Hariharan Mani is working as Director - Actuarial Services at Metlife. During our conversation, he shared his views about the role played by an actuary and how one can reach his/her maximum potential. Below is an edited excerpt of the same.
Q. What attracted you into actuarial sciences? Explain your journey.
I had an MBA in finance before I got into actuarial. After MBA I worked for different companies and I figured that’s not what I want to do. Now, my core skillset was mathematics as it was my strongest suite, plus I wanted to be in the corporate world. I saw a full 2 page article in a newspaper way back in 1999 about actuarial science, then I started doing research and I found out that there were very less opportunities in India as privatization has not happened and LIC was the sole recruiter of actuaries. Then I decided to go to US to do M.S. in actuarial science and simultaneously appear for exams as there were no exemptions. Subsequently, I worked there and moved back to India in 2009.
Q. What is the difference in market conditions back then and now?
I didn’t work in Indian market initially but in terms of actuarial market the biggest difference is that the privatization had not happened yet so the avenue was LIC. Awareness is the other major factor, lot of people even now don’t know much about actuaries and actuarial work but in places like Delhi NCR, it’s a lot more popular than back then. With this privatization of insurance sector which is basically increasing FDI to 26%, Actuaries working in LIC got an advantage in the sense they were more seasoned and more experienced so they got to head departments and became Appointed Actuary.
Q. What is your role as Director-Actuarial Services?
Basically I head the actuarial department at MetLife GOSC. There are different functions our company does and actuarial is one of them, and we are present in over 70 countries. Each of our units has a bunch of different functions in different countries but actuarial is a talent which is not available in plenty throughout the world so we are trying to create areas where we can meaningfully contribute to our global needs. The big role I see myself doing is to figure out what is exactly the best thing we can do to thrive globally and use our resources optimally. For e.g. If there is a big regulatory change such as Solvency II then you know there is going to be a huge need of actuarial resources, so we keep an eye out to look for ways in which we can help our company due to this change. And also if you’re heading a group then you have to look at some other functions such as how to manage the work flow, are we equipped to handle the kind of work, providing career path, to make sure everybody is on same page and doing meaningful work and yes to seek new capabilities.
Q. Which is more promising field: - life, health or general and how can we choose among them?
I would say it doesn’t matter but wherever you go, you should become good at what you do, that’s more important. Choosing between the three depends on what you like primarily. They all require almost similar skills, actuarial exams especially CT series equip us and provide us skills to work in all the three fields. If you have a master in statistics and very big into stats than General Insurance may be a better option. Otherwise, you can choose life as liabilities are more long term which is one of the main difference between the two. Health is a mix of both, it has short term characteristics of general as well as long term (critical illness disease policy) of life. If you get a couple of offers from different sectors you can always talk to people. The good thing and the bad thing about this industry is that it is very closely knit, especially the actuarial student population as you study together and take exams together so you meet the same people. So ask people what you like about it, what you don’t like, what is your role and make decision based on your interests also. But before working in a company you can’t know everything, there will always be an unknown element which you will find once you start working there.
Q. As we know that in India Actuaries are related to Insurance industry primarily but slowly there are emerging work opportunities in different sectors. What are your views on this?
I was also intrigued by these alternative career opportunities for actuaries. But Life and health insurance is going to be the primary places where we will work. We need long term liabilities to work in. While studying CT-5, when you start talking about probabilities you look at it from a long term perspective. It is very unique thing about Insurance industry, unlike selling a FMCG product where you sell something you get money and you are done but here we have a long term relationship and long term promises which we have made to our customers. Agricultural forecasting can be done by a Statistician, you don’t need only an actuary for that. But yes, Can an actuary do it? Sure, as we have statistics knowledge as well. Big data and cat modeling is done typically by analytical people who are statisticians without actuarial background and can be a possible career alternative for actuaries. We can also work in sectors such as finance and investments as well due to knowledge gained in ST series paper about these topics. But insurance industry is going to be our primary bread and butter.
Q. What skills do you look for while recruiting?
The biggest thing in actuarial profession, like it or not, are the exams. M.S. in Actuarial Science would be great but if you had not passed any exams along with it then its value diminishes. So, I would say that most students should try to get around 4-5 exams to get into a company but that doesn’t seem to be enough these days, due to heavy supply of actuarial students. Things that I would look for while recruiting can be for e.g. very good excel, VBA, MYSQL skills and basic knowledge. Having knowledge of some actuarial software would be great e.g. PROPHET, MG-ALFA etc. Communication would surely be on my list, as lot of us work for US markets, UK markets and other global markets. If somebody feels they are not able to communicate well, take classes to improve, join accent reduction courses if necessary and do things to build both your personality and communication skills. You have to differentiate from others, if in an interview you sound exactly like every other person then it’s just a game of dice. You will surely not regret spending money on such extra courses.
Q.What advice would you like to give to student actuaries?
Meet people and grow your network for e.g. there is GCA (Global Conference of Actuaries) which happens every year in Mumbai, definitely go for that. Talk to as many people as you can, be confident about yourself. Create your business card and give it to people. I’ll give you an example, there was a student from Madras who called me in January and I advised him to attend GCA which he did. I introduced him to some people and now he has a job down south due to connections made in GCA. It’s the biggest collection of actuarial people in one area and all the senior actuaries are present there so that is a great chance for student actuaries to meet people, learn things and leave their mark.