Prospects plus pay winning formula for young actuary
Steve Cheung qualified as an actuary in 2012 at the age of 26. After graduating from a BBA degree in Insurance, Financial and Actuarial Analysis at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 2008, he started on an actuarial management trainee programme at HSBC Life Insurance, where he chose to follow the profession's life insurance track. Four years later, he joined Ernst & Young, where he is now a consulting actuary in actuarial services.
Why did you choose to become an actuary?
Like many young actuaries, I chose to study actuarial science at university because I was told that the actuarial profession was consistently ranked as one of the most desirable professions in terms of environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress by publications such as the U.S. News & World Report. This was such an attractive advertisement for a pre-university student like me. My career decision was such a simple one.
Did you find the exams difficult?
As the programme at CUHK was well-structured and tailor-made for actuarial training, I finished the first four preliminary examinations without much struggle and became an Associate of the Society of Actuaries. At that time, I thought that actuarial examinations were not that difficult. I changed my mind when I took the last two fellowship examinations during my first job. Working full time plus studying for actuarial exams can be very demanding, especially during peak times like year-end reporting or product campaigns.
Did you ever consider quitting?
Yes, I did. Thankfully, I didn't give up and after seven years of study and exams, I qualified as an actuary and became a Fellow of the SOA. Now, when I talk with my colleagues who are taking exams, I can understand their hardship. Exams involve a lot of difficult, technical concepts, and I hated burning the midnight oil while studying. Now, though, I am starting to appreciate the knowledge I have learned by applying it in my daily job.
What advice can you give those struggling with exams?
For people who are having a hard time with exams, don't get beaten by the hardship and consider changing fields. Taking exams and working full time may not be easy, but I assure you, you will pass eventually. Plan ahead and communicate that plan to your boss, your family and your friends - their understanding and support are crucial. Most important, make sure you put in the effort. It might seem like you're losing all your leisure time, but you will have your life back once you qualify.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
In my current job, I have plenty of opportunities to meet clients, present proposals and explain my ideas. Beyond compiling the numbers, I have to ensure the ideas are communicated and explained clearly to others. Over the next five years, I plan to develop my expertise in financial reporting - as this will be one of the key challenges for insurance companies in the coming years - and become an inspiring, business-savvy senior consulting actuary.