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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Q&A: Francois Kocks (South Africa)


Francis Kocks

I was born and raised in South Africa. I currently work at Ernst & Young (EY) in Cape Town. I am academically qualified, and in the process of completing my work-based skills for submission to the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA).

Since moving to Cape Town four years ago, I have grown to appreciate all the great opportunities the city has to offer. Aside from the natural beauty, there are amazing restaurants and great entertainment. I have a list of all the places I want to visit with my friends, and I tick off places as we do, but the list just keeps getting longer!

Over weekends you will either find me exploring a new spot or being lazy at home, watching a movie or reading a book. I am an avid reader of fiction, particularly modern fiction and fantasy, and I’m a big fan of the Game of Thrones books and TV series.

Which actuarial field(s) do you specialise in?

I work in life insurance consulting and have worked on a lot of interesting projects over the course of my career at EY. I’ve had the opportunity to work in areas as diverse as statutory actuary work, SAM (South Africa’s equivalent of Solvency II) implementation, prophet modelling and life insurance auditing.

Why did you decide to study and work in this specific field? 

I chose to study actuarial science based on my love of mathematics and problem solving, as many actuaries have before me. 

I decided to specialise in life insurance because I particularly enjoy the challenges faced by offering and modelling life insurance products. It’s an environment where there are lots of unknowns and logic is used to make sense of it all, simplifying a complex lifetime contract to tangible features and risks and managing those as best we can.

Which actuarial society are you a member of?

I am a member of the Actuarial Society of South Africa.

Which actuarial fields are most dominant in South Africa and why?

Most actuaries work in life insurance, although banking is becoming a very popular area to specialise in.

Tell us a bit about the market that you work in?

Consulting is a very competitive environment and we are always focused on thinking ahead and trying to identify the next challenges for our clients. 

We need to be ahead of the curve and up to date on current thinking, market developments and regulations. Service quality is very important to us and we strive to always deliver the best quality to our clients. This can be demanding, but it is very rewarding to deliver services and products that have a real impact.

What kind of support do students get, in your company and elsewhere in the market? 

Most actuarial employers offer their students financial support for exam and material costs and study leave to prepare for the exams. The amount of leave will vary between employers and subjects, and will also depend on the number of previous attempts at a subject. 

Is there an actuarial student society in the area where you work? If so, what kind of activities does it organise? 

There is the Student Liaison Committee, which is intended to function as the primary link between the Actuarial Society and its student membership. There have been limited society organised activities for students to date, but ASSA has organised a Young Members Convention for the first time this year. This was marketed as an opportunity for students who are about to qualify or newly-qualified actuaries to discuss topics like:

Are you, geographically speaking, in the right place?

What do employers look for when they set out to recruit actuaries?

Where are the opportunities?

Are you involved in any actuarial activities outside your day job? If so, tell us about the benefits and challenges?

I am involved with the Financial Services Board’s (FSB) SAM Insurance Groups Task Group. This group discusses and helps draft the regulations pertaining to insurance groups that are being implemented under SAM. 

Involvement on this task group helped me get a perspective on the different challenges faced in implementing suitable regulation for insurance groups and also helped me keep up to date with developments in this area.

What do you believe are the social and economic drivers for actuarial work in South Africa? 

Treating Customers Fairly has been a significant focus in recent years and has led to investigations into the fairness of credit life insurance premiums, prompting insurers to think differently about their policyholders and contracts. There has been much debate to date about implementing a National Health Insurance scheme, that would result in a restructuring of health care in South Africa. The outcome of this remains uncertain.

What’s the reputation of actuaries and the profession in South Africa? How does the professional body try to enhance their image?

Actuaries are regarded as very intellectual and technical by other professionals. There is relatively little understanding of what actuaries do among these professionals, and most non-professionals have no knowledge of actuaries.

ASSA is very involved in marketing the profession to high school learners and spreading awareness. 

In addition, ASSA gets involved in various public initiatives, such as AIDS modelling.

What are your views on the role of an actuary in the market you work in, now and in the future?

I believe actuaries have a vital role to play, both in terms of supporting businesses and educating policyholders and the general public. Actuaries’ roles are likely to change, given technological advances and changes to regulation, but I believe there will be an increased need for experts who understand the business and are able to make sense of results, both in terms of risks but also to pursue economic opportunities.

In the UK, the skill set of an actuary is being recognised across many non-traditional disciplines. Is this also true of South Africa?

Yes, especially in banking where a new subject has been launched to cater to actuaries wishing to specialise in this field.

What were the influences that shaped your career decisions to date? 

The projects I have been exposed to and the actuaries I have worked with. I have had the advantage of a variety of different work experience which have helped me to identify topics and experiences that interest me.

I have also worked with market leaders in various fields, giving me valuable insight and advice on developing my career.

Could you tell us about your immediate and longer term goals? 

My immediate goal is to complete my work-based skills and complete my qualification as a Fellow. My longer term goal is to become a recognised expert in specific areas of expertise, trusted for my insight.

What do you say when asked: “What is an actuary”?

An expert in the time value of money and risk. Someone who makes financial sense of future uncertainties.

How did you celebrate the day you qualified?

I celebrated passing my last exam by taking out my colleagues and friends for the night.

Tell us how your post-qualification experiences have been?

I have continued to be involved in much the same work as previously, although my responsibilities have increased and I tend to need to apply my judgment more. This has been challenging, but has also provided important learning and growth experiences. The biggest benefit of finishing the exams has to be not having to study over weekends.