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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Working overseas: Nigeria - Alexandre Aquereburu

Name:
Alexandre Aquereburu

Employer:
Continental Re

Field of work:
Risk Management and Actuarial

Overseas country and city/town that you are based in:
Lagos, Nigeria

Number of years spent working overseas:
18 months

Explain what motivated you to seek employment overseas.
I had been living and working in the UK for a while and at that stage, I felt I needed a fresh challenge. Going overseas for me was a bold step into the ‘unknown’ and sounded exciting because it would provide a different environment, a different level of actuarial development and totally different challenges. I also strongly felt that I had enough experience and I was getting to the right age to attempt this.

How did you find the role you are doing?
I found the role through some actuarial connection that I made earlier in my career when I was still a trainee. My contact had been working on a number of projects overseas and when this opportunity came up, he re-established contact with me to gauge my interest.

What attracted you to Nigeria?
I wanted an experience in Sub-Saharan Africa because I hail from the region and I thought it was a culture I could relate with more easily. Nigeria is one of the largest economies in the region and having this experience would make a valuable addition to my career. There are not many actuaries who have ventured into emerging countries and I felt this could become a key selling point for me and open up great opportunities at a later stage. I also knew that due to the lack of actuaries in an emerging nation, there was more scope for improvement.

What were the main challenges you faced when moving overseas?
Main challenge was initially getting used to life in an emerging country. In the UK, a lot of things are taken for granted which you can’t easily access in a developing world. The weather can be very hot and humid and this takes some getting used to at first. There is also a huge concentration of population in Lagos therefore traffic can get a bit hectic and very slow at times. We do suffer from power shortages at times but there are alternative solutions and it’s nothing that cannot be managed with a bit of patience and planning. You need to be adaptable and accept that things are done differently from what you would expect.

Workwise, the value of actuaries is still very obscure therefore we need to sell ourselves more and justify our presence by adding value in a short space of time. The skills set is also not as available as in the UK therefore I have to take on a lot more work and do more coaching and training for the industry but it is exciting.

What are the main differences you have found to working overseas compared to the UK?
The work is definitely more varied and less segmented. We do not have the luxury of big actuarial teams focused on reserving, pricing, capital or risk management. So I end up getting involved and bringing actuarial knowhow to almost every facet of the company from operations set-up to strategy. Personal sensibilities need to be managed in this environment because doing new things may reveal inefficiencies about the old ways of doing things and therefore communication skills are very important.

The work is somewhat less technical but in a way it is a good thing as I need to stand behind and explain every opinion or judgement made instead of hiding behind mathematical formulas and methods. Some of the traditional actuarial methods that work in the UK need to be adapted in order to work in a different environment where there are different considerations to take into account.

The underlying assumptions are vastly different and the work can actually expose the limitations of current actuarial models which are often based on the UK/Europe or US environments and those limitations need to be acknowledged and addressed. Therefore a high-level view is often very important and necessary to deliver the quality advice.

What is the most topical industry issue facing actuaries in Nigeria?
Developing the profession and selling the value of actuarial expertise. There aren’t just enough actuaries.

What is the best thing about where you work?
Living outside your country is quite fun and interesting. This is a country where people really know how to enjoy themselves. The absence of cold winters is also a bonus. Workwise, the best thing is probably being an actor of change.

And the worst?
Life can be very expensive. Cities in emerging countries can be as expensive as major cities in the world.

Give an unusual fact about the country in which you work.
The oldest university in Nigeria is the University of Ibadan, which was founded in 1948 as a college of the University of London. It became an independent university in 1962.

What are the key attributes an actuary or actuarial student would need to work in Nigeria?
Solid experience because you will need to speak in front of board directors and senior members who will question and challenge you with all their experience. Solid knowledge based on facts and figures will help in terms of confidence. I have observed that most other professions are afraid of numbers and unable to interpret what the figures mean. That’s an advantage of the actuarial profession.

Do you have any advice to others looking for overseas work?
Get rid of your preconceptions and decide what kind of experience you want. There are so many places and the experience varies wildly so it’s important to know exactly what kind of lifestyle and work you will be faced with. Visit expats blogs to see what life is really like. Negotiate a good package with all the extras. And finally, be adventurous... If you don’t like it, you can always come back.

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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