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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Careers: I’m an actuary, get me out of here

Oleta Adams used to sing, “You can reach me by caravan, cross the desert like an Arab man, I don’t care how you get here, just get here if you can”. Actuarial employers might well be singing the same tune, such is the current phenomenal demand for actuarial resources worldwide.

This article looks at the reasons for this, the benefits for actuaries venturing overseas, and how we might ensure it continues.

While bird flu has been predominantly confined to Asia, ‘regulation-itis’ has spread worldwide. Every few years, new rules, regulations andaccounting standards are implemented. This is good for the consumer. It also creates a huge and continuing demand for actuaries to understand, model, explain and then eventually criticise and rewrite these regulations. This circle of life ensures actuaries worldwide will continue in a starring role for some time.

Solvency II — The Return of the Jedi
One such blockbuster is Solvency II. While there will be some special previews in the near future, it will be a few years yet before the main feature hits the big screens, as the marketing people are still working on the details of the accompanying merchandise. This has created a huge workload for actuaries, with a consequent uplift in career prospects and remuneration. It will also form the basis for Solvency III — A New Hope.

The convergence of worldwide accounting standards has also meant that less specific skills and knowledge are required. Therefore, it is becoming easier and more attractive for actuaries to work internationally, giving them the opportunity to experience different cultures and ways of life. Throw in an overseas secondment with your multi-national employer, and the cost of exploring these new career opportunities (not to mention beaches) becomes even cheaper.

Have qualification, will travel
Saying you are an actuary will not get you very far at a party but it is a passport to travel in terms of your attractiveness to overseas employers. What other occupation offers you the ability to pick up the phone to a Singaporean employer, say you’re based in London, and have them arrange an interview there and then. Likewise, when a UK employer is faced with the option of hiring an Antipodean actuary, the question isn’t ‘why?’ but ‘why not?’. Working overseas can also enhance your CV. It not only gives you exposure to other principles, methodologies and products but it also allows you the opportunity to evaluate what you do at home from a different angle. An overseas stint can often act as a foot up the career ladder as well as introducing you to invaluable contacts for the future.

Increasing the supply
At the moment, demand for actuaries significantly exceeds supply. Basic economics teaches us that this leads to higher prices or, in this case, salaries. Will this trend continue? Unfortunately for employers, the answer is ‘probably’. The profession and employers may benefit from investigating innovative ways of increasing this supply.

One example might be to market the Associate/ Diploma in Actuarial Techniques as an ultimate qualification, ‘Actuarial Technician’, for example, rather than as a stepping stone to a qualification that approximately 40% of new joiners ultimately never achieve. University courses offering exemptions from the Specialist Technical exams have helped to speed up the rate of supply, although the continuing shortage means that market forces still dominate price.

There are downsides though. There is the risk that actuaries become more like glorified accountants, where the desire for subjectivity gets overwhelmed by the need for objectivity. Straitjackets will be specially adapted for assumption-setting actuaries confined to performing the next valuation with inputs allowing no individual judgement or discretion.

One profession, one world
Actuaries all over the world now have so much in common — similar qualifications, similar regulations and subject to similar accounting standards — making it much easier for us all to become ‘international actuaries’. Now we just need to speak a common language.

Members of The Actuarial Profession working overseas
» South Africa 1862
» South Asia 1053
» EIRE 915
» East Asia 668
» Australasia 616
» South East Asia 446
» Africa 446
» Europe (EU) 446
» US and Canada 436
» Europe (non-EU) 189
» Rest of Americas 115
» Middle East 99
» Total 7291
Source: The Actuarial Profession, October 2007

Paul Walsh FIA is managing director of Acumen Resources, the specialist actuarial recruitment company