Q. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the actuarial profession?
A. As a profession, I think we’ve stepped up to the plate and adapted very quickly. The pandemic has taken us into new territory with the economic, political and social situation constantly changing. An actuary’s skillset is centred around understanding and calculating uncertainty, so this has put us in a strong position to assess the risks that Covid-19 presents our clients and to provide support in responding to an even more uncertain business environment. At Asta, the impacts of Covid-19 have spanned across all of our actuarial workstreams, from reviewing underwriting practices in light of the pandemic to advising boards on the additional uncertainty to claims reserves. Our capital modelling for 2021 business plans was done in the midst of the unfolding pandemic last summer. More than usual, we were having to recalibrate our models to reflect the evolving situation. For example, the vaccines which had once been expected for April this year are already being rolled out, so previous assumptions fall by the wayside and the numbers change. And now we have the variants to keep an eye on...
Q. How did the move to homeworking go for the team?
A. From a physical perspective it was incredibly easy due to the excellent work of our IT and Facilities team enabling us to work remotely. But we did miss the camaraderie that comes from all working together in the office, although one of the team had the idea of creating a “Virtual” office in Teams. Anyone could join an open call at any time to have an informal chat, or to just listen to others chatting or simply tapping away on their keyboard. That really helped with reducing the feeling of isolation. This is what Asta does really well – helping to foster a collaborative environment and always caring about people’s wellbeing.
Q. What’s the most important/interesting thing you have learnt while working at Asta?
A. Coming into Lloyd’s from LV= and a personal lines background was a complete contrast. The classes of business, reporting requirements and even Lloyd’s terminology were all things I was aware of from my studies, but the reality hits when you start working in the market and with the multiple syndicates that Asta looks after. The level of data is also different. Whilst personal lines data is plentiful, for new syndicates with no track record or who are writing new or emerging risks, there is a lack of detailed data to model. For example, catastrophe risk is becoming harder to predict with the impacts of climate change on natural disasters, and of course the ongoing COVID pandemic challenges actuaries even further. Modelling with limited data is very different and I have expanded my actuarial knowledge as a result.
Q. How is the actuarial role changing in light of advances in technology and analytics?
A. In the short term, spreadsheets aren’t going anywhere, but they are getting more unreliable as greater volumes and types of data become available. The UK Gov’s Test & Trace data failure is a perfect example of spreadsheets not being up to the job! The tools and techniques that data science can give us are also becoming more important. So much so that the Institute of Faculty and Actuaries now offers a Certificate in Data Science, providing actuaries with an understanding of, among other things, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
A. On my first day at LV=, my manager said: “just be yourself and that will shine through in everything you do and the people you talk to.”
Q. What would you say to those considering a career as an Actuary?
A. Go for it! We’re a unique bunch of people with a weird blend of different skills. Yes, we need to be good with numbers, but communication is also a key skill you need. Being aware of commercial issues and understanding client ambitions, objectives and building trust with the different types of personalities you are dealing with is essential. Of course, it’s up to us to state the actuarial case – and to uphold our professional ethics and opinion – but understanding commercial imperatives is a key part of the job.
Q. You spent some time in Australia on an internship for Start Up Victoria. How did that come about and what did you learn?
A. It was my 2nd year at Imperial College and my fellow students were opting for internships in London. I knew that’s where I wanted to work longer term, so I wanted to try something different and not Maths or finance related. Going to Australia was a big personal step which took me outside my comfort zone. Working in a people- oriented environment with lots of networking didn’t come naturally, but the whole experience made me more confident. It also helped me develop softer skills that I’ve taken with me into my actuarial career.
Q. What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?
A. COVID has proved that friends and family are the most important thing of all. I live on my own so it’s been particularly good to stay in touch with friends and family – more so now than we ever did – albeit on Facetime. I hope it’s a permanent change – people seem to be much more aware of each other’s needs because they recognise their own. It’s no bad thing for us all to make more time and effort with each other.
Q. Tell us about the book are your reading currently.
A. I’m listening to an audiobook – “Empire of Liberty” by David Reynolds. Watching the US election and learning about some of the historical divisions in US society that still exist now made me eager to find out more about American History. It’s a short history but they’ve packed a lot in to that period to make it the country it is today and this book is a fascinating summary of it all.