Zeeshan Ali studied in London but trained in Pakistan, where opportunities opened up with a mainly Middle Eastern clientele
I first learned about the actuarial profession during my A-Levels. I was told it would be difficult but rewarding, and that the skillset would be transferable to other roles in the financial services sector. The fact that there were only a handful of qualified actuaries in Pakistan meant that, on qualifying, I would become part of a niche group and accorded much respect. These factors influenced my decision to do a degree in actuarial science at City University, London.
Living in London as a student opened my eyes. London is a diverse, multicultural place; take a stroll down Oxford Street, and you are sure to see people from many nationalities and religions. I made friends from different cultures and backgrounds, which helped broaden my perspective.
My first work experiences were an internship in life insurance and a placement in general insurance, both in the UK. Alongside technical aspects, these experiences allowed me to develop my work ethic and ability to work in a team. I started out on smaller commercial classes and moved to bigger classes, which pushed my modelling skills and allowed me to deal with different stakeholders.
These experiences left me thirsty for more – I was curious about other areas, such as risk management and investment management, so pursued a masters in risk management and financial engineering. As well as absorbing the knowledge, I had the opportunity to talk to professionals from the financial services, including risk managers, quants, portfolio managers, investment bankers and non-traditional actuaries. This helped me understand these different professions, and strengthened my ambition to become an actuary.
A changing landscape
After my masters, I moved back to Pakistan and joined a new team of consultants. It was the perfect time to move back; most of the firm’s clients were from the Middle East, and the actuarial landscape in the UAE and Saudi Arabia was being transformed.
The Insurance Authority of the UAE (now the Central Bank of the UAE) had recently introduced financial regulations for insurance and takaful companies, which meant increased reporting requirements for actuaries. This was a defining moment, as prior to these changes insurance companies hardly felt the need to use an actuary. With support and mentorship from my team leader, I handled multiple projects concurrently and got involved in business development early on in my career – an experience I cherish.
In Saudia Arabia, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) is also playing a critical role by increasing the actuaries’ responsibility and involvement within the risk function. SAMA promoted the profession, which led to a steep increase in the number of students pursuing it and in related jobs, and has elevated the standards of the Saudi insurance industry – it has perhaps the closest regime to Solvency II in the Gulf. In other Gulf countries, actuarial work is not expected to change much under current financial reporting regimes.
IFRS 17 is another game changer. Transitioning to the new standard will mean significant involvement of actuaries in financial reporting and key management decision-making, involving greater collaboration among insurance companies’ accounting, actuarial and finance functions.
Besides my day job, I volunteer in the profession. I’m a member of the IFoA’s 400 Club and Data Science Working Party and the Casualty Actuarial Society’s reinsurance research group, and an active contributor to the Pakistan Society of Actuaries’ IFRS 17 working group and non-life task force.
Zeeshan Ali is an Associate of the IFoA and the Society of Actuaries, with more than six years of consulting experience
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