Insurance is risky business ! But even risky businesses need some sort of insurance cover to protect themselves from the unforeseen risks of paying a large obligation resulting from an insurance claim.

Anjani Chowdary, our next pathbreaker, Actuarial Analyst at SwissRe, one of the largest reinsurance companies in the world, works on pricing of reinsurance contracts for insurance companies.

Anjani talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being intrigued by the work of an actuary, and the applications of Statistics, Mathematics and Economics in the real world !

For students, we all understand the significance of an insurance cover, especially looking at the recent unfortunate events that have impacted our lives. Apply your quantitative skills for the betterment of society !

Anjani, can you tell us about your background?

I was born and brought-up in Vizag, a city filled with beaches in Andhra Pradesh. I did my schooling initially from Vizag (Upto class 5) and later from Bangalore (Class 6 to 10). In Bangalore, I studied in Jain International Residential School, a boarding school which marked the beginning of my transformational journey. The boarding school experience provided me with an opportunity to learn and explore different extracurricular activities like basketball, cross-country running, clay modelling, dancing and music. My alma-mater unleashed leadership qualities in me through captainship roles at a young age. My parents come from a commerce background, my father is a businessman and mother is into agriculture. My initial interests were to become an astronaut or an IAS officer, but the universe always has better plans!

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I took Commerce as my core subject to learn more about finance which then led me to Bachelor of Commerce as my under-graduate course from Andhra University. During the same time, I started preparing for Actuarial Science as suggested by my sister, a qualified Chartered Accountant by then. To enhance my learning curve in the Actuarial field, I went to Bangalore and did my post-graduation in MSc Actuarial Science from Christ University (Deemed to be University).

I would like to suggest that those interested in pursuing Actuarial Science can take up EMS ( Economics, Mathematics and Statistics) or CMS ( Computers, Mathematics and Statistics) as under-graduation course. This is because the aforementioned courses are linked to concepts that we study in Actuarial science which can be an added advantage.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

I was very confused as to what I should be choosing as a career path after my 12th grade. My sister  provided me with career guidance to “try” a niche course in the market called “Actuarial Science”. I was attracted to the fancy word – “Actuary”. I was open to experimenting something new and “fancy”. Initially, everything seemed new to me as I had no foundation in statistics and the subject seemed quite technical. As days passed, when I started reading more and learning about it, I knew this was the right profession to go with.

In Actuarial Science, subjects like Statistics and Mathematics (specifically calculus) form the foundation for all technical papers. Besides this, persistence and dedication are the key to reach the goal in terms of qualification. I failed and learnt a better way to achieve my goals. It’s easy to leave mid-way, but Actuaries are known to challenge themselves and make their way through the crowd.

Honestly, I took this path “accidently” and believed that the universe had made better plans for me. Once I started Actuarial Science, there were 2 turning points/events that led me to the qualification. Firstly, it was my consecutive failure in 3 attempts which pushed me hard to challenge myself, my abilities, and my knowledge to pursue this career. Secondly,  joining the MSc Actuarial Science course at Christ (Deemed to be University) helped me network with people and learn and grow with them. My professors guided me to reach the finishing line. Each Actuary would have their unique journey.

Tell us about your career path

I am a proactive person and anything I feel “uncomfortable” about is what I wish to go for. The Actuarial Science profession demands a 3 year work experience to get fellowship/ qualify as an Actuary. Keeping in mind that getting a job is much needed to accomplish my dreams, I started investing my time in attending actuarial seminars, volunteering in actuarial events, learning new skills and concepts and exploring the research field. During post-graduation, I did a work-from-home internship with a Malaysian Actuarial Consultant for 2 months. As an Actuarial Trainee, my responsibilities included performing audit trail of a bank, creating reports on insurance market and profit analysis of a bank.  Then, it was through campus recruitment that I made it to my first job in Swiss Re. At Swiss Re, I work as a Senior Pricing Actuarial Analyst.

How did you get your first break?

I was and have been active on LinkedIn and inactive on other social media platforms. It was through LinkedIn that I got my first actuarial internship. I connected with people from my profession and reached out for help. After approaching at least 50 people, there was one person who agreed to take me as an actuarial trainee. Networking is the key along with passion towards actuarial science. 

Later, through campus recruitment I got my first permanent job at Swiss Re. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Overqualification

During my under-graduation, I had cleared 6 actuarial papers. When I applied for different internship opportunities, I was turned down due to overqualification as they were looking for candidates who had cleared only 3-4 papers. However, this motivated me to stand ahead of the crowd and stay closer to my dreams. There is always a trade off between working and learning. I took this opportunity to get into the research field and started reading and learning concepts beyond books. Not getting the internship helped me to focus on my research project on the topic ” The need for a new age microinsurance company in India to achieve the financial and insurance inclusion” which then got published in the year 2020.

Microinsurance means affordable insurance to the low income section of the society. In India, there are about 50 micro insurance products. These products are sold due to regulatory obligations imposed by Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India ( IRDAI). There are thousands of insurance products that cater to 40% of our population i.e. urban sector while there are tens of products that cater to majority of our population being rural sector. Due to this imbalance, Microinsurance becomes important in order to provide affordable insurance and products that meet the needs of customers, so that we will be able to reduce India’s low insurance penetration problem.

Challenge 2: Competition

This field is pretty competitive in the sense that Actuarial Science is a niche course and not well known to many. Insurance Industry in India hires majority of the Actuarial candidates, followed by consultancy firms. The number of students taking this course is increasing along with an increase in demand for actuarial professionals. There is immense competition amongst students who have passed a similar level of papers. Hence, it is important to build your skills to stand out of the crowd. Key skills that helped me get a job were – Communication skills, basic coding skills, volunteering and leadership skills. Through campus placements, it was relatively easy for me to get a job, but for those looking for a job without a referral can be slightly challenging. To beat the challenge, it is necessary to network with people and keep the learning curve growing.

Challenge 3: Lack of self-belief

Actuarial science requires candidates to pass thirteen actuarial papers. There was a time when I failed a few papers consecutively. I was very disturbed and doubted myself if this was the course for me. I lacked self-belief. During this time, I realized that nothing will come easy and more effort will be needed to achieve my goal. I had two options – give up or try again. Giving up was an easy option, because not knowing what to do next was another challenging thing. So, I chose to try again for one last time. I gave 70% of my time to studying, 20% to family and friends and 10% for my hobbies. It is important to strike the right balance between what you want to do and what you have to do. This helped me regain my self-belief and witness the fruits of all my efforts and hard work. For a while, I disconnected myself from all distractions like social media which helped me concentrate on the task at hand. This still helps me lead a happy and mentally healthy life.

Tell us what you do as an actuary? 

As of July 2020, I am working with Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies headquartered in Switzerland. 

Reinsurance means insurance for the insurance companies. So, the clients of a Reinsurance company ( also known as reinsurer) are insurance companies. Actuaries work in different teams like Pricing ( determining the premiums to be charged from insurance companies), Valuation ( setting aside adequate reserve to pay liabilities/claims), Modelling ( building models to be internally used by Actuarial teams), Risk Management (analysis of risk appetite and performing audits and reviews of actuarial tasks and processes), data analytics ( building actuarial processes using different means of technology) and Investments.

My role involves pricing reinsurance contracts. The problem we solve is that if we charge higher premiums, we may lose the client. However, if we charge low premiums, the organization may have the risk of becoming unprofitable and insolvent. Hence, we strike a balance such that clients and the organization are in a win-win situation.

The key skills required for the job are

  • Communication & Presentation skills – Networking, giving presentations using Google slides/Microsoft Powerpoint/ Word documents in college and in events, watching communication related videos are some ways to enhance your communication skills. This includes both verbal and non-verbal.
  • Actuarial , Modelling and Analytical skills – Understanding and applying actuarial concepts, Microsoft Excel, R programming, Python, SAS, Logical reasoning are ways to enhance this skill.
  • Creative thinking – Thinking innovatively, challenging traditional methods and processes, creating/ finding solutions to existing problems in society, volunteering can help you think creatively.

How does your work benefit society? 

As a pro bono actuarial consultant at an NGO, we help women of low-income groups to avail insurance of their choice, thereby ensuring that the NGO remains sustainable. The work involves setting the adequate contribution/premium amount such that it’s not too expensive for policyholders nor is it too low from the organization’s perspective. It also includes setting the adequate reserves for the organization to meet unforeseen future events like pandemic. As I can closely see the impact, all the work and efforts are paid off!

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

There is not one but many such examples of work that are close to me. The first one began with my internship – white paper on Cambodian insurance market. This piece of work involved thorough research of the market and I got the opportunity to learn from a senior qualified actuary while publishing the same paper. This profession has pushed my boundaries. Working as a visiting professor for an Actuarial science course is one of the most amazing experiences I cherish. Lastly, applying the actuarial skills to help the community members to manage their risks better provides immense satisfaction.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

If you are friends with numbers with high levels of self-motivation, and you want to challenge yourself, then this is a profession to opt for. It’s okay to try and fail rather than not trying and missing an opportunity to learn. Actuarial science as  a course provide a holistic knowledge of different interesting fields like finance, statistics, economics, coding, insurance, stock markets, risk management, modelling to explore. After or while pursing the course, the career prospects are good as you can choose any field you want to get into. Some examples could be – investment banking, risk management, insurance market, entrepreneurship, consultancy, education. The beauty of this course is that it is not restricted to finance or science students. It is a course that welcomes you all!

Future Plans?

I would like to continue to work as an Actuary along with teaching post-graduate students of Actuarial Science. I plan to give back to the Actuarial community in all the ways possible with the knowledge I gain in the coming years. My interest also lies in pursuing a PhD in the same field with Behavioural science as a specialisation. As the market is opening for Actuaries at a rapid pace, it will be interesting to see what more opportunities can be created and made the best use of.