Career Insights

Career Insights Series: Matthew on Actuarial Science and Financial Services

As students take on new opportunities in university, their skill sets continue to expand. Dell Young Leaders alum Matthew is a testament to how building important skills in university, such as time management, only help further one in the world of work. Matthew shares more about his work in actuarial sciences – the study of financial implications on future events – and his advice on skills to develop for those considering a similar career.

Tell us more about yourself.

I’m from Blue Downs, Cape Town, and currently work as an Intermediate Actuarial Specialist. In my current professional capacity, I work on employee benefits and assist with the actuarial valuations on some of the largest funds in South Africa. I aspire to become a pension funds valuator and am hoping to be the first known actuary from my high school. Outside of work, my hobbies include playing violin, computer games, going to the gym, and running.

How did you end up in actuarial sciences?

I actually started my studies in actuarial science, but there are some very strict requirements in first and second year of the program and I was forced to change degrees. After graduating with a Bachelor of Business Science in Finance, I started my career working as a merchandise allocator and central planner at one of Africa’s largest retailers. In this role, I realized I wanted to pursue my original dream to qualify as an actuary so I did some courses and passed enough exams to move into an actuarial role at my current employer. I then got promoted into this current role.

Can you tell us about a day in your life as an actuarial specialist?

I look after quite a few funds, so I tend to start off my day by structuring my day and week ahead. The first half of my day I tend to focus on shorter deliveries and the latter half of the day I focus on longer deliveries, such as valuations and building bigger models for the team. My team develops products that are deployed to the rest of the corporate divisions across the organisation. For example, they will ask us to come up with a solution for our client, and we will do the valuations. Every week I have a plan, and I will check in daily how I’m doing to see if I’m making my deadlines.

What skills did you learn in university that are particularly important for the working world, and how have you used these?

Time management is really important. Knowing how and when to do something comes with practice and time, but you need to be good at it in the workplace. When you’re in university, that’s something students learn and pick up. Students have all these different subjects, deadlines, and they need to balance preparing for assignments and exams. Knowing when to do the different things – managing your time – those are the kind of skills that carry over into the workplace.

Another thing to learn in university is basic Excel – you are expected to use it in the working world, so the skill goes a long way. I use a programming language called VBA and regardless of the technical role you might be going into that sticks out on your CV, even if you’re experienced in other programming languages. If you’re planning on going into a technical role, it’s important to learn some sort of programming language. Once you know one, you can extend it to many others.

What skills do you use in your work?

I use actuarial skills such as financial mathematics, contingencies, and accounting. The soft skills I use are people management and emotional intelligence – knowing how to speak with people and leverage others’ expertise. Not everyone on my team is an actuary and it’s important to know how to work in and manage a team where people have different technical backgrounds. It’s good to recognize your weaknesses and always be improving. Professional communication is also very important as an actuary or an accountant because the little things you say can carry a lot of weight. In terms of technical skills, besides VBA, I also use DAX, a database management language. We tend to get a lot of massive data sets and I run calculations on those sets. I have to think out of the box and figure out how to manipulate things without actually seeing them.

What advice do you have for students looking ahead to a career as an actuary or in financial services?

Keeping up to date with the news is important in financial services, especially when there’s news that could affect the entire system. One of the things to note in financial services is that the system is very interlinked. I often have the news playing while I’m working on my other screens. It’s also very good to know about the general legislative environment and what laws are governing these financial services. For example, if you’re getting into insurance, you need to make sure you know about the Insurance Act. At university, you might think that the technical stuff is the most important, but when you’re in the working world, a lot of things revolve around what the legislation says.

Documentation in technical work is also very important. It’s important to know how you do things, why you’re doing things, and the thinking processes you followed when doing technical things. It’s just a good practice to have when you’re in a technical role.

Given the current economic environment, new university graduates face a steep road ahead.

The Career Insights Series is designed to help graduate job seekers. Dell Young Leaders alumni share insights on their career path, highlight a day in the life at their employer, and provide guidance to students on how to stand out to employers and prepare for the world of work.