Voted top female in the Actuarial Post’s 2013 Top 30 under 30 Actuarial Professionals survey, Jean Eu is a qualified actuary, working in the life and health insurance fields
Jean started her career in reinsurance, working for RGA and SCOR who are reinsurers with worldwide operations. Jean currently works at Correlation Risk Partners, where she is responsible for the development and pricing of life and health insurance products for a number of European partners. In addition, she is involved in the development of actuarial and financial models, including valuations, experience analysis and risk analysis.
Jean's career story
What do reinsurers do?
In a nutshell, reinsurers insure insurance companies. The functions within a reinsurance company are set out very similarly to an insurance company – you have your actuarial departments for pricing and reserving, your underwriting and claims departments, admin, IT, and marketing/new business development which tends to have a mixture of actuaries and non-actuaries. However the focus of a reinsurer tends to be much broader than that of a single insurance company, simply due to the nature of its business and its clients.
The products that a life reinsurer would cover typically consists of life insurance, critical illness insurance, income protection and more recently, bulk annuities. So as an actuary working within a life reinsurer, you would have to develop a good understanding of these products. As a new graduate / trainee actuary, you could expect to work in either pricing or reserving.
Insurers usually approach reinsurers to ask them to cover the risks from a portion of their portfolio (e.g. all policyholders buying a particular life insurance policy from a particular date onwards). As a pricing actuary, you would be providing a quote for the cost of taking on this risk, which reflects the reinsurer’s best estimate of the risks being taken on as well as its profit requirements. Within the pricing role, you would typically carry out some research into industry statistics for key demographic assumptions such as mortality and persistency. The results of these analyses would usually feed into the reinsurer’s base assumptions, which form the basis of any reinsurance quote.
The reserving role is sometimes seen as the role of the reporter. The reserving actuary’s responsibilities are not only to ensure enough capital is being held by the company to cover all its expected risks, but also to report on how the company is doing compared to expectations/projections on a monthly/quarterly/annual basis. At a reinsurer, the reporting is usually done at the client level, as well as looking at the business overall, so that any poorly performing businesses can be easily identified.
How did you get your first job?
While in my final year at university I found that the job market for graduates was particularly competitive. I applied to all the big firms but struggled to secure an interview or a place at an assessment centre. Even when I did get interviews, I was often up against applicants who already had at least a year’s work experience, which put me at a disadvantage.
It got to a point in my final year where I had to make a decision as to whether to continue applying for jobs, or to focus on my exams. I chose to focus on my exams, reasoning that if I can get all the possible actuarial exemptions from my course and graduate with a 1st class honours, that should at least put me ahead of some candidates in the job search.
After my exams I approached the job search with a renewed vigour. By this stage it was too late to apply for any of the large firms’ graduate schemes for the September/October intake, so I identified all the smaller firms which would take a CV and cover letter application, and sent off about 30 CVs and cover letters. I got 2 responses back, one of which happened to be RGA, my first employer. At the interview I was thankful for my actuarial degree, because I was asked some “simple” technical actuarial questions which I was incredibly pleased to be able to answer correctly and impress the interviewer sufficiently to take me to the next stage. The rest, as they say, is history.
The good news is after you get your foot in the door, subsequent jobs are much easier to find (at least in my experience).
What are the most stressful parts of the job?
Juggling the various responsibilities in my role, especially when there are competing deadlines.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Make sure you like data, numbers and spreadsheets! There are a lot of these in an actuarial career, particularly at the start. You also need to have good organisational skills and determination, especially to get through the actuarial exams while working.
Any advice for the interview process?
Make sure you have thought through your answers for potential competency questions you might get asked. Think through what examples you can use from your university, school, sports or other extra-curricular activities experience that can demonstrate key competencies such as teamwork, leadership, communication, problem solving and organisational skills.
Always remember you are trying to “sell” what you can do for the company (not what the company can do for you!).
How do you manage your work/life balance?
I make it a rule never to take work home. If it means staying in the office late until the work is done, so be it – but I know that as soon as I walk out of the office, I have left work behind.
Actuarial trainees should also consider the work/life/study balance, and be prepared for the balance to be challenged. As an actuarial student you may feel that your main priority is studying – but your employer may not!
The trick is to manage everyone’s expectations with regards to your work and study time and make sure you always keep your manager informed on how a piece of work is going, especially if you think it may start affecting your study time.
Additionally, setting aside specific times to study (e.g. 2 hours in the morning before work / 1 hour on the train to work / 2 hours after work) and “rewarding” yourself with a social activity after a study session are ways to ensure you still have a life outside of work and study.