AfterLife 1/3 – I have qualified; what do I do now? Feels empty!

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(Length: 1750 words; ~9 minutes)


Qualification is only the beginning of a life-long journey!

What kind of professional do you want to be? 

1. One that continuously develops 

2. One that is tuned in the profession and the industry

3. One that carefully cultivates a personal brand

It has been immensely satisfying to watch the driven actuarial students in my team qualifying at an ever-increasing rate. At least two dozen now! It used to take longer to qualify earlier, maybe because one would hear about actuarial science somewhat later, get a job, and progress as they grew on the job.

But, recently, actuarial science has become a lucrative career choice, majorly marketed by coaching institutes in Delhi and Kolkata. This is good for the actuarial profession and the economy, as the actuaries bring intense and unique long-term financial quantification of risk. Fall-out has been a drastic reduction in the qualifying age. Bright and sharp young aspirants begin writing actuarial exams during their graduation or immediately after the exams, and by age 25 or 26, they qualify. Getting the Fellowship is an all-consuming endeavor; an early qualification is well achieved.

As I celebrated more and more young qualifiers, I also began fielding queries like, “Bala, I have qualified now; what next? What should I focus on? I feel lost, not sure where to grow next? There is so much out there; how do I know what to select? What if I spend time learning something and don’t like it later and miss out on the others (FOMO :))?”. Funny enough, this sounds like the emptiness that follows big-life events like marriage or post-partum depression!

Initially, I would advise the young achievers to go out and have fun; they deserve the joy and the life they sacrificed for the actuarial exam preparation! And that not to someone like me as a role model, as the traditional valuation, pricing, or reporting actuaries will surely evolve very differently.

But after the post-qualification euphoria, what next needs serious consideration. More holistic planning for life is required, as life is now quite complex as all-pervasive tech provides immense exposure and opportunities. Traditional business models are being disrupted, and the notions of success or happiness and what it means to have led a good life are too transforming. As I started jotting down my thought, this quickly evolved into a life philosophy with multiple facets. I have separated this blog into three readable chunks.

Qualification is only the beginning of a life-long journey!

Actuarial qualification gets you a premier club membership, a precious professional tag. So you already got a head start; unless you stop evolving or badly mess up your bearings, you are sorted for life as far as a basic standard of life is concerned.

With that strong foundation for a decent life, where will you settle? The qualification has proved that you have got what it takes to make things happen, putting in long and hard efforts, rational/logical communication skills, and most importantly, a scientific risk thinking structure as part of your repertoire. Why stop there?

Then this is all about how one plans to lead a well-rounded, satisfying, and minimal regrets life. And the bad news is that learning has just begun post-exams. But, you don’t get those core reading material packs, revision tools, past question papers, or someone with a convincing enough salt-pepper look (like me, basically :P) telling you how to navigate your dilemmas.

I personally have been fortunate enough to be guided at the right times by blessed souls in my own difficult times. But, looking back now, one approach that definitely would have helped me better is taking a holistic periodic check in my life, taking stock of where I was and where I wanted to be. That definitely needs to be done more often now in this fast-changing world.

Life is beautiful when one lives in a well-rounded fuller way; think of it as a three-legged stool. Of course, the right balance for you depends upon what conflicting aspects you hold dear to your heart. But be careful; life deviously forces you to change those aspects as you age. But in general, for a young actuary, the three legs of life are professional excellence, leadership development, and inner-personal growth.

This first part of the blog covers ideas for continuing professional growth.

What kind of professional do you want to be?

1. One that continuously develops

Actuaries will need to proactively sharpen their core expertise. Because of the accelerating rate at which the financial markets are being disrupted, novel corporate constructs are emerging, and how risk outcomes will be transforming. A sure way is to develop first-principle thinking early on in life. With this approach, you can reverse-engineer complex situations, break down the problems into essential components and then reassemble them. You never know; you might come up with a novel solution.

But what does this means in real life? First, actuaries need to keep going back to the profession’s basics. The core reading is the abridged summary from several good subject books, pick some of them and try to get conversant with the subject. Specialized application theory books for the areas like GLM and predictive modeling are an excellent place to start in the current environment of exponential data growth. With plenty of problems in the actuarial field where these concepts will help better, see if you can develop the workings in Excel, R, python, and JavaScript. Get to know the multi-state decrements, statistical credibility theory, and distributions (especially the fat-tailed ones), and find ways to add them to your daily work. Even if you are not writing SP-9, get hold of core material and be familiar with it; estimation of risk the capital concepts becomes less mysterious.

That brings-up coding. How much coding proficiency does one need as an actuary? I personally liked the simulating challenges coding presents. At the least, one should be able to bring up a back-of-the-envelope model when given minimal inputs.

How many of you can confidently develop annual cash-flow models for a term, participating, or unit-linked policy projections starting from a blank workbook? Ideally, one should have mastered a bit of Visual Basic too. Developing a premium table is likely the first time you encounter a customized macro with row and column offset. Distrusting any established process outcomes unless you can match the output with an excel cash flow will save you many goof-ups in your professional life later. Some good challenges for developing a sense of coding are, developing model-point portfolio cash-flow projections, projecting the P&L and Balance Sheets for the business plan, and using Monte-Carlo simulations to rig-up test data sets.

With the advent of R and python, Excel is seen as a cumbersome and inflexible tool. Nothing can be further! It doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to sit like Nokia and not add large-data capabilities to Excel. How many of you have explored dictionaries and function-like constructs in excel? Or know that Pivot Tables can now contain data from multiple sheets and potentially contain millions of rows? The trick is to minimize updating the worksheet and move all the calculations into VB code.

The bottom line is that actuarial science is based on understanding data, and you will face exabytes of data in your life. Therefore, you need to get comfortable handling large data volumes, working on the cloud, and learning a fair bit of coding to guide your teams.

2. One that is tuned in the profession and the industry

It might seem trivial, but it helps to keep watching the industry developments, like evolving regulations, market shares, changing practices, research papers, etc. CMI papers are a good example. How many of us are familiar with the recommended life table modeling aspects? Or being able to analyze financial statements and comprehend the health of insurers? Public companies provide a lot of details. For example, the sections Risk Factors, Our Business, and Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations from Draft Red Herring Prospectus (DRHP) of LIC of India are an excellent read!

The magazines from the actuarial institutes provide a good peek into current issues. In addition, some of your own firm’s research papers will also get you an insider view. Keeping a weekend aside once a month to catch up on these target articles can be rewarding in the long run; you will also get to know the industry influencers.

It helps to understand significant changes like Solvency II and IFRS’ impacts on product development.

3. One that carefully cultivates a personal brand

This feels like marketing yourself, but it is more profound. What do you want to be known for in life? Humble, easy to work with? Fair? Aggressive Achiever? Empathetic? Take some personality tests and understand your natural behavior inclinations and which one you might need to acquire by effort. Your personal brand is built over a long period of consistent daily actions that you take for granted. A proper posture that is naturally upright, a business-like outfit worn consistently, good hygiene, etc., all go a long way to develop an image of you. Practicing speaking and moderating your accent too helps; investing in yourself requires time and patience. Have you recorded yourself in regular conversations and seen how others hear you? Or consider joining Toast Masters even if you are already a good communicator.

What about your digital presence? Have a good professional picture on LinkedIn and your company’s digital comms platforms. Hi-def and professional attire better. Don’t post swooning, sky-diving, or that twisted neck pose that you think makes you very cute on Instagram or Whatsapp posts. Take time to cultivate connections, have your mentor circle or seniors, connect them on their LinkedIn posts, and DM if you shake hands with some leader at a conference. More importantly, don’t post a 100-yard list of things you did in flat two years stint on LinkedIn, seriously? Make it a story, and highlight your learnings and business outcomes. Have a good summary that brings out your target brand of yourself.

This is conscious cultivation of your image. But image can’t be disconnected from what you are, which ends up phony. You must invest time and effort to become the brand you want to be.

Next part

An essential part of professional success is having a good future outlook of what can change in the profession. Digital disruption and how actuarial skillsets might adapt needs deliberation, hence covered in the next part along with leadership and personal development thoughts.