[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Q&A: Joshay Harkoo (South Africa) 


Joshay Harkoo

I was born and live in South Africa, and currently work at Sanlam in Cape Town, specialising in life insurance, while also studying for my actuarial exams.
I am a young, vibrant and outgoing individual. I enjoy keeping active by playing golf, hiking, running, cycling and, more recently, I am especially keen on trail running.
I balance my social life with studying, and on the weekends you can catch me doing anything from grabbing a beer after a hike up Table Mountain, to playing around on my guitar.

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

I enjoyed mathematics and statistics at high school and I was interested in the financial world. I narrowed my decision down to two options – accounting or actuarial science – the latter appeared more enticing.

Which actuarial society are you a member of?

The Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA).

Which actuarial fields are most dominant in your country and why? 

Life insurance and pensions are traditionally the most dominant fields, however, pensions roles have decreased significantly since the shift to defined contribution funds became more established. 

In the past, an individual would save with an insurer since they provided the easiest access. With the availability of asset managers, individuals are increasingly opting for this approach. 

This non-traditional role, as well as others, such as actuarial consulting and banking, is growing as the actuarial skill set is acknowledged and valued in alternative positions.

Tell us a bit about the industry or market that you work in

The South African life insurance market is quite an interesting place to be right now. There are a number of regulatory changes on the horizon such as the implementation of Solvency Assessment and Management (SAM) on 1 January 2016 which is closely aligned to Solvency II in the UK. As challenges become apparent, actuaries within the industry are consulted by the regulator to better improve the environment. 

With all the regulatory changes and the South African economy being sluggish since the 2008 recession, the life insurance industry has still managed to release promising results. 

What kind of support do students get in your company?

Registration and exemption fees, annual subscriptions, study material – including course notes, tutorials, counselling sessions and study leave can be covered. Depending on the environment you work in, the policies tend to differ. The amount of leave you are able to take will depend on the role you are in, however, companies tend to remain market consistent as the study policy is a large factor in attracting and retaining the best actuarial students.

Is there an actuarial student society in the area where you work? What kind of activities does it organise?

Yes, the Association of South African Black Actuarial Professionals (ASABA) organise a number of events including mentoring, school outreach programmes and vacation work for students. ASABA are also set to co-host the first young member’s convention with the profession. ASABA’s vision is to realise a South African actuarial profession that represents the demographics of South Africa.

Are you involved in any actuarial activities outside your day job?

Unfortunately not. Due to studying, time constraints are an issue. I am part of the actuarial committee within my organisation and in the future aim to leverage of this knowledge to get involved in broader activities.

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

Traditional life insurance products are becoming more difficult to sell within the South African market with the rise of alternative savings vehicles such as unit trusts. Coupled with the historically low trust levels people generally have with life insurers, actuaries are required to be innovative to generate new business. 

Regulatory changes are a key driver as actuarial input and judgment is required in the process of drawing up the regulation through to the implementation and monitoring. The increased need for compliance to regulation and the volume of information required by regulators has created a greater demand for actuaries. A recent introduction is that of the tax-free savings product proposed by the regulator. The South African market is largely made up of the lower income class who require flexibility. This resulted in the need for actuarial judgment to develop a product which is flexible, competitive and meets the regulator’s requirements.

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

ASSA has a strong reputation and is affiliated with the UK profession. The professional body is continuously growing and enhances its image by providing strong commitment to its stated goals. The profession plays a vital role with the South African government and is regularly consulted on government economic policy and intended changes – these types of activities help develop and enhance the profession’s image.

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

Actuaries historically filled the insurance valuations roles. As companies across various industries have begun taking a more risk-based approach, actuaries are valued in more business-orientated roles. 

Previously, you would rarely see actuaries as part of the executive committee of a company. I see this changing greatly in the future as actuaries fill these strategic, business roles. Last year, one of the large mobile communications companies in South Africa hired a large group of actuaries. This indicates how actuaries are perceived to add value outside the traditional roles.

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, recently ASSA have added the banking subject to the syllabus as an option for one of the specialist exams , as well as the enterprise risk management subject, which was added a few years ago.

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

My elder brother is an actuarial consultant and he has often advised and educated me – particularly giving me an insight into the actuarial and corporate world.

Vacation work programmes played a vital role in gaining exposure to various types of actuarial work – this has helped in making career decisions, such as the type of firm I joined after university.

I have also gained great insight through mentorship programmes, networking events and attending a range of seminars.

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

To progress through the last set of exams I still have to write while putting in maximum effort at work. Also to maintain a healthy work/study/life balance. Long-term goals are to obtain international exposure and grow my skill set to incorporate a range of actuarial ability. I would aim to join interesting and new projects that develop my skills and ability to solve problems while giving back to society.

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

An actuary is an individual who deals with risk and uncertainty and methods of solving financial and business problems. Many people understand what an accountant does, so I sometimes take this approach: An accountant looks at events that have occurred and how to report on what has happened. An actuary looks at events that have occurred and how to plan for what is going to happen.

How will you celebrate the day you qualify?

I will celebrate with those who have supported and guided me to qualification – in particular my parents and two brothers who have supported, advised and encouraged me through my development to reach this significant milestone.