Actuaries of Our Time

Interview with Prince Attakorah

Q1. What motivated your decision to study actuarial science?

I have always had a diverse cluster of intellectual interests which mathematics edged out. I also find it intriguing that mathematics can be put to practical use to solve most of the world's problem. The first time I heard of actuarial science, I have just completed my second cycle (senior high school) education. A senior colleague mentioned and introduced it to me. He explained that the dynamics of the program as fairly new and has a promising career path for individuals who like mathematics with finance. He further added that the future of the program looked exciting and employers would hire actuarial graduate because of the unique set of mathematics, statistics and financial knowledge as well as analytical skills. Also, actuaries were the most sorted professional in the job market, been regularly voted as one of the best profession and their skill set will be needed most for developing countries like Ghana. With this information, I was excited to pursue it and am so glad I did.

Q2. Which qualification route did you follow and what were the challenges?
Any specific paper that proved challenging in the course of your qualification?

My route is the Society of Actuaries (SOA) route. I started hearing about other qualification routes after I had completed my bachelor's degree. By then, I had already written a few exams via the SOA route. The preliminary SOA exams are offered multiple times in a year, hence it helps individuals to complete the exams at their own pace. The contents are progressive and continuous from one exam unto the next. In our part of the world, the major challenge is normally funding. These exams and its materials are charged in foreign currency and with the depreciation rate of our currency, it makes the exam very costly. The difficulty level of the exams increases as you move up. The concepts of previous exams are normally applicable in the subsequent exams hence you need to just memorize and pass but also understand the concept. Model for Life Contingency which is Long-Term Actuarial Models (LTM) now in my opinion, is the most challenging paper in the preliminary exams. Unlike the other preliminary exams, this exam format has both multiple choice section as well as a written section. The change in the exam format means candidates have to work on their speed and precision whiles being accurate.

Q3. What is your primary practice area and what influenced your choice of this practice area?

I work in an actuarial consulting firm. In consulting, you practice all the major aspect of actuarial science. In pension work, I perform both funding and accounting valuation on employee Benefit scheme in accordance with IAS19 and IPSAS 25/39 and sometimes pension plan design. It is really exciting as you have to transform scheme provision into actuarial models. The life and general insurance work are normally centered around actuarial valuation of their liabilities, pricing of life product and preparation of Financial Conditional Report (FCR) for our clients. The best part of the job is suggesting recommendation for our clients based on the project we handled. In consulting business, we assist clients to manage risk and help them choose the appropriate strategies and procedures to meet their specific goals. Working in a consulting firm has broadened my skills by offering a wider range of actuarial work. Due to this exposure, one has increasing options for next steps in the career as well as pursues the practices he/she seems the best fit. Furthermore, switching from consulting to the insurance industry is quite easy since consultants have excellent experience with a broad array of actuarial practices and can fit in any actuarial practices.

Q4. Which other practice areas do you engage in?

As with most consulting firms, I sometimes solicit for new business for the firm.

Q5. So how does a typical day for you at work look like as an actuary?

Even though the duration of work is from 8 am to 5 pm, I tend to work a bit longer; from around 7 am to 6 pm on most days. During a busy schedule, I close really late as well as work on weekends. If there is a bit of light work, I close at the standard working time. I never really do the same task every day. Even though some of the actuarial work can be quite repetitive, tasks are often repeated yearly if there are no new standards or requirements by the regulators. Furthermore, each client is different hence our work should suit the clients' needs. Projects are handled individually or as a team. In consulting business, every project has a timeline and you have to make sure to meet it. I normally handle section of tasks in the project. Tasks normally include; building/ modifying the model, numerous analysis and putting everything into a report which is easy to read. Once the task is completed, peer review is done by a colleague. This is a very important exercise in consulting since your report is deemed as an expert work. We also discuss the tasks and finalized the project for review by our supervisor. The final work is sent to the client. After the project is done, I spent some time answering the queries from clients. Around half of my time is spent working with numbers and reporting, but there's a lot more consultancy work. Meetings with clients are held before projects are undertaken and after the report on the project is ready. Meetings can be held at any particular time during the project timeline. The clients, as well as any other involving party, must understand and accept your work. There have been instances when I've worked really late to meet a clients' impromptu deadline. It's a well-respected profession and we work hard, but you're not expected to work really late. The environment is amazing, with good balance as well as being in a great place to work.

Q6. What are the challenges you encounter in your actuarial engagements?

The major challenge is the appreciation of the actuarial opinions of a project. Most individuals conduct the actuarial service to meet regulatory requirement. They don't understand the value of the work and the actuarial opinions (recommendations) seem not to be implemented. Another prevailing challenge is the quality of data. Actuaries need data to select assumptions, choice appropriate model as well as compute the result. Data collations and keeping is a challenge throughout most industries. I believe since companies do not conduct data check/analytics, less resource has been deployed in respect of data recording and keeping. Financial data are normally intact since regular auditing is done but bio data, underwriting data, claims data are somehow below par. This greatly affects our work since the majority of the time, resources are spent on data cleaning.

Q7. What do you make of the future of actuarial practice in Ghana and Africa at large?

The future of actuarial practice in Ghana and Africa looks great and exciting. As more regulation and standards require a risk-based modelling, I believe actuaries should position themselves to take these opportunities. With companies in Africa starting to adopt trends like Big Data Analytics, Enterprise Risk Management and predictive analytics, actuaries are the professionals trained to tackle these developments. This is because we have been managing risk and analyzing data from the establishment of our profession. However, actuaries in Africa should be prepared and equipped to engage in this new areas.

Q8. Regarding actuarial capacity, do you think the key industry players, ASG and NIC have done enough and what would you advise.

In recent past ASG, NIC and Key industry players have played a significant role in the development of the actuarial capacity. Actuarial science is in high demand in our universities. ASG has organized relevant Continuing Professional Development courses over the past few years and has been recognized by International Actuarial Association (IAA). NIC's risk-based solvency regulations ensure the involvement of actuarial function in the industries. Well done for these great achievements, but I believe there are more to be done. ASG should improve on the monitoring and development of the actuarial profession in Ghana by instituting Codes of Professional conducts, proper actuarial standards (in carrying out any actuarial function in accordance with NIC regulations), engage in research activities and publications. NIC and/or NHIS can collaborate with ASG to carry out these research and publications. Regulators with the help from ASG should enforce and ensure that the actuarial functions are well set-up and applying the actuarial standards. ASG should partner the educational institutions to improve on the curriculum to ensure that the actuarial graduates are ready to be absorbed in the job market.

Q9. What would you propose companies that employ the actuarial skill set should do to also promote actuarial capacity development in Ghana?

Most companies that employ actuarial candidates are the insurance companies. From the institution of insurance, actuaries have played a pivotal role to ensuring the success and continuity of the business. A similar story can be said about pension plan and some employee benefits scheme. I believe there are two ways such companies can promote the actuarial capacity. Firstly, companies should assign natural actuarial roles to the actuarial candidates. Actuaries are professionals who possess unique mathematical, analytical and financial skills to measure and manage risk. Therefore, an actuarial candidate should be placed in the risk management sector like underwriting, pricing/rate making, liabilities valuations, financial modelling, credit modelling etc. Since these roles are in line with their skill set as well as continuous development, they can perform their duties efficiently and effectively. We would offer a wide range of services, better business development and performance improvement to the company. It is quite appalling to acquire a skill set and not utilize in through your career. This would ensure effective business continuity as well as success. Companies should support actuarial candidates in their Continuing Professional Development. As business environment keep evolving, actuaries should constantly improve upon their skill set to aid company manage risk. Companies should provide incentives for actuarial candidates that want to improve on their skills in addition to shielding some or all of the cost involved. With emerging risk continuing treating the solvency of business, companies should ensure that their actuaries are up to date with the latest models, techniques and skills by promoting professional development. As actuaries become more equipped, our work becomes more pertinent. These would develop our actuarial capacity in Ghana as well as show the importance of our work.

Q10. Finally, what do you make of actuarial education in Ghana and what would be your advice to students?

The popularity and demand for actuarial education in Ghana has increased over the years. More students want to pursue actuarial science. I think the actuarial education in the university is not strictly geared towards the professional exams, which is appropriate considering not all actuarial students would want to pursue it professionally. Society of Actuaries recognizes some Ghanaian universities' and their courses meet Validation by Educational Experience requirement. These are credible improvements in actuarial education in Ghana. As to when the curriculum meets the professional examination, solely depends on the university purpose on the actuarial programs they offer. I would advise students to a least take one exam whiles in school. Even though the preliminary exams feel like pure calculation part, the further modules and exams feel more connected to the career path. When it comes to the professional exams, students should not give up. Perseverance and hard work are the recipes to actuarial success. For each exam, students should try and understand the concept rather than memorizing the formulas. This is because subsequent exam requires the understanding of previous exams concepts.