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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Q&A: Graham Watson

Graham Watson is an actuary at HSBC, Hong Kong, and originally from the UK


Graham Watson
Outside the actuarial world I enjoy travelling and hiking. Being based in a different continent opens up a huge range of new and interesting places to visit; destinations that I may have not chosen when they previously involved a long-haul flight. Hiking in Hong Kong was probably one of the biggest surprises – being a city-state it’s not probably something you’d initially expect, but after a short journey you can be out of the city with nature in one of many country parks and hiking trails.

You specialise in life, why did you decide to work in this particular field?
This was the field that I joined following my graduation from university. However, it is something that I enjoy and so I’ve stuck with it.

Which actuarial society are you a member of?
The IFoA and the Actuarial Society of Hong Kong.

Which actuarial fields are most dominant in Hong Kong and why?
Life insurance is most common. A large proportion of the multinational companies operating in Asia have their Asia-Pacific headquarters here, as well as their life offices manufacturing and distributing life insurance products.

Tell us a bit about the industry or market that you work in?
There are many similarities between the insurance market here to that in the UK, as a result of British rule here until 1997. The market is probably more savings-orientated as compared to protection, with products more geared to meeting needs that the state would play a much greater role in in the UK, through the provision of education, healthcare and retirement savings.

Are you involved in any actuarial activities outside of your day job?
Yes, I’m a career ambassador here in Hong Kong and I’ve spoken at local universities to actuarial students. This has been a great opportunity to engage with the next generation of actuaries and see their enthusiasm for the profession. I was also part of the organising committee for the IFoA Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur this year.

What do you believe are the social and economic drivers for actuarial work in your region?
The biggest change is likely to the implementation of a risk-based regulatory reporting system in Hong Kong over the coming years. Hong Kong currently has a prudent ‘Solvency I’ approach, not too dissimilar to the regime that used to exist in the UK.

A regulatory change that will occur more quickly will be the requirement to provide more extensive and regular illustrations to policyholders so that they better understand the contract they have purchased and their ongoing performance.

What is the reputation of actuaries and the professional body in Hong Kong?
They seem to be held in relatively high regard in Hong Kong. The professional body supports the regulator in the development of guidance notes to support the interpretation of the law.

How do you see the role of an actuary evolving in the future?
Actuaries will continue in their traditional fields, but as our numbers increase there will be an expanding number of actuaries in other areas. The skills we have open up a huge range of sectors to be considered.

How often and in what way do you use social media?
I’d probably describe myself as an occasional user of social media, which I use to keep in touch with people that I probably wouldn’t otherwise stay in touch with.

What were the influences that shaped your career decisions to date?
Having a great mentor is probably the biggest factor.

Could you tell us about your immediate and longer term goals?
In the short term I’m looking to continue developing my career in Hong Kong. In the longer term I’m not sure if I’ll get wanderlust again and want to try working in another location.

Have you thought of pursuing other academic or CPD qualifications?
I’ve loosely thought about taking ST9 to obtain the CERA qualification, but then this does seem like a lot of hard work!

As an actuary have you experienced any challenges or benefits of being qualified?
The biggest opportunity that came after I qualified was the opportunity to work here in Hong Kong.

Having always enjoyed travelling, the opportunity to work overseas was always something that interested me. At times I thought this may be a pipe-dream, but after some research I found that it was possible.

I’ve set no limits on the length of my stay overseas. I’ll stay for as long as I’m enjoying it and there aren’t other opportunities elsewhere that I want to explore. When I first moved I thought it would maybe be for 5-10 years, but we’ll just have to see.

What are the main professional differences between the UK and Hong Kong?
The main difference is the willingness to challenge and debate different points. The culture is a little different and so saying too openly that you disagree with a point is not always done.

How did you find this opportunity?
I used a recruitment agency. The overall process, from receiving the job particulars to being given an offer, was around three months and I was in Hong Kong in another two to three months after this.

What kind of support did you get during your research in moving abroad – from recruitment agencies and potential employers?
I got lots of support from my employer and recruiter in the process, and it was also quite exciting to go and do my own research as I was about to embark on this new adventure. The main support I received was with regards to visa application and the physical process of moving overseas.

What do you say when asked, “What is an actuary”?
The response I provide depends on who I’m talking to. It could range from “like an accountant” to “a person who undertakes complex calculations to assess the value of payments that are uncertain in their timing and size”.