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Q&A: Ian Brealey

Ian Brealey is an actuary at Allianz Australia, in Sydney and is originally from the UK

07 JULY 2016 | BY IAN BREALEY


Ian Brealey
I moved to Australia in 2009 with my wife, who is also an actuary and from the UK. We both wanted to try living abroad and Australia was an obvious choice with its beautiful weather and no language barrier – well, only a little language barrier. When we first landed, I did wonder what on earth we were doing but on our second day, we took a walk to Manly beach and that was enough to convince us that we were in the right place. We now live here permanently with our two young daughters.

I have specialised in non-life ever since I started as a graduate with KPMG in 2006. When I applied for my first actuarial job as a graduate, the intake was split into life and non-life teams. I actually chose life as my preference but was put into non-life. I enjoy the work so I am pleased it happened that way.

Which actuarial society are you a member of?
The Institute of Actuaries of Australia.

Which actuarial fields are most dominant in Australia?
Life, non-life and pensions, like the UK.

Tell us a bit about the industry or market that you work in?
The work is very similar to the UK but there are fewer insurance companies. This means the actuarial industry is much smaller and most actuaries know each other.

Are you involved in any actuarial activities outside of your day job?
I am Allianz’s representative for a university actuarial student placement programme. Each student completes three job placements during their degree at different participating companies. The students are usually the top performers from their university and it always impresses me how much knowledge and determination they possess.

Could you tell us about an interesting project you have worked on?
I recently undertook a project at Allianz to identify which of our online insurance quotes were real people and which were robots from companies attempting to identify our pricing. It was a really challenging and required innovative thinking.

What do you believe are the social or economic drivers for actuarial work in your region?
Customer information is increasingly being utilised by Australian companies to improve their products and services. I have seen a number of examples of actuarial teams being created to this end.

What is the reputation of actuaries and the professional body in Australia?
The reputation of actuaries is very strong. When I moved here, I liked the fact insurance companies’ reserves are required to be best estimates signed off by a chief actuary, with no allowance for management or equalisation reserves. I think this puts more responsibility on the actuaries.

How do you see the role of an actuary evolving in the future?
I think we are already at that point, I see a number of actuaries working in non-traditional fields and think it will only increase. Some of the consultancies have actuarial teams dedicated to data analytics for companies outside the traditional areas.

How often and in what way do you use social media?
I am a relative technophobe compared to most people of my generation when it comes to posting on social media, however it is very helpful for keeping in touch with my friends and family overseas. From a professional context, I believe social media has huge potential to be used more in the future by insurance companies looking to utilise external data to differentiate risk for pricing.

What were the influences that shaped your career decisions to date?
The biggest influences have been the people who dedicated their time to mentoring me.

At work, I have been extremely lucky to have had some excellent managers. My wife has also spent lots of time helping me make key career decisions and it has been really helpful to have her there to discuss ideas.

Could you tell us about your immediate and longer term goals?
I like to use data analytics and then apply real-world thinking over the top. This applies directly to my current role and I am always looking for ways to innovate in order to improve pricing. I don’t have any set plans for the future but see myself applying the same type of techniques, whether it’s in the insurance industry or something different.

Have you thought of pursuing other academic or CPD qualifications?
I feel the best learning I can do now is on the job and seeking out material specific to my areas of interest.

As an actuary have you experienced any challenges or benefits of being qualified?
As a student actuary, I certainly looked forward to getting my free time back, which hasn’t disappointed! The qualification is important in securing a number of actuarial roles, however I believe the most important thing is your experience and skillset.

What was the motivation behind the decision to move and how long did you envisage staying?
I had always wanted to try living in Australia since I was a child. I liked the idea of a warmer climate and the more laid back way of life. Thankfully my wife had similar thoughts. We decided to treat the move as permanent, so we really threw ourselves into it.
 
What are the main professional differences between the UK and Australia?
I think there are relatively few differences. The first challenge was to understand the different regulations in Australia but I found the material from the Australian regulator APRA easy to understand.

What kind of support did you get in moving?
I contacted recruitment agencies both in Australia and the UK before I left, to find out about opportunities. Potential employers were keener to meet once I was in Australia in person. I entered on a backpacker visa, and contacted recruiters again to seek a job with visa sponsorship. One of the recruiters was kind and told me about an opportunity that wasn’t being advertised through any recruitment agency. This was the job I ended up in.

What do you say when asked, “What is an actuary”?
I use the example of my job: When you go online to get a car insurance quote and type in all your details, it is my team who come up with the price.