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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Far-flung actuaries

In November 2004 I moved to Frankfurt from Edinburgh on a two-year secondment to work in Standard Life Germany’s product development area. I have found working in Germany a challenging and rewarding experience.
The German life insurance market is completely different from that in the UK. It is tightly regulated and there is a large focus on guarantees in life insurance products. The ageing population and savings gap are also big concerns.
Working in Frankfurt offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the German culture and to learn the language. One of my favourite aspects of German life is the number of local festivals. Right now, I am enjoying the Frankfurt Christmas market.
I’m glad I decided to come to work in Germany and I’m looking forward to my second year here.

In the civilised days of the 1960s, when professional conduct took ten lines of the Year Book, the exams covered law and reversions, appointments were ‘arranged’, and the FFA was recognised throughout the Commonwealth, we sailed out to Wellington to join the Dominion Life Office of New Zealand, having been assured that they had stopped eating the missionaries.
With only eight actuaries in the country, New Zealand was a perfect place for a young recently qualified actuary. Your advice was sought on all aspects of the business, whether actuarial or not punchcard systems, investments, underwriting, pension schemes, taxation, sales agents, brochures, and of course premium rates, new products, and the valuation and bonus declarations. You had a duty to be up to date.
I was glad that the Faculty training was not narrowly specialist, and that I had come up through the ranks in Scottish Equitable and Life Association. I calculated premium rates and surrender values, drafted trust deeds and kept valuation cards, studied in the evenings, and learned the hard way.
As for differences from the UK, well, you could meet the prime minister, Mr Holyoake, walking to work, talk to the minister of finance, Hugh, on first-name terms, play golf with the head of the Inland Revenue Department, and buy oysters and chips in a newspaper for a pound a dozen.

Zimbabwe is a developing country going through a period of hyperinflation (three-digit inflation). The financial markets are very volatile and the legislation of insurance and pension industry is not fully developed.
An actuary practising in Zimbabwe faces the following challenges: what basis to use in actuarial valuations, the development of products that are relevant to an inflationary environment, and the need to be a ‘jack of all trades’, ie comfortable with life insurance, pensions, corporate actuarial work, etc.
A shortage of actuaries in Zimbabwe means that those who are there must take on more responsibilities than their peers in the UK. I am one of the first generation of actuaries in the country, and I am grateful to the actuarial profession because it has equipped me to be able to apply myself in an unfamiliar environment.

I moved to Hong Kong expecting to be here for two to three years that was in 1979 and I’m still here!
In the UK, I initially worked in life insurance, while in Hong Kong the focus has been on pensions (at Watson Wyatt) and investments (at Fidelity). For the last eight years I have had my own company, Stirling Finance (Stirling because it’s halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh).
In a fast-changing world, the actuarial environment in Hong Kong and China is changing even more rapidly.
In 1979 there were fewer than ten fellows in Hong Kong; now there are 280. China in 1979 was essentially a closed country; now flying to Beijing or Shanghai is like commuting.
I am fortunate to have been involved in the financial sector reforms in China see my latest book, Pension Funds in China. At the same time I have travelled extensively, including trekking across the Gobi Desert this year.

The actuarial profession in Ireland is, at first glance, almost identical to the Scottish profession actuarial employment clustered around the traditional institutions of life companies and pension trusts, with qualification earned through the same examination system.
However, the experience of being an actuary in Ireland is quite different. Chosen at random, the actuary in Ireland is likely to be young, to have qualified within the last ten years, and to have a degree that includes some actuarial science. At parties you will not have to explain what you do it is a truth universally acknowledged here that actuaries are academically and financially well endowed.
Finally, despite the cold winds of change blowing through traditional areas of actuarial practice, we are upbeat about our career prospects. Our core skills are in financial modelling, and demand has never been higher as Ireland’s financial services have expanded and indeed played a leading role in Ireland’s recent economic transformation.

Having spent my whole life in Scotland, a great job offer brought me to Canada in mid 2002. I was working in Edinburgh as a scheme actuary before leaving to perform a similar job in Toronto. The main difference in my working life is that all Canadian provinces have their own legislation, so there are even more rules to be aware of.
I have always been grateful for the freemasonry of actuaries around the world, especially friends in the Faculty. I was able to contact actuaries and say ‘I have a problem that I have never come up against before. Have you any advice on how to go about it?‘ eg the mergers of life funds or projecting the impact of AIDS. My advice to any young actuary would be to look at the wider world, or the wider fields of actuarial work, and give it a go.
The biggest difference in my daily life is my commute I still walk to work, but now I have a 50?C seasonal variation while doing so. With four months of snow it’s no wonder so many Canadians are fans of winter sports you really need something to look forward to throughout the season. I’ve been skiing, snow-shoeing, and recently tried curling for the first time ironically I had to leave Scotland to finally try a sport we Scots invented!