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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Planning for employment overseas

here are an increasing number of companies willing to consider hiring from outside their country and an ever-increasing number of actuaries actively looking to move from one country to another.
Here are some ‘rules’ that usually apply which can provide guidance to aspiring international career movers:
– A company will always look locally first to fill its vacant positions.
– An overseas candidate needs to have a serious and genuine reason for seeking employment in a particular country.
– Candidates need to have a specific or scarce skill set to be considered.
– Generous expat financial packages are a thing of the past.
– Developing economies do not necessarily pay above local salaries to get overseas expertise.
– Acquiring a visa for many countries has become more difficult, eg US H1B visas are currently fully allocated within two days of release date. The numbers of visas have been steadily decreasing, currently around 65,000 per year, although this is likely to increase in the future. The UK has recently removed actuaries from its skill shortage list.
– Conversely other countries have become easier: Australia has recently increased its skilled migrant visa allocation to 152,800 per year.
The first step is to ask yourself: where in the world do I want to go? Why? And when?
Once the answers to these questions are determined, begin considering the following in relation to where you want to go:
– What is the current and future demand for my skills?
– What is the supply profile? Who am I competing against?
– What are the current market trends that might influence demand for my skills?
– How can I differentiate myself to be an attractive candidate?
– What do I need to do to make this happen?
Let’s have a look at each of these in more detail, and give some specific examples to help guide you.

Where, why, and when?
Since relocating to another country is a major investment for both you and a potential employer, you both need to have a high degree of comfort that you will be happy and able to remain there for a significant amount of time. What is considered an acceptable time varies by country, sometimes culture, and often by immigration laws. For example, Bermudian employers are accustomed to having people stay for only two or three years. In other countries, potential employers will be keen to know that you plan on relocating or repatriating for good. In many developed markets, countries will only grant a work visa for a short amount of time, usually from three to six years.
Your interest in a location needs to makes sense to a prospective employer. Commonly accepted reasons include: returning to historical family roots; have visited several times and really understand the culture; wife/husband/partner is being relocated or has close family there.
That is not to say that those with a good helping of genuine wanderlust are not taken seriously, but be prepared to convincingly demonstrate your commitment. Ways to do this could be as simple as getting on a plane and appearing on their doorstep in your own time and at your own expense.
When do you want to do this? Although you can’t interview for a job, say, three years in advance, you can start to talk to people, learn about their business practices, and make connections within the marketplace. Once you have decided the time is right, plan on the search taking at least five to six months.

Demand, supply, and trends
There is a considerable difference in the structure and development of insurance markets around the world, which in turn heavily influences the demand for actuaries, and specific actuarial skills.
For example, if you are an expert at pricing motor vehicle insurance, you are unlikely to find a huge demand for your services in a country which has tariffs. However, if you know that the tariff is going to be removed, and it is therefore likely that many insurers are going to try and compete for that business and haven’t developed the expertise in-house, then it is likely you will find an increase in the demand for those skills.
If companies have opened satellite offices in offshore locations (eg India) to handle backroom actuarial functions, being technically strong and able to lead and mentor a staff of new actuaries are valuable skills.
In more established markets, increased market competition and regulatory requirements and a strong focus on developing more robust risk management techniques has led to an increase in the demand for the actuarial skill set to accommodate the need for complex analysis. We have also noticed a recent trend in Australia for more actuaries to move into wider fields, leaving gaps in insurance companies that have been difficult to fill from a local supply-short market.
Regarding the supply of actuaries in a market and therefore how attractive you will be to an overseas employer, consider the following:
– Has there has been consolidation in the insurance industry that has led to actuaries being displaced? It is not productive to try and look for a role there if you are competing against locals in a shrinking market. For example, a UK pension actuary would find it difficult to find a role in an Australian superannuation environment.
– In emerging markets, what type of growth has been estimated, for what products, and how does that growth compare to the estimated domestic growth of the actuarial profession? There is considerable and ongoing discussion about trends in emerging and growing markets, for example in China and India. However, it is important to read behind the headlines in the context of actuarial work, and to remember that just because a market has a demand for insurance products and new insurers seem to be establishing themselves every week, this does not immediately translate in to a massive need for overseas actuaries. Despite the rhetoric in the newspapers, China is not ready to employ 20,000 actuaries!
– There is a huge difference between markets as to which disciplines are required. East Asia is dominated heavily by life insurance but with general insurance starting to become important; Australia has demand in both areas, but more acutely in general insurance; India is mainly life insurance with a few roles in general insurance; and the Middle East is likely to be health insurance-dominated owing to recent legislative changes, but has a tiny actuarial market at the current time.

How can I differentiate myself?
Once you have decided where you want to be and have an idea of what the supply, demand and trends are for your desired location, you will have a better idea of what is needed to be able to find a role.
Be aware of the stage of the product development life cycle that the country you are looking at is. For example, if your chosen location is still selling traditional par life products, make sure you can demonstrate familiarity with them, even if you have only worked on unit-linked products before.
There are many countries in Europe whose language of business is English, but you will need to learn the native language to feel part of the organisation and the social scene, so do get to night school and brush up on your French or German. In Japan, which was historically closed to non-native speakers but is now beginning to open up, you must have a good, almost fluent knowledge of the language to be considered. Elsewhere in East Asia, for example in China and Taiwan, Mandarin is essential. At the more junior level in Hong Kong, candidates will not be considered if they cannot speak Cantonese. Singapore and Malaysia are more open to English-only speakers. Similarly, the smaller markets of Thailand and Vietnam where actuarial talent is scarce, English-only speakers are acceptable, but native language speakers are highly desirable.
Take some time to become ‘culture aware’. This doesn’t just mean the vagaries of which hand to shake with and how to present your business card. It really means getting to understand the business culture, particularly such matters as how hierarchical a society is, and what ‘power distance’ they operate under. This has an enormous influence over how successful you will be in a new environment. Geert Hofstede is one of the leading academic writers on this subject, and makes for illuminating reading. Best of all, speak to an actuary who is currently working in that country. If you are going into a senior role, you need to know whether the man next to you is willing to share data with you because you are female or whether it is impossible to effect structural change in your department because the guy who has been there for 30 years says no.
The real differentiating factor that will make your application stand out once the technical fit has been established is personal flexibility. You are moving to a new country because you want to experience all its charms and challenges. Recognise that the salary is not necessarily going to be a perfect exchange-rate swap, that the business culture is different and that you need to demonstrate a willingness to adapt to it not the other way around. Also, the recruitment process and how it is approached by hiring companies can be very different from what you are used to, which can make for an even more stressful process.

What next?
Having gone through the exercise above, you should now start to formulate a plan that is right for you. There is not enough space here to provide definitive answers to many questions you are likely to be asking at the moment, so speak to as many people as possible who have professional knowledge of the location and specifically, the actuarial market.
Engaging or partnering with a good international specialist recruitment company early in this process can provide you with updates of the trends in the marketplace, as well as with contacts in the field, and they will contact you with opportunities to consider when the time is right for you.
As the search process and the move itself will be full of uncertainty, stress, and probably some disappointment along the way, it is important to remember why you began the search in the first place. Remember that the opportunity to work, live, and enjoy another culture in a working environment is one of the most life-enhancing and broadening activities one can do.