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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Working overseas: Switzerland - Alex Summers

Name:
Alex Summers

Employer:
Zurich Insurance Company Ltd

Field of work:
Life Insurance

Overseas country and city/town that you are based in:
Zurich, Switzerland

Number of years spent working overseas:
2

Explain what motivated you to seek employment overseas.
When I saw the advert for the job at Zurich Insurance I was very happy where I was, and wasn’t even thinking about moving on, but often the best opportunities come up when you’re not looking for them. Both the role and the location were very appealing. When I applied I had no expectation at all of getting the job, but when the offer came through, I was able to relocate, and it was just too good an opportunity to turn down.

How did you find the role you are doing?
Simply in response to an email advert.

What attracted you to Switzerland?
After watching the sun setting on the mountains over the lake I needed little more persuasion the following day at the interview that Switzerland is great place to live. Zurich certainly lives up to its reputation as clean, efficient, safe and comfortable city. Trains are hardly ever late - I’ve never waited more than 5 minutes.

What were the main challenges you faced when moving overseas (be they personal or work-related)? At work, there were opportunities to contribute right away so there was a lot to learn very quickly. Settling in socially is an obvious challenge when moving to a country where you know hardly anyone, but Zurich is a very international company – as is the city as a whole. There are lots of people in the same situation, which helps it feel like home very quickly. At Zurich we work in English and coming here with no German at all was no problem outside of work after picking up a few standard phrases, but there are plenty of opportunities to learn more for those who want to try.

What are the main differences you have found to working overseas compared to working in the actuarial profession in the UK (eg work/life balance, type of work etc)?
I made several transitions at once when I came to Zurich, moving up from work as a student actuary at a consultancy helping mostly local teams, to working as a qualified actuary in the head office of a global company. The UK exams and my previous experiences at Towers Perrin were invaluable but there is always still a lot to learn: whether on standard product designs in the USA, regulatory requirements in Spain, lapse modelling in Germany, or Zurich’s product mix in Australia. Probably the biggest change has been the chance to contribute to high-level, global decisions at the same time as helping translate them into the details of local modelling implementation.

What is the most topical industry issue facing actuaries in the country where you work?
As for the rest of Europe, parallel developments in solvency regulation and reporting standards: discussions on SII and IFRS 4 Phase II continue to dominate the agenda.

What is the best thing about working in Switzerland?
The people, the variety, and the challenge. I really enjoy being part of an actuarial team sitting in Zurich with members not just from Switzerland and the UK but also from Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, Singapore, China, India, the USA, Australia, and South Africa. Everyone has a different story to tell. It’s also great to have the chance to work closely with our teams around the world on problems that really stretch me every day. When I visit, I am able to enjoy more of what London has to offer now I live in Zurich than when I was living there studying for exams – friends and family are never more than a couple of hours away.

And the worst?
There are so many interesting opportunities here that it can be a challenge to balance them all within the working day: in the last two years I have reviewed embedded value results and reports from Hong Kong to Chile, designed and implemented new global processes and reports for ALM analysis and replicating portfolio validation, developed Zurich’s Solvency II methodology for interest rates, managed the global Economic Scenario Generation process, and more recently participated actively in both Swiss and pan-European industry working groups.

Outside of work, at first the exchange rate takes a little getting used to. But once you’re earning in Switzerland, the currently strong Swiss Franc is a good problem to have. Depending on your lifestyle, living costs here are if anything lower relative to typical actuarial salaries after tax than in London, so you can easily end up saving a lot more. After Zurich prices, shopping anywhere else in the world seems great value at the moment. Give an unusual fact about the country in which you work.

To celebrate the end of winter a giant snowman filled with fireworks is burnt each April while members of the city’s historic guilds gallop around it after proudly parading through the city in costume. The time it takes after the bonfire is lit for the snowman’s head to explode is supposed to indicate how good the summer will be – we should have lots of sunshine this year!

What are the key attributes an actuary or actuarial student would need to work in your role/country? Eagerness to keep learning and openness to new opportunities in an international environment are important, as well as the standard actuarial skill-set and values. Communication is the key.

Do you have any advice to others looking for overseas work?
Keep an open mind, but think through what you want carefully in advance so that you can be ready to take opportunities as they arise.

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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