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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Working overseas: South Africa - Ashlin Noonan

Name:
Ashlin Noonan

Employer:
Novare Actuaries & Consultants, a small but fast growing entrepreneurial company providing implemented investment consultancy services to institutional clients throughout Southern Africa

Field of work:
Head of ALM & Strategy Formulation, where my key responsibilities are assisting clients with setting appropriate investment objectives and determining optimal strategic asset allocations to meet those objectives

Overseas country and city/town that you are based in:
Cape Town, South Africa

Number of years spent working overseas:
4

Explain what motivated you to seek employment overseas
I was keen to explore the world but I was at an important time in my career (1 year post-qualification) and thus I was reluctant to take a sabbatical to travel. Moving overseas to work was a good compromise between new experiences and continuing my professional development.

How did you find the role you are doing?
Through a South African based recruitment consultant who already had my current role on their books when I contacted them.

What attracted you to South Africa?
I wanted to live somewhere that English is widely spoken, so that immediately narrowed my options. A huge plus for South Africa was the availability (subject to conditions) of special skills visas (‘quota permits’) for actuaries which are not linked to a particular job, can be applied for in advance in your home country and are issued quickly relative to some other countries.

Other attractive aspects were the instant recognition of my qualification without any probationary period or additional exams and the relative proximity to Ireland, particularly the small time difference. I had been on holiday in South Africa twice before the move so I knew it was a country in which I would enjoy living, and that an actuarial salary would provide an excellent quality of life.

What were the main challenges you faced when moving overseas (be they personal or work-related)? From a personal perspective, the main challenge was leaving my family and friends behind. Arranging all the things that one tends to take for granted, such as bank accounts, was frustrating at times. From a work perspective the transition was quite smooth given the global nature of investment and the fact that institutional investors in South Africa face very similar challenges to many of their global counterparts.

What are the main differences you have found to working overseas compared to home?
I worked primarily with pension funds in Dublin, but in South Africa I work with other types of institutional investors also, e.g. medical funds, beneficiary trust funds, so getting to grips with the nature of their liabilities was a steep learning curve. The impact of Aids on life expectancy and the resultant consequences for retirement planning was something I had not had to consider previously.

There is a much greater focus on real returns, with inflation reaching 13%yoy at one point during my first year in South Africa. There are more rules and restrictions on investment, such as exchange control limiting the percentage that can be invested offshore, and various exposure limits for pension funds. Liquidity also needs greater focus due to the smaller domestic investment market.

The work-life balance is quite similar. However, there is more travel involved due to having clients scattered all over Southern Africa, which often means 4am starts! That said, my quality of life outside of work is better, as my salary goes much further here and I’m far fitter and healthier due to a strong focus on an outdoor lifestyle and the better weather.

What is the most topical industry issue facing actuaries in the country where you work?
In the short-term, the main focus is on the update to the legislation that sets parameters around allowable pension fund investment, which comes into effect from 1 July. In the longer term, the focus is on the largely untapped investment opportunities in Africa.

What is the best thing about where you work?
The weather

And the worst?
The 16 hour flight home

Give an unusual fact about the country in which you work.
Life expectancy is only 53.3 years for males and 55.2 years for females What are the key attributes an actuary or actuarial student would need to work in your role / country? The key attributes needed are very similar to those required in more traditional markets. However, one will often work with decision makers with limited financial background so the ability to explain complex issues simply, and to up-skill and empower those individuals is very important.

Do you have any advice to others looking for overseas work?
It is critical to do lots of research, including visiting the country where you plan to move beforehand if at all possible. Ensure that your net expected salary will be sufficient to fund the lifestyle that you envisage. When negotiating a package make sure that you have enough leave days to allow for both trips back to your native country and holidays to explore your new homeland. You need to start planning well in advance of when you intend to relocate as it is likely to take longer than you anticipate, with visa applications in particular sometimes taking months.

Don’t underestimate how difficult the first few months can be until you get your new life in order and begin to make new friends. And if you are anything like me, don’t underestimate how much money you will spend on flights home to avoid missing out on important events and milestones!

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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