.

Give an unusual fact about the country in which you work
There are more mobile phones than people in Hong Kong, with one of the highest mobile phone handset penetration levels in the world. If you go out for dinner with local people, you will need to compete for attention with their smartphones.

What are the key attributes an actuary or actuarial student would need to work in your role and region?
An inquisitive mind, a willingness to try something new and an ability to handle the unexpected.

Do you have any advice for others looking for overseas work?
Lifestyle is naturally a key consideration when moving overseas, but do also think about what you will be doing day to day and make sure it is something that you can be passionate about. There is no point living in paradise if you have to do something you consider boring all day.

I also would say that many people expect to replicate all the good things about the life they have where they come from — the reality is that if you want to enjoy the experience of living abroad you will have to compromise somewhere. The personal rewards from the experience will definitely be worth it.

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Further reading: Working Overseas

This special supplement looks at career opportunities for actuaries around the world, and how to plan for a move abroad

Features
Emmanuel Kenning - Global trends and opportunities
Trevor Watkins - Actuarial qualifications
Hannah Kaye - Actuarial skills travel well
Andrew Smith - Lecturing in Armenia and Albania

Region focus
Mark Dainty - United Kingdom
Jan Sparks - Europe
Wilhelm de Wet - South Africa
Luke Hawkins - Asia

Case studies
Switzerland - Alex Summers
Spain - Carl Haughton
South Africa - Bjorn Landewig
South Africa - Ashlin Noonan
Nigeria - Alexandre Aquereburu
Hong Kong - Paul Murray
Hong Kong - Mark Stamper
Indonesia - Chris Lossin
Bermuda - Amy Guna
Australia - Matt Noyce
Australia - Ashley Palmer