Future Fellows - June 2005
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Preparing for an Overseas Career Move
By Sally Ezra, Partner, D. W. Simpson, and Lesley Traverso, Managing Director, D. W. Simpson, Asia Pacific

As actuarial recruiters whose firm has offices in the U.S, Australia, and Hong Kong, as well as alliances in several countries, we have noticed an increasing number of companies willing to consider hiring from outside their country and an ever increasing number of actuaries actively looking to move from one country to another. Each day we are asked by candidates what they can do now to increase their chances of getting the job they want in the location they want.

The information below is based on direct experience with the worldwide actuarial employment market and will hopefully provide some guidance to aspiring international career movers. There is, of course, a caveat. As with most things in life not everyone fits into "usually" or "most" and finding a match between employee and employer is as much about personality, determination, and serendipity as it is about meticulous planning, rules, and technical skills.

Plane flying around the Globe For analysis, however, here are some "rules" that "usually" apply:

  • A company will always first look locally to fill its vacant positions
  • An overseas candidate needs to have a serious and genuine reason for seeking employment in a particular country
  • You need to have a specific or scarce skill set to be considered
  • Comprehensive "ex-patriate " packages are a thing of the past
  • Developing economies do not necessarily pay above local salaries to get expertise
  • Acquiring a visa for many countries has become more difficult
The first step is to ask yourself: Where in the world do I want to go? Why? And when?

Once that is determined, begin considering the following in relation to where you want to go:

  • What is the current and future demand for my skills?
  • What is the supply profile?
  • What are the trends that might influence demand?
  • How can I differentiate myself to be an attractive candidate?
  • What do I need to do to make this happen?
Let's have a look at these in more detail, and give some specific examples to help guide you.

Where, Why, and When?
Since relocating to another country is a major investment for both you and a potential employer, you and the company need to have a high degree of comfort that you will be happy and able to remain there for a significant amount of time. What is considered an acceptable time varies by country, sometimes culture, and often by immigration laws. For example, Bermudian employers are accustomed to having people stay for only two or three years. In other countries, the potential employers may need to know that you plan on relocating or repatriating for good. In many developed markets, countries will only grant a work visa for a short amount of time, usually from three to six years.

Your interest in a location needs to make sense to a prospective employer. Commonly accepted reasons include - returning to historical family roots, have visited several times and really understand the pros and cons of a place, wife/husband/partner is being relocated, or has close family there.

That is not to say that those with a good helping of genuine "wanderlust" are not taken seriously, but be prepared to convincingly demonstrate your commitment. Ways to do this could be as simple as getting on a plane and appearing on their doorstep in your own time, at your own expense.

When do you want to do this? Although you can't interview for a job, say, three years in advance, you can start to talk to people, learn about their business practices, and make connections within the marketplace. Once you have decided the time is right, plan on the search taking at least three to six months.

There is a difference in the structure and development of insurance markets around the world that influences the demand for actuaries.

For example, if you are an expert at pricing motor vehicle insurance, you are unlikely to find a huge demand for your services in a country like China that has set auto rates, known as tariffs. However, if you know that the tariff is going to be removed, and therefore it is likely that many insurers are going to try and compete for that business, then it is likely you will find an increase in the demand for those skills.

If a country has had an insurance company collapse with the result being increased regulation and greater need for scrutiny in valuations, reporting, and capital management, it is likely that demand for those skills will increase, for example, Australia.

In a country like India where companies have opened satellite offices to handle backroom actuarial functions, being technically strong and able to lead and mentor a staff of new actuaries are valuable skills.

In more established markets, increased competition has led to a demand for greater analysis, particularly competitive pricing analysis, and for the analysis to be more sophisticated than in the past. In Europe, North America, and Australia, the demand has increased for actuarial skill sets needed to perform complex analyses. Additionally, there has been an expanded use of actuaries in roles not previously held by actuaries, or in roles that did not exist before.

Regarding supply, consider the following:

Has there has been consolidation in the insurance industry that has led to actuaries being displaced? It is not productive to try and look for a role there if you are competing against recently re-trenched locals. This has more often happened in developed markets, and mostly in the life and pensions markets.

For emerging markets, what type of growth has been estimated, for what products, and how does that growth compare to the estimated domestic growth of the actuarial profession?

In many markets, there is a significant supply of candidates ready to fill roles as the demand increases, and, of course, to do so on local salaries. Unless you are a Fellow with considerable experience and are flexible regarding salary, you are less likely to find a position.

There is considerable and ongoing discussion about trends in emerging and growing markets. For example, often discussed is the opening up of the major insurance markets in China and India, and of "offshoring" being an area of expected growth. However, it is important to read behind the headlines in the context of actuarial work. Despite the rhetoric in the newspapers, China is not ready to employ 20,000 actuaries!

How can I differentiate myself?
Once you have decided where you want to be and have an idea of what the supply, demand, and trends are for your desired location, you will have a better idea of what is needed to be able to find a role. Developing economies often sell traditional products. Gain experience with and learn about the products that are slated for growth.

Try and get some exposure to capital management techniques. In regard to capital management, as well as with many other skills and techniques, remember what is "old hat" in one part of the world could be leading edge in another. Additionally, don't assume that because an economy is "developing" that it is "backward."

Learn about distribution issues, especially if you work for a consultancy (or want to). Some of the challenges facing newly emerging economies are around distribution.

There are many countries in Europe whose language of business is English, but you will need to learn the native language to feel part of the organization and the social scene, so do get to night school and brush up on your French or German.

In Asian countries, native language skills, an understanding of the Asian culture (preferably via family), and experience in a "western" country are desired.

If you are currently in an established market, what companies, if any, are currently operating in the country to which you wish to go? Try to join one of those companies, and if that is not possible, try to get any international experience.

What Next?
Having gone through the exercise above, you should now start to formulate a plan that is right for you. There is not enough space or certain answers to many questions to provide everything that you need here, but hopefully this will help you to start asking the right questions and begin to manage your career.

Engaging or partnering with a good international specialist recruitment company early in this process can provide you with updates of the trends in the marketplace, as well as with contacts in the field, and hopefully with opportunities to consider when the time is right.

A final word-because the search process and the move itself will be full of uncertainty, stress, and probably some disappointment along the way, it is important to remember why you began the search in the first place. Remember that the opportunity to work, live, and enjoy another culture in a working environment is one of the most life-enhancing and broadening activities one can do.

Good luck and enjoy every moment of that journey. end of article

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