Mikaela O’Brien describes her actuarial student life in the Atlantic archipelago, where there are no university courses – but plenty of business opportunities
I was born and raised in Bermuda – home to zero universities. However, we do have Bermuda College, which is equivalent to a US community or junior college and offers a wide range of two-year programmes. I studied there after secondary school, receiving my associate’s degree in actuarial science.
I went on to the University of Leicester in the UK to complete my bachelor’s degree and then returned home to do a six-month rotational internship at an insurance company, spending a couple of weeks learning with each team. After this I landed my current role at AXA XL.
The transition from university into the workforce was daunting, to say the least.
As a student looking for a graduate role, it was important for me to find a company that was welcoming and willing to help me develop in the profession. Now, almost two years into the job, I can reflect not only on how much I have learned but also on the confidence I have in my abilities.
There is a good blend of IFoA, Casualty Actuarial Society and Society of Actuaries students in Bermuda, which provokes much cross-pollination of ideas. In April, I am due to sit my fourth exam with the IFoA. My employer has been very encouraging and supportive of my studies – allowing ample study days and providing me with all the resources I need. I usually study for one or two hours each day after work, and for around eight hours at the weekend. On study breaks I like to take in the scenery of my beautiful island – I have a view of the Harrington Sound from my backyard and spend a lot of time out there.
My job provides great incentives for passing exams. It is my goal to finish all the professional exams within the next five years and qualify as a Fellow. Once I have done so, I plan to celebrate with my loved ones, a bottle of champagne and a trip of a lifetime!
In the long term, I would like to grow in the profession and become a seasoned business leader, as well as ensuring my family is taken care of.
Dynamic and diversifying
Bermuda is one of the top global centres for insurance and reinsurance. Most actuaries are in non-life, working in roles such as pricing, capital modelling and reserving. However, the territory has recently become increasingly popular for life (re)insurance, with several companies having moved here.
The reinsurance industry here is dynamic: the market has seen new entrants, new product lines and increased diversification. It continues to grow and strengthen, equipping us to handle different market conditions.
With (re)insurance being such a large sector, many of my friends and schoolmates also work in the field, which is great for social and networking opportunities. At my current job there is a huge sense of community and culture: we have an open office layout that encourages communication and teamwork. This also allows us to liaise more closely with CEOs and higher management, and learn from them directly.
Problem-solving has always fascinated me. My older brother Dejion also wanted to be an actuary – and I wanted to be just like him! This, coupled with the fact that I have always excelled at maths, simplified my decision. At 12 years old, I had already decided that this would be my path, and at 14 I got the chance to shadow an actuary for a day.
I am often asked: “What is an actuary?”
My response is: “A person who analyses historical data to determine the likelihood of different outcomes in the future – we manage risks and identify opportunities.”
Outside work and study, I spend my time with friends and family, usually playing competitive games or listening to music.
I love to travel, and enjoy photographing everything in sight – I often say that if I had not chosen this profession, I would have been a photographer.
Mikaela O’Brien is an actuarial pricing analyst at AXA XL, focusing on US property reinsurance
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