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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Working overseas supplement: The big wide world

The actuarial profession is a truly global one. Actuaries can be found in all corners of the world and their skill set is increasingly in demand.

First, a few facts. It is important to remember that a company will always look locally first to fill its vacant positions and an overseas candidate needs to have genuine reasons for seeking employment in a particular country. It also helps to have a specific or scarce skill set. Developing economies do not necessarily pay above local salaries to get overseas expertise and generous expat financial packages are a thing of the past.

The visa situation has also changed. Acquiring a visa for some countries, such as the US or UK, has also become more difficult but others have become easier. Australia, for example, has increased its skilled migrant visa allocation again this year.

Now ask yourself — where in the world do I want to go? Why? When? Then begin considering:

>> 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 is it really like to live there and how will my family cope?

The right time
Since relocating to another country is a major investment for both you and a potential employer, both should have a high degree of comfort that you will wish to remain there for a reasonable amount of time. What is considered ‘reasonable’ 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 are planning to stay for five years or more.

Your interest in a location needs to makes sense to a prospective employer. Commonly accepted reasons include returning to historical family roots, locating to somewhere you have visited often and understand the culture, or if a partner is being relocated or has close family there. That is not to say that those with genuine wanderlust are not taken seriously but be prepared to convincingly demonstrate your commitment.

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.

Local knowledge
There are considerable differences in the structure and development of insurance markets around the world, which in turn heavily influences actuarial employment and the nature of the specific skills which are in demand. 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 that has tariffs. However, if you know that the tariff is going to be removed, and it is 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 be in demand.

In developing markets, the product offerings may not be as complex or sophisticated as you are used to, which on the one hand gives you the chance to add value in product development roles, but conversely you may feel less stretched technically if the products are more straightforward. The move to risk-based capital methodology and compliance with international accounting standards has opened up further opportunities for actuaries.

In more established markets, increasing competition, new regulatory requirements and a strong focus on developing ERM programmes has led to the creation of CRO positions filled by actuaries. The actuarial skill-set is increasingly attractive to those interested in ‘wider fields’, such as the environment, banking, investment and so on, creating a further supply/demand mismatch in the more traditional areas.

Clearly it is not productive to try and look for a role 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, you should look at how the growth in the overall insurance market translates to the growth and demand for actuaries. It is important to consider headlines in the context of actuarial work. Just because a growing affluent population has an increasing demand for insurance products and new insurers seem to be establishing themselves every week, it does not immediately translate to a massive need for overseas actuaries. Despite the rhetoric in the newspapers, China is not ready to employ 20 000 actuaries!

There is also a huge difference between geographic markets as to which disciplines are required. Actuaries in East Asia are mainly employed in life insurance but with general insurance demand starting to increase; 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 market on a macro level is currently very non-life orientated but more actuaries there are employed in life and health markets, particularly those with Takaful expertise. However, there are currently only about 15 actuaries in the whole region, so there is some further development needed yet.

Getting ahead
Be aware of the product development life cycle stage of the country you are looking at. 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.

One thing 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 the country and not the other way around. Also, the way the hiring companies enact their recruitment process can be very different from what you are used to, and often results in delays, uncertainties, negotiation challenges and stress.

Language and culture
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 virtually essential.

At the more junior level in Hong Kong, candidates will not be considered if they cannot speak Cantonese. However, Singapore and Malaysia are more open to English-only speakers. Similarly, in the smaller markets of Thailand and Vietnam where actuarial talent is scarce, Englishonly speakers are acceptable but native language speakers are highly desirable. For India and the Middle East, English is the dominant language.

Take some time to become ‘culturally 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 for example what ‘power distance’ is the norm. Being committed to absorbing the culture has an enormous influence on how successful you will be in a new environment. Find out what the key challenges of working there really are, and whether or not you feel comfortable that you can cope, day-in, day-out.

Next steps
Having gone through the exercise above, you should now start to formulate a plan that is right for you. Speak to as many people as possible that have professional knowledge of the location you are considering and, specifically, the actuarial market there.

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.

One final piece of advice — 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 journey in the first place — the opportunity to work, live, and enjoy another culture in a working environment is one of the most life-enhancing and mind-broadening activities one can undertake.

Lesley Traverso is managing partner, international, for global actuarial recruitment firm DW Simpson. This is an updated version of an article that has previously appeared in The Actuary.