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Student: The perfect actuarial mix

Matthew Welsh asks, ‘If you were a cocktail, which one would you be?’

01 MAR 2012 | MATTHEW WELSH
We are the result of a combination of skills, experiences and opinions. Over time, the mix can change, but we should never overlook the idea that, as with most things, too much of one ingredient over another can lead to an unusual, perhaps undesirable, blend.

So, how can we think of the right blend for an actuary and be sure that we are aiming towards it, if we’re not there already?

Technical skills
Do I need to say much about this? It’s the punchy base of the actuarial cocktail that gives us our overall flavour and, hopefully, largely differentiates us from our peers.

Ultimately, the respect we get from the non-actuarial community for passing what are generally perceived to be testing exams gives us the kudos as technically capable.

Further, nearly all actuaries have a pretty solid grounding in technical subjects through higher education and so it is perhaps more than a coincidence that we naturally demonstrate such abilities.

Soft skills
In my experience, it seems that many think of this area as the ugly sister of technical skills. However, long ago, the Profession recognised that all the in-depth analysis in the world means very little if it lives only in the heads (and on the PCs) of a few practitioners.

Indeed, the Profession regards communication as so important that parts of the qualification process demand that we not only think about this but also demonstrate a level of proficiency. Whatever your feelings about these parts of the process, they are there to force you to think about how best to interact with everyone, be they your senior, peer or junior.

Like it or lump it, soft skills are probably the area that most actuaries will be deficient in compared with their non-actuarial peer group. And, possibly, it could be the key ingredient to becoming the perfect actuary. It is, quite literally, the mixer; it takes the edge off the brute force of figures by fleshing them out with something highly palatable.

So, challenge yourself; for every exam you do, attend a seminar on team-working, brush up on your meetings etiquette or attend a networking event. Practise your ‘elevator pitch’. These things will become ever more relevant as you progress in your career.

Role-specific knowledge
Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, it’s not just about gaining knowledge in areas that you have been tasked with directly. You also need to be aware of what colleagues in your team are doing and the scenarios that are involved.

This is the ice in the cocktail that keeps it cool when things get hot. Admittedly, not all cocktails have ice, but ask yourself – on a hot day, would you rather have a metropolitan or a piña colada in your hand?

Wider business knowledge
You might read the FT, The Actuary and Insurance Times from cover to cover. You might only read the student page (which, if you are going to read anything, is probably the best use of your time). We can become very concentrated on the silo we operate in, which can not only lead to an isolated view of how to do what we do but also limits our potential to what we currently know.

Seeking to learn more about the insurance industry or, for example, the banking sector can only add more value to you as a professional. It’s the cherry/umbrella/lime/ pineapple that garnishes you and makes you interesting for being more than just a ‘drink’ but a well-rounded and well-presented individual. Ignore the world around you at your peril!

The actuarial community
Where would we be without other members of the actuarial community?
Do you think there are areas for improvement or would you like to recommend alternative approaches and ideas? Get involved with The Staple Inn Actuarial Society (SIAS) or volunteer for the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries or the Student Consultative Forum.

After all, it’s your profession. Using flair and ingenuity, you too can turn yourself into the perfect actuarial cocktail.

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