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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Q&A: Sharad Bajla

Sharad Bajla is an actuary at Asia Capital Re in Singapore, and is originally from India


Sharad Bajla

I have lived most of my life in India. After spending four years with EMB/Towers Watson, I moved to Singapore with Asia Capital Re and have been here for about two years now. This is the first time I have lived away from home, and so I try to soak up every bit of the diversified culture in the region. Singapore is a brilliant place for vacations and I try to visit as many places as possible. I also love music and need lots of instruments buzzing in my ears at all times.

I specialise in non-life. More recently, I have been working in non-life reinsurance. It was a matter of chance that I decided to work in this field. As a fresh graduate, I was interested in actuarial fields but fairly indifferent between life and non-life. I was given a good opportunity at the start of my career in non-life and haven’t looked at any other field since.

I am a Fellow of the Singapore Actuarial Society and partially regulated under the IFoA.
Which actuarial fields are most dominant in Singapore and why?
Most actuaries here are involved in traditional roles of pricing, reserving and valuation. Companies are however beginning to take an interest in more modern functions like enterprise risk management, capital modelling and strategic planning.

Tell us a bit about the industry or market that you work in?
Singapore has established itself as the leading insurance hub in the region, catering to the whole of Southeast Asia and many markets in the wider Asia-Pacific region. The small city-state stands to benefit from the double-digit annual growth expected within the Asian insurance industry in coming years.

New rules from the regulator regarding risk-based capital are around the corner, with impact studies and consultations being carried out. It may take a few years, but the eventual implementation will significantly increase the demand for actuaries.

Are you involved in any actuarial activities outside of your day job? If so, tell us about the benefits and challenges?
I am involved in multiple volunteer roles with the IFoA – as an assistant examiner, exam counsellor and mentor. The roles help me stay in touch with the examination process. Through the counselling and mentoring roles, I get a chance to directly guide students towards the right approach to passing exams.

The most obvious challenge is that you cut down on your personal time. Sometimes, especially when the day job is already pressured, it is difficult to accept volunteer assignments.

Could you tell us about a challenging or interesting project you have worked on?
I find my latest assignment interesting as well as challenging. I need to develop an in-house capital model. It is rare for such projects to be attempted in this region since data availability is quite limited. The best part is that as there is no existing model to work on, I have to be fairly creative in my approach.

What do you believe are the social and economic drivers for actuarial work in your region?
Actuarial work is strongly driven by regulatory requirements around valuation, audit and more recently, stress testing. Some markets are moving away from tariffs, which increases the demand for pricing actuaries.

Additionally, the risk of catastrophes in the region along with a soft market for reinsurers is pushing companies into careful analysis of their portfolios and accumulation risk.

What is the reputation of actuaries and the professional body in Singapore?
I believe actuaries are recognised in Singapore for the technical knowledge they bring to the industry. Most qualified members here are also fellow members of one of the globally recognised bodies like the IFoA, the Society of Actuaries or the Casualty Actuarial Society, since no exams are conducted by the regional society.

How do you see the role of an actuary evolving in the future – can you see actuaries working outside their traditional sectors?
We all agree that the role of actuaries is already evolving. Many are getting involved in reserve variability, stress testing, enterprise risk management, capital requirement and allocation. These roles are fairly recent, especially in less mature insurance markets like Singapore.

In the future, I see actuaries playing a more strategic role in their organisation and having a bigger say in higher management. From what I have seen so far, actuaries in Singapore are still mostly involved in the traditional areas such as insurance firms.

How often and in what way do you use social media? How does it help your professional work as an actuary?
I probably use social media less than most people of my generation and most of this is for personal use. LinkedIn is useful for building a network within the actuarial field. Sometimes, I stumble across interesting articles relating to the insurance market or actuarial work, but the impact is limited.

What were the influences that shaped your career decisions to date?
Like most readers, I always harboured a strong inclination for maths and statistics, which would explain why I joined this field. I love problem solving and enjoy projects that require me to devise customised solutions to each problem. The Solvency II wave pushed me into building capital models, which I thoroughly enjoy.

Could you tell us about your immediate and longer term goals?
My short and intermediate-term goals are to learn from seniors and from a variety of experiences. Actuarial roles are fairly technical and specialised and the knowledge from actuarial exams is nowhere enough to succeed. I plan to use the initial phase of my career to grasp as much as possible.

Have you thought of pursuing other academic or CPD qualifications, or joining other professional bodies?
I heaved a sigh of relief when I qualified and decided that I am not going to do any more exams for the rest of my life. However, I have sometimes considered management programmes.

Currently, actuarial teams are small and the management expertise required is limited. However, actuaries have the ability to be heavily involved at the C-suite level in their company and management skills can be a strong asset.

As an actuary have you experienced any challenges, new opportunities and benefits of being qualified?
In the current environment, many countries are heavily discouraging hiring foreign workers. A qualification marks the person as having a unique skill and places them in a limited pool of talent. As a result, it becomes a lot easier to be invited for opportunities in a different country.

What was the motivation behind the decision and how long do you envisage staying abroad?
I always wanted to work in a mature insurance market where advanced technical skills are an advantage. My first inclination was towards London; but when I was offered an interesting role in Singapore, I accepted. Initially, I believed that this would only be a stepping stone in my career. However, the longer I stay here, I feel more at home. Singapore is a wonderful place with such a wide mix of cultures.

What are the main professional differences between India and Singapore?
I think actuarial work is similar in most countries even though we have to adapt our methods to different markets.

What kind of support did you get during your research in moving abroad?
The recruitment agencies helped me understand the job market, salary levels and company reputation. My employer provided me with a clear picture of the working environment and the job specs. They also sponsored flight tickets, relocation expenses and put me up at a hotel for a month before I could find my own place. On the whole, the transition was unexpectedly easy.

What do you say when asked, “What is an actuary”?
An actuary is a super-genius mathematician (cue evil smile) who quantifies future financial risks. They are traditionally involved in the insurance industry.