Darren Ma

Darren Ma

Actuary, Aspen Re


Can you describe the nature of your job?   What do you do on a typical day, and how does your role contribute to the overall goals of your company? 


Enablement and management of risk taking is the core function of the role. The job is varied as such from pricing, reserving, operations and risk management each serving to help the company find acceptable risks for an acceptable return. 


Pricing involves analysis of risks, building and parameterising models, research and development on new products, regions and perils. Together with refining existing views the goal is to ensure that we have as true a view of the risk undertaken, and whether the premium received adequately covers this, expenses and delivers a commiserate return on the capital deployed. 


Reserving means to allocate some funds aside to help pay for future expected losses. Here in Singapore, we cover all lines from property, casualty and specialty classes of business, each with their own duration of liabilities. In reinsurance, the volatile nature of the business means there will be large catastrophe events every now and again (hopefully not too often). 


Operations and risk management generally involves the capture of management information and business planning to ensure business undertaken remains within pre-agreed risk tolerances and appetite whilst achieving its targeted return. Additionally, with a risk hat on, we help to liaise with the relevant authorities e.g. MAS, APRA or Group office to better understand our current portfolio, risk processes and frameworks. 



Which part of this job would you say is most satisfying? And most challenging?


The best part of the job is variety, however the most challenging part is balance. There are a number of priorities to juggle to ensure the most important tasks are done whilst not leaving behind others. It is satisfying to help solve problems that make the lives of underwriters and management easier. At the same time, preparing for the future through continuing professional development and R&D. 


Actuaries are ranked consistently as one of the best jobs in the world. This is partly to do with the balance outside of the office as well the job satisfaction during office hours. Being a Singapore office of a global operation means there are often late night calls, but these can be done after family time.



If you were recruiting candidates to fill this role, what academic qualifications and personal qualities/abilities would you look for?


qualified actuary with 8 to 10 years of experience in general (re)insurance would have the requisite knowledge and judgment to undertake this role. At the branch level, we are a little closer to the front line so the more sociable and personable characteristics are almost as important.



How long would it take for someone with no experience to be able to perform this role competently with minimal supervision, and what forms of training and exposure will be provided to support his/her career development?


The actuarial qualification is a rather arduous process but with determination and the right kind of support, it can be achieved in 3 to 5 years. It is better to utilise the study leave and lighter work load early on in one’s career to progress through the exams. Once responsibilities pick up, it can be much more difficult to balance. That said, it is a worthwhile and global professional passport that can help develop a career that spans from direct insurance, reinsurance, broking, consulting or any number of other quantitative fields in which actuaries have forged a path. 


On the job training provided will help develop industry knowledge through exposure to the various lines of business, different techniques, and more importantly, the building of judgment. It is this aspect that will be the most diverse between different candidates depending on their individual career pathways. Someone who is gradually gaining experience can help price individual treaties and engage in specific projects to further their technical capabilities. Someone who is more experienced can start to engage with management and clients about their needs and utilise their experience and technical toolkits to help solve problems. 



What are the prospects for career progression in this role, or within this industry?


Actuaries can be the number crunchers but are no longer constrained to this role. The potential pathway for development can lead to positions in management, either from the risk point of view or from the business point of view. Within the industry, there are many examples of outwardly able actuaries being managing directors, CROs and CEOs. However, this will obviously be dependent on the individual and is less about the technical abilities but more about the management acumen.