There is plenty of potential for the actuarial profession in this East African nation, says Edwin Mulenga
Although it comes a little late in my career, it has been a dream come true to be pursuing actuarial studies, with just one last exam on the horizon. Between graduating from college and embarking on the actuarial journey, I was an IT person. A few colleagues questioned my move from IT to the actuarial profession; the simple truth is that from day one in college, more than a decade and a half ago, I envisioned myself as an actuary – so I am going for my dream. The plus side is that my IT experience, particularly in coding, has been handy in my current work.
Generalist and specialist
As the only actuary at my employer, the Reserve Bank of Malawi (which is also the supervisory authority for the nation’s finance sector), I work across insurance and pensions, including the assessment of alternative investments for pension funds. To be precise, I am not really working as an actuary by title or job description, but rather as
a general supervisor for life insurance companies. I previously held a similar role for pension schemes.
At times, I have done more specialist technical work, including drafting regulations on risks, capital and reserving. On a few occasions, my employer has requested I provide advice and recommendations on the in-house pension and medical aid schemes. I also serve on the bank’s financial stability technical committee, which assesses the stability of the whole financial market. Add the actuarial exams and mine is a busy schedule.
A budding profession
Malawi’s supervisory authority does not yet have an actuarial division, but the potential for establishing one is growing. With plans to move towards a more risk-based insurance capital framework, there is an implied understanding that we need actuarial expertise. Progress has been made in East Africa under an International Monetary Fund project to develop a risk-based capital model, and that will be a starting point. In addition, the skills gap has become more prominent as insurance companies have started implementing IFRS 17.
I am the only local qualified (Associate) actuary domiciled in Malawi, except for two expatriates working in the private sector, and the profession is yet to be understood by the public. This challenge needs to be overcome. As such, we have established an actuarial society – largely led by a Zimbabwean actuary who has since left the country, and a few others who work at local insurers and at the supervisory authority. Our meetings are few and far between, but I believe that once a few of us complete the exams, this will change and we can help promote the actuarial profession in the country, as well as influence policy and professional standards.
We have had international support in terms of professional advice, including through the Africa Taskforce of the International Actuarial Association (IAA), whose meetings I am invited to as an observer. I have appreciated the mentorship from these engagements, and they have also helped me progress with exams. I am especially grateful to the IAA as I was also sponsored to attend the Congress of Actuaries in Berlin in 2018, which was professionally enriching.
In turn, I offer mentorship to actuarial science students at one of the major local universities and link them with established actuaries and actuarial bodies. So far, this has been a success. The programme is new, and the first cohort of students is yet to graduate. I hope membership of the society will be boosted by these graduates.
My personal interests include promoting inclusive insurance that is suitable for different demographics and socio-economic statuses. In this vein, Germany’s Access to Insurance Initiative offered me a secondment for a few months, where I analysed different solvency capital regimes around the world that could enhance inclusive insurance growth. The only downside of this great experience was that I had to take a break from exams that year! I was also recently involved in designing a credit life policy that specifically targets micro-enterprise loans under a World Bank project.
Edwin Mulenga is a principal examiner in the Pension and Insurance Supervision Department at the Reserve Bank of Malawi