• Role: Senior Actuarial Assistant
  • University: Kent at Canterbury
  • Degree: BSc Financial Economics with Econometrics
  • Organisation: Canada Life Limited

Nickola Ivanov

I’ve always had an affinity for maths, so after I graduated from university I knew I wanted a job where I could apply my numerical skills to complex real world issues. The actuarial profession easily met that requirement and offered so much more: a clear and open path for career progression, a mentally stimulating environment, an opportunity to develop specialist skills, great remuneration and a good work-life balance.

What are your main duties in the role?

I joined Canada Life as an Actuarial Assistant in the Annuity Valuation team. Broadly, our team’s job is to ensure the company sets aside the right amount of funds in order to be able to fulfil the payments we have to make to hundreds of thousands of policyholders. Day-to-day my main duties included performing calculations on individual policies, updating and running models to value the whole portfolio and updating reports. These tasks provided an excellent opportunity to accumulate knowledge about the business. I was encouraged to ask a lot of questions and other members of the team were supportive and happy to teach me more about the role.

Over time, I built up my experience and improved my technical understanding through the actuarial exams. This lead to more responsibility on the job and the focus of my duties shifted to checking other people’s work, analysing results, carrying out investigations in response to questions from the team’s actuary as well as improving and building new processes. I found this aspect of the job very rewarding as it requires independent thinking, application of what I had learned and creativity. Finding a solution to the problem at hand also provides a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

What makes being an Actuarial Assistant at Canada Life different?

An important aspect is the rotation scheme. The scheme allows students to move to a different team or department at regular intervals of usually around 18 months. This is a great way to experience a broad line of work and be a part of different teams. I feel like the scheme helps students develop by taking them out of their comfort zone. Moving to a brand new role after becoming confidently familiar with the previous one keeps you learning and teaches you to adapt to new environments. In my case, I’ve moved from Annuity Valuation, to With-profits and Individual Health and then to the Asset Liability Management team which allowed me to gain experience in a variety of products as well to see how the company works on both sides of the balance sheet.

What are the biggest challenges you faced as an Actuarial student?

The actuarial exams are one of the biggest challenges in being an Actuarial student. Preparing for them requires careful planning and the willingness to start studying well ahead of the exam. The amount of material to cover may be extensive, especially if taking more exams in one sitting. This means cramming the study in the last two weeks is often an unsuccessful strategy, especially when it needs to be balanced with a full-time job. However, the company provides an excellent study package and study support which helps achieve a better work/life balance and there are always other students around who are happy to help with breaking down difficult topics. In the end, the hard works pays off not only financially but also with expanded knowledge and skills which help with the job by providing better understanding and the ability to take on more responsibilities.

What tips would you offer to prospective candidates?

  • Do not get discouraged if you do not come from a highly numerical degree. Look for ways to show employers that you have an interest in maths: take on any numerical modules if you still can, be well prepared for numerical tests or you could even do the first actuarial exam on your own.
  • Research the industry well, especially how insurance providers operate and the hot topics. Also know the specifics about the company you are applying to so you can tailor your application.
  • Know about the exams. Qualifying as an actuary is a long and difficult process and employers will look for evidence that you know what you’re up against and that you have the motivation to see it through.
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