Career Path

Through risk and uncertainty

by Sophie Leung

Patrick Li, director-actuarial
actuarial and finance department
The Prudential Assurance Co Ltd
Photo: Nolly Leung

Fascinated by the laws of physics at a tender age, Patrick Li consequently excelled in mathematics at school. It was also during his youth when he was introduced to the relatively unknown discipline of actuarial science.

Remaining true to his heart, Mr Li pursued his interest in numeracy and joined the actuarial community almost two decades ago. Beginning his career as an actuarial trainee, he steadily worked his way up to the position of analyst and manager at various financial companies. His latest career move saw him take up the position of director-actuarial at the Prudential Assurance Co Ltd's actuarial and finance department.

Today, part of Mr Li's responsibility is to oversee three teams of actuaries within his department. "Two of our key functions are risk assessment and management. It's like putting a price tag on future risks and hence devising ways to reduce them," he explains. By utilising statistical tools plus high-level commercial acumen, his teams foresee potential problems and advise the company on policy underwriting.

In contrast to the typical layman's perception of actuaries — socially disconnected men glued to their desks and calculators — Mr Li and his teams make a point of liaising with colleagues from other departments on current market demand and product development.

Mr Li's third team works on valuations and estimates the appropriate ratio of savings in each policy to ensure adequate liability coverage. He says, "Insurance is a promise. Despite economic peaks and troughs, we must guarantee our capacity to honour our commitments to customers. For instance, in recent years, Prudential have been at the forefront of developing a stochastic model which facilitates better understanding of the financial position of the company across different scenarios."

Calculated communication

In addition to excellent mathematical skills, an actuary needs an acute sensitivity to global and local markets. Effective communication skills are also fundamental to success, as is integrity and a penchant for active learning. In the process of devising premiums and returns, Mr Li emphasises that actuaries must treat customers impartially and attend to company interests to bolster the foundations for mutually trusting relationships.

"Always be prepared for different plausible cases"

Alongside applying statistical principles to evaluate risk in monetary terms, actuaries also advise on risk mitigation. As a navigator in a sea of uncertainty, Mr Li admits there is a great sense of responsibility associated with the job because one minor mistake or misjudgement can cost the company millions or billions of dollars. For this reason, actuaries must be able to identify key opportunities that will generate profit, playing an essentially important role in an insurance company. He says, "Always be prepared for different plausible cases, especially when the going gets tough. This is one of the basic training concepts for actuaries."

As Hong Kong's insurance industry continues to pick up pace, actuarial science is becoming an even more attractive career option. With due diligence, budding actuaries can expect to reap decent rewards, in terms of both financial incentives and professional growth.

On a global scale, the demand for actuarial professionals continues to rise along with the emergence of more sophisticated laws and regulations in the insurance industry. "There are always vacancies," says Mr Li. "Prudential's actuarial department has experienced a rapid increase in head count in recent years and we always welcome both fresh graduates and experienced professionals to join us."

Niche market

People looking to break into the profession should hold a bachelor's degree in actuarial science or a related subject. "Potential actuaries are welcome to apply for internships at Prudential," Mr Li says. To promote this, the company partners with local universities to recruit students to partake in internship programmes. Aside from direct applications, Mr Li reveals that many recruits find opportunities through the university or job postings at the Actuarial Society of Hong Kong.

Along the way to becoming a fully qualified actuary, Mr Li displayed exceptional persistence as he spent more than seven years studying for professional examinations. He recalls, "It can be tough working and studying at the same time but this is why time management is essential." With new examination requirements and support from employers, preparation time for qualifying examinations has now shortened to between three and five years, encouraging more talented people to dedicate themselves to the profession.

In Mr Li's view, persistence and hard work are essential for success. He notes also that once actuaries have gained sufficient experience, they can expect greater professional exposure across the whole business spectrum. "They will be able to play a major role in a company's success and this will entail enormous excitement and job satisfaction," he concludes.


Taken from Career Times 10 October 2008, p. A16
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