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Q&A: Khang Phung

Khang Phung is an actuary at PVI Sun Life, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

07 JULY 2016 | BY KHANG PHUNG


Khang Phung
I grew up in Ho Chi Minh City, the energetic commercial hub of modern Vietnam but spent a large part of my career working overseas, including five years in the UK and two years in Singapore.

I love watching football and have been a keen fan of Arsenal for more than 15 years. I also like tennis and try to play on a regular basis. I enjoy playing the piano every now and then; however, whenever I try to play a romantic song, my four-year-old boy always asks me to play ‘the wheels on the bus’.

I specialise in life insurance. I work both in valuation, pricing and product development. When I started my career in Vietnam, only the Vietnamese life insurers offered actuarial jobs so it was natural that I took on the life insurance path.

I am a member of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.

Which actuarial fields are most dominant in Vietnam and why?
Life insurance is most dominant. Vietnamese non-life companies do not seem to have much use for actuarial resources. Voluntary pensions are relatively new and follow the defined contribution framework so do not require much actuarial input.

Risk management is a growing area but only large and multinational insurers have a separate risk function, so the actuarial opportunities are limited.

Tell us a bit about the industry or market that you work in?
With the young demographic, low insurance penetration and growing affluence, Vietnam is undoubtedly a high potential market over the longer term.

The Vietnamese life insurance market has enjoyed double-digit, year-on-year growth over the past 10 years. The overall premium income of the market was USD 1.5bn in 2015, an increase of 35% year on year. In addition, premium income is forecast to continue to grow at 15-20% per annum in the next few years.

There are currently 17 life insurance players, which is increasing, and the market is arguably becoming overcrowded given its size.

The life insurance market is dominated by foreign insurers with only Bao Viet Life and Phu Hung Life positioning themselves as ‘local’, although both have foreign shareholders.

Are you involved in any actuarial activities outside of your day job –  such as volunteering for the profession?
I am a keen volunteer and have been involved in many activities to support fellow students and to promote the IFoA in Vietnam.

I am a mentor for student members, and also work as a tutor for ST2 and SA2 subjects. I also support the Student Career Fair in Singapore and actively promote the IFoA with local universities.

I’m in charge of organising the networking event for IFoA members in Vietnam and I’m also a career ambassador.

What do you believe are the social and economic drivers for actuarial work in your region?
Healthcare and pensions are definitely the social economic drivers for actuarial work in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia.

What is the reputation of actuaries and the professional body in Vietnam?
Actuaries are very well respected in Vietnam. In fact, a few CEOs of the top life insurers are actuaries. There is unfortunately no professional actuarial body in Vietnam.

A few senior actuaries had a career talk at the one of the top universities to promote the actuarial profession; however, this is normally done on a personal level.

How do you see the role of an actuary evolving in the future – can you see actuaries working outside their traditional sectors?
Yes, definitely. In fact, I’m interested in the application of predictive modelling in marketing and e-commerce.

How often and in what way do you use social media? How does it help your professional work as an actuary?
I use social media mainly for personal reasons. But it also helps with work, as I come across many interesting articles on the application of actuarial skills outside traditional areas.

What were the influences that shaped your career decisions to date?
I like exploring, so have tried many interesting actuarial roles throughout my career. Actually, one of my first jobs was to write up a product brochure in which I had to think of creative ways to present complex benefits so that a
layman could understand it easily.

I didn’t like it in the beginning but later on I realised that was a very good way to improve communication skills.

Could you tell us about your immediate and longer term goals?
My immediate goal is to develop and launch many attractive and innovative products to serve the needs of Vietnamese customers. The longer term goals are to support the Vietnamese regulators in developing a comprehensive health care and pension system.

Have you thought of pursuing other academic qualifications? Do you think that actuaries should look at others sources of education to advance their career?
Yes. I am thinking of enrolling in a MBA or marketing course but have not yet decided. I definitely believe actuaries should look at others sources of education to advance their career in this fast changing world.

As an actuary have you experienced any challenges, new opportunities and benefits of being qualified?
I very much enjoy being a qualified actuary.

In fact, the benefits of being qualified are enormous in countries like Vietnam where the number of qualified actuaries is very low.

I’ve been involved in a wide range of activities that a qualified actuary would not usually get to work on in a developed country.

What do you say when asked, “What is an actuary”?
People don’t generally ask me that question as an actuary is not a popular job in Vietnam. Even my family don’t know what I do!

What was the motivation behind the decision to work overseas in the UK and how long did you stay?
The main motivation was to get overseas exposure. I stayed in the UK for five years and absolutely love the country. Strangely, I still miss the UK weather every now and then.

What do you think are the main professional differences between Vietnam and the UK?
There are many differences working in developed markets like the UK and emerging markets like Vietnam: business, regulatory environment and career opportunities for actuaries are some of them. Qualified actuaries in Vietnam are generally in a better position to get senior roles.

What kind of support did you get during your research in moving abroad – from recruitment agencies and potential employers?
I was lucky to get the support from my employers. They provided very useful information and I did actually come to the UK for the interview to see how things were before I made my decision.