Q&A: Natasha Saikia (India)
Natasha Saikia is a student from India, working at XL Catlin in Gurgaon
07 JULY 2016 | BY NATASHA SAIKIA
I hail from the beautiful state of Assam in India. I successfully graduated in statistics from Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi. Following my graduation, I got an opportunity to work with XL Catlin Gurgaon specialising in the non-life sector where I have been for almost three years.
I am interested in dance and music, particularly Indian classical music and the classical dance form of Bharatnatyam. I also like western Jazz and Zumba. I plan to learn other dance forms too such as salsa and belly-dancing. I believe that dance is the perfect way to relax the body and mind.
I also love to travel, explore new places and try different cuisines from time to time.
I specialise in the non-life domain, mainly on the reserve risk side. I leaned towards mathematics and that’s why I decided to study statistics. During that time I applied for the actuarial exams. Modelling, probability distributions and simulations fascinated me and fostered my interest in pursuing actuarial science as a career.
I am a member of both the IFoA and Institute of Actuaries of India (IAI).
Which actuarial fields are most dominant in India, and why?
Life insurance is the most developed market and has immense growth potential. The country’s demographics command the attention of market entrants: a young population, and a large and growing middle class with increased purchasing power and a disposition to save. Savings products hence dominate the market. Pensions is the second most dominant field due to the growing awareness among the young and middle-aged populations about the importance of building a retirement fund.
Tell us a bit about the industry or market that you work and study in?
I work in the non-life industry in the reserve risk team within XL Catlin. Reserve risk is a fairly new concept within the insurance market and is one of the highest contributors to the solvency capital of a company. It is a highly sensitive area and involves a lot of research and development in relation to different techniques to best estimate the volatility of a particular line of business.
What kind of support do students get in your company, and elsewhere in the market?
Most of the actuarial companies have a comprehensive actuarial study support programme where the students get weekly study leave before their exams. The companies reimburse examination fees, study material costs and also the actuarial membership renewal fee. Apart from this, companies give salary increments to students on passing exams as a means of appreciation and motivation.
Could you tell us about an interesting project you have worked on?
I have been involved in reserve risk infrastructure projects, the most interesting being the development of methodology for reserve risk estimation on a net of reinsurance basis for lines with excess of loss business which is still on-going.
What do you believe are the social and economic drivers for actuarial work in your region?
Actuarial assumptions are greatly dependant on demographic trends, the economic scenario and the prevailing social environment. The main driver for healthcare insurance is the lack of a government-aided universal healthcare system.
Due to the population’s low income levels and less awareness about various insurance products available, marketing of products has proved to be challenging. Penetration has been difficult especially in rural areas. The climatic condition is also quite varied across the country which influences the health and lifestyle of individuals.
That along with medical conditions such as morbidity trends has led to an increase in healthcare products over the years, though they have a long way to go.
What is the reputation of actuaries and the professional body in India?
In general people are not aware of actuarial science as a career. There is a mad race for actuarial science amongst college students pursuing statistics, mathematics, economics and engineering, however, students are not aware of the kind of actuarial work they would be doing in future and the limited supply of companies hiring actuarial staff.
The IAI is doing a good job in organising the Global Conference of Actuaries (GCA) every year, which attracts some of the most influential actuarial minds from all parts of the world. It involves lectures and discussions related to the fast-growing fields such as property and casualty, life and health, pensions and risk.
How do you see the role of an actuary evolving in the future – can you see actuaries working outside their traditional sectors?
The number of actuaries in non-traditional sectors has increased significantly in recent years. As there is increasing realisation of the importance of an actuary, many Indian insurance companies are setting up small actuarial teams, hence widening the scope for actuarial students.
In spite of actuaries being highly regarded in the life and pension industry in India, their importance in the non-life industry is also gradually increasing. Currently, actuaries are mainly responsible for pricing products under different lines of businesses and reserving. However, there are actuaries in other important areas like capital modelling and reserve risk in the future.
How often do you use social media? How does it help your professional work as an actuary?
Social media sites such as LinkedIn can be influential in terms of job opportunities, creating professional contacts and generating awareness about the various roles that actuaries are involved in. I like to use LinkedIn to gain contacts within the actuarial world, learn about the various companies involved in different fields, and new innovations within the industry.
What have been the influences that shaped your career decisions to date?
My love for mathematics and statistics made me choose actuarial science as a career path. Ever since I entered this field, I feel increasingly motivated because of the work I do, the intellect of my colleagues, interaction with actuaries and of course the challenging actuarial exams. I feel lucky to be working in my field of interest and I believe I will reach great heights within the actuarial field.
Could you tell us about your immediate and longer term goals?
My immediate goal would be to achieve expertise in reserve risk and enhance my business knowledge and technical skills. At the same time, I would like to work on challenging projects in order to broaden my analytical skills.
My longer term goal would be to become a fully qualified non-life actuary and to be an expert on various actuarial fields such as pricing, capital modelling and reserving. I would also like to gain a respectable position within the actuarial society and be able to make important decisions independently.
Have you ever thought of moving abroad?
Yes, definitely, the actuarial market abroad is much more developed and hence it has immense work opportunities to provide. I want to explore opportunities outside India. However, there is a big challenge in obtaining work visas.
Many companies abroad apart from few consultancies, especially in Europe and in the US, do not sponsor work permits, so the scope becomes limited. This is a challenge many Indians face. The other challenge might be that in Europe and in the US, the actuarial market is so saturated that there are not many positions open to outsiders.
What do you say when asked, “What is an actuary”?
An actuary is a professional who quantifies the level of risk that a company or individual might face in future, and then comes up with an appropriate solution to mitigate those risks, and thus helps clients or individuals to make a correct decision.
How will you celebrate the day you qualify?
I would like to throw a big party for my success and then plan for a long vacation.