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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Working overseas: Indonesia - Chris Lossin

Chris Lossin,
general management and new business development,
Sun Life Financial,

How long have you spent working overseas?
I have been based in Asia since 1999, living for three years in each of Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, with shorter spells in Taiwan and the Philippines. In fact, even when I was based in London through the ‘80s and ‘90s, I spent the majority of my time travelling and working on overseas projects, everywhere from Saudi Arabia to Chile.

Explain what motivated you to seek employment overseas
I always enjoyed the challenge and variety associated with working on overseas projects, so when I was offered my first Asia posting in Hong Kong, it was easy to accept.

How did you find the role you are doing?
I had set up a boutique consultancy, based in Singapore, with a handful of like-minded old Asia insurance hands. Sun Life was a good client and liked the work I had done for them so when an opening came up in Indonesia they asked if I would join them full time.

What attracted you to the region?
The great attraction of Indonesia is the potential of the insurance market. The population is around 250 million and less than 5% have proper life insurance. Only around 1% of GDP is spent on insurance, compared with 7% to 10% in more developed markets. With rapidly rising incomes, there is phenomenal potential for growth. Insurance companies can often be disappointed if they do not achieve 50% growth in a year.

What were the main challenges you faced when moving overseas?
The problems and frustrations all come down to logistics — different time zones of family and head office colleagues can be a real frustration. The difference between Jakarta time and Toronto time (Sun Life’s head office) is exactly 12 hours, which, as you can imagine, is the most difficult time difference possible. Work permits, tax return forms, visas, multiple bank accounts and so on all add to the logistical hassles which, while time-consuming and process-heavy, are manageable.

What are the main differences you have found working overseas compared to the UK?
Asians certainly work longer hours than Europeans on average although there is sometimes an element of ‘stay in the office for five minutes after the boss has gone home’. Ten years ago in Asia much of the work had a déjÀ vu feeling, since there was an element of catch-up with the West. For example, when modern unit-linked products came to Asia, many of us older hands had been through this exercise in Europe already. The catch-up is now pretty well complete and the day-to-day actuarial work in East and West has converged.

What is the most topical industry issue facing actuaries in Indonesia?
Quite rightly, after the 2008 financial crisis, the supervisors have been looking carefully at the insurance regulations and this has led to an unprecedented level of change. Indonesia’s regulations were not as comprehensive as those in the UK so there has also been an element of catch-up and we have had to change things in weeks that took years to embed in other more advanced markets. It’s not quite as extreme as the Stone Age to the Space Age overnight, but sometimes it feels like that. The Indonesian ‘fit and proper’ tests for directors of insurance companies are more rigorous than anything I have encountered elsewhere.

What is the best thing about where you work?
I love the sun, the hot climate, the beaches and the low cost of living. I’ve also been very impressed with the quality of education available — so important for those of us with families. The availability of enthusiastic and well-qualified domestic help at a reasonable price makes life much more comfortable. After a long day’s work, it is much nicer to have a meal prepared by your personal local chef than to start peeling potatoes and cooking a casserole.

And the worst?
Definitely the notorious Jakarta traffic. We spend so much time travelling to meetings that we convert our cars into offices to avoid several hours of downtime each day.

Give an unusual fact about the country in which you work
Indonesia’s population of nearly 250 million is derived from over 300 different ethnic and cultural groups that speak over 250 distinct languages. The majority of Indonesians still speak a dialect at home, rather than the national language ‘Bahasa Indonesia’, which is quite similar to Malay. The archipelago extends 5,100km across the Earth’s surface and comprises over 13,000 islands and over 200 active volcanoes. Fortunately, we are normally spared from tornadoes and typhoons.

What are the key attributes an actuary or actuarial student would need to work in your role and region?
I deal with people in many countries and their cultures are often quite disparate. Some cultures are very reserved and feel it is impolite to ask questions or respond to a question with the word “no”.

Conversely, other cultures are much more outward going and aggressive and you have to be quite forceful just to get yourself heard. It can be quite a challenge to deal with such diversity, especially when people from different cultures are in the same team. Getting on with people from all countries, without causing offence or appearing to be schizophrenic, is both an art and a science.

Do you have any advice to others looking for overseas work?
Unless you are both confident and masochistic, wait until you have finished your exams before you take an overseas position. An overseas role can be very intensive and if you have been struggling all day with a new language, culture and regulations, you may find it hard to get your second wind and start studying after dinner until the small hours.


Further reading: Working Overseas

This special supplement looks at career opportunities for actuaries around the world, and how to plan for a move abroad

Emmanuel Kenning - Global trends and opportunities
Trevor Watkins - Actuarial qualifications
Hannah Kaye - Actuarial skills travel well
Andrew Smith - Lecturing in Armenia and Albania

Region focus
Mark Dainty - United Kingdom
Jan Sparks - Europe
Wilhelm de Wet - South Africa
Luke Hawkins - Asia

Case studies
Switzerland - Alex Summers
Spain - Carl Haughton
South Africa - Bjorn Landewig
South Africa - Ashlin Noonan
Nigeria - Alexandre Aquereburu
Hong Kong - Paul Murray
Hong Kong - Mark Stamper
Indonesia - Chris Lossin
Bermuda - Amy Guna
Australia - Matt Noyce
Australia - Ashley Palmer