Formula and numbers don’t deliver value by themselves, it’s how you apply them to the business
Prosper Tafadzwa Matiashe
My name is Prosper Tafadzwa Matiashe. I am going to share with you my little story and how you can also join the profession of Actuarial Science. I was born in Chimanimani, 29 September 1992. I am from a small and remote village called Matiashe Village. I did my primary education at Takaengwa Primary School.
It’s a very small and under-resourced school but has performed well.
The school has three classrooms and 3 teachers. So grade 1 and 2 learn in one room with one teacher. Grade 3 and 4 in another room with one teacher. If you are good enough, you jump from grade 4 to grade 6. Then grade 6 and 7 in one room and one teacher.
So you can imagine, the pressure of resources and teachers being very stretched to cater to every student. At grade 7, I managed to get 6 units in 2004. Of course I had two units in English, and 2 in Shona. I am Ndau, so writing standard Shona was an issue.
For high school, I went to Biriiri High School in Chimanimani. It’s a mission school, so things were a bit better, but the hyperinflation of 2005-08 coincided with my O’Level. My parents are teachers, so things got really tight, especially at form 4.
In 2008, I didn’t manage to pay school fees, so I had no access to the dining hall. I had to survive with one meal per day. I would sneak out of the school boundary in the evenings to go to my auntie who lived nearby, and would have my supper there.
The challenges of that period really changed my approach to life. I promised myself that I should be able to cushion my family from all the difficulties when the next deep recession comes again. I then got 11As and 1B for form 4.
For A’Level, I went to Hartzell (Old Mutare) (2009-2010). I did Maths, Further Maths, Biology, and Chemistry. I got 20 points for A’Level. So you would assume I should have proceeded to study Medicine.
I didn’t like Biology and Chemistry practicals, so I assumed that Medicine isn’t my thing and chose to do Actuarial Science. My mother was angry because she had hoped I would do Medicine and, of course, she didn’t know what Actuarial Science is.
This is a key issue. Parents often do not give the right advice to their kids, and it has long-term consequences. I had the bravery to say no, and my parents also had the wisdom to smoke the peace pipe afterwards.
Off to University, I went to NUST (Bulawayo) to do BComm in Actuarial Science (2011-2015). I was lucky to be awarded a scholarship by Joshua Nkomo Scholarship Fund from @HigherLifeFDN.
During the degree, I did my internship at Zimnat Life actuarial department. That was my first experience of the profession. I got to understand how a financial services company operates, decision making, the economy etc., and I still use the knowledge up to now.
When I finished my internship, I had passed 4 out of 15 professional exams, which meant I was a bit more qualified than some guys who were already practicing in industry
I completed the degree with a distinction, and by then I had 8 out of 15 professional exams. I should have been marketable but I actually spent about 7 months without getting work. Eventually, I joined FBC Reinsurance Ltd as a Graduate Trainee in Feb 2016.
As I was doing my graduate trainee program, I continued to study for my professional exams. I completed them all in April 2018. I was about 25 and half years then, so I was probably the youngest ever to qualify as a fellow in Zimbabwe, and one of the youngest in Africa as a whole.
Qualifying as an Actuary opened doors for me big time. It made my employer realise the massive potential in me. I became Business Development Actuary for FBC Reinsurance in 2018. in 2019, I then was transferred to the Group at FBC Holdings for a new venture.
I was tasked with opening the Data Analytics and Actuarial Services department. This is my current role. In my role, I lead the use of analytics and actuarial insights so that the company becomes more insights driven.
Data is the new oil in the digital age so we carry out a lot of data science to understand our customers and their habits so that we sell appropriate products to them. It also enables us to price the products appropriately.
We use data to measure our performance through real-time performance indicators that feed into performance appraisal and strategy recalibration. We also use a lot of data to determine which projects should we embark on, which products will make money for us etc.
In essence, we are trying to breath and live data, and ensure that for all the decisions that management and the executive make, it has to be informed by data and the insights coming from it. We are, therefore, reducing bias in decision making.
So how does one become an Actuary like me. Its’s very simple. At A’level, Maths is a requirement and its not important whether the other subjects are commercials or sciences. Though you end up working in financial services, sciences at A’level are equally OK.
Previously, there was Nust only in Zim, so the selection was pretty tight, and they usually only take 20 points and above. Girls haven’t been applying for the degree that much, so they end up admitting 15 points. UZ now has a degree program, so you can get in with 15 points too.
The top SA universities also have very good Actuarial Science programs. UCT, Wits, Stellenbosch and Pretoria are in the mix. UK and USA are also very good destinations if you can afford them.
In addition to the degree, you will need to do professional exams to become a Fellow Actuary. The degree teaches you that 1+1=2, but professional exams give you deep and rigorous training so that you can apply 1+1=2 in the industry. This ensures that Actuaries are fit for the industry.
The professional exams are a cocktail of statistics, pure maths, financial economics, business management, insurance, banking, investments, pensions etc. As you do the exams, the last ones involve specialisation. I specialised in Life and Health Insurance.
One can also specialise in General Insurance, Pensions, Banking, Investments, Risk Management, and, recently, Data Science etc. It all depends on the industry that you like. After that, you can work for Banks, Insurers, Asset Managers, Pension Funds, Actuarial Consulting Firms
After finishing the professional exams, you qualify as a Fellow Actuary. One is called Fellow of Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (FIA). So the credential is termed as “Prosper T. Matiashe, FIA”. One can also be Fellow of the Actuarial Society of South Africa (FASSA).
Being a Fellow allows you to sign off actuarial work like a Chartered Accountant (CA) would have authority to sign off financial statements etc. Or a qualified architect does have authority to sign off and approve designs.
One key issue is that doing an actuarial science degree doesn’t make you a qualified actuary. In our profession, anyone who hasn’t finished professional exams is treated as a student in professional terms. Professional exams are very difficult, so that is why we have very few qualified
In Zim, we have about 20 or so qualified actuaries working for entities like FBC Holdings, Old Mutual, Zimnat, First Mutual Holdings, and Minerva Risk. Some are also into consulting e.g. David Mureriwa and Tafadzwa Chiduza just to name a few. The firms include Atchison, MAOS, Beacon, AAC, Claxon Actuaries etc.
We also have various actuaries working in non-traditional areas like betting, gambling (setting odds), energy, data science firms, auditing firms, etc. The scope is widening due to the popularity of data science. Claxon Actuaries is one such firm that has positioned itself in data science.
When people say Actuarial Science pays, they refer to qualified actuaries. In every country, you will generally find actuaries in short supply and among the highest-paid. But when you are still a students, it’s not that rosy, though you will be better off than others.
If you fail to become a qualified actuary, there are also various options that you can take. You can become a senior actuarial consultant reporting to a qualified actuary. The best is to then move to operations and other client facing functions and position yourself.
As a qualified actuary, you can also grow to be part of the executive or eventually the CEO. Here in Zimbabwe, First Mutual Holdings CEO is an actuary and Old Mutual has a lot of its executives as actuaries. The recently appointed Group CEO of the ZB Group is an actuary. The same is observed in other countries.
What are the skills required to be a qualified actuary and to thrive in industry? I would say that everyone who attempts actuarial science is already very intelligent, so intelligence contributes a marginal percentage to the skills.
Perseverance is key. In the professional exams, chances are that you will fail at least one exam. Most people attempt some exams three times or more without passing. The challenge is that most of intelligent people don’t deal with failure well.
From grade 1 to university, they will have been used to being the first in class, and when they fail, they go into grieving and denial. Some even base their self-worth on whether they are passing or not. In that grieving and denial, they have many more years of failure.
Families also worsen this problem. They start saying “Puro can’t fail, he is intelligent”. It creates pressure, and also worsens the denial that your relative is suffering from. We need to make it okay to fail and accept that the exams journey is a long haul.
I failed a professional exam once (called SP1). I accepted defeat and rewrote and passed it and proceeded forward. That’s the spirit we have to inculcate into our kids. Failure is just part of the journey.
The next key skill is communication. In a company you deal with people from various disciplines like marketing, law, finance, business management, HR etc. Most of your colleagues won’t understand math jargon. Why burden them with math?
For all your reports, presentations etc., you need to express yourself in non-technical terms so that your audience is able to follow, understand, and know the decisions they have to make. That way, people see your value. Jargon puts off people.
My first boss at FBC Reinsurance is into Underwriting. My current boss is an Accountant by profession. But I have managed to work with them very well because I express my results and recommendations in the language that they speak. This is key for all professions.
Another key issue is the ability to understand the business. Some actuaries, statistics and math gurus, data analysts etc don’t have good understanding of the business they work in. Therefore, their findings and recommendations don’t speak to the pain points of their employer.
For me, I always try to know what is happening in banking and insurance circles in Zim and globally. I talk to customers, people in other departments so that I appreciate the pulse of the company. When I then do my work, I then use all the insights to deliver value.
It is also important to be able to deliver value for the company. People get rewarded and promoted because they are delivering value for the company. Formula and numbers don’t deliver value by themselves, it’s how you apply them to the business.
In my case, I have designed and priced products that have had impact for the company. I have analysed our performance and made recommendations that resulted in more revenue for the company. I have trained my colleagues to improve in their quantitative skills.
In all my work, I consider how much value will this contribute. Is there a way we can do it better? etc. I also try and make people understand how my work is delivering value for the company. When I then go for performance appraisal and grade review, the conversation is easy
Also, be a team player. Collaborate with people from other departments and help them achieve their goals. Be a solution seller solving pain points that your colleagues have. Ask yourself how you can help reduce workload and burden for your boss. If you do it, they are happy.
This story is published as told to Michael Tichareva. Tichareva is the Managing Director of National Standard Finance Africa and the Executive Chairman of its affiliate, Claxon Actuaries. He can be reached on hyperlink “mailto:email@example.com
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