Future Fellows - June 2009
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Sy Foguel Speaks on the Actuarial Profession in Israel

Actuaries from Around the Globe

By Yvonne N. K. Palm, Candidate Representative to the Candidate Liaison Committee

Wonder what the actuarial profession is like in Israel? Sy Foguel, an ACAS and a Fellow of the Israeli Association of Actuaries, offers some insight on this topic.

There is one actuarial body in Israel, the Israeli Association of Actuaries (IAA). According to the International Association of Actuaries Web Site, the IAA started in 1946, and currently has approximately 160 members. To become an associate of the IAA you must first obtain a degree from a specific university in Israel that prepares students for the career using a syllabus similar to the one developed by the Institute of Actuaries in the United Kingdom. Once you graduate, you then take IAA exams, also based on the syllabus from the Institute of Actuaries, to become an Associate or Fellow of the IAA. The alternative route would be to pursue a designation from a global actuarial association like the Casualty Actuarial Society and then apply for associateship with the IAA.   

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Mr. Foguel. When and where did you begin your career?
I started my career in 1990 at an insurance company in Israel, doing reserving as well as some pricing. In 1994 I joined a start-up company that became the first direct writer of private passenger auto and homeowner’s insurance in Israel. I became the CEO of the company in 1998. The company became very successful in Israel and by the time I left in 2002, the company owned 10% of the market share for Israeli auto insurance.   

What brought you to the United States? And what do you do now?
I left Israel in 2002 to gain some international experience working in the U.S. I returned to Israel a few yeas later as chief actuary of Clal Insurance. Eventually I moved into business development, where I was responsible for international expansion. Clal purchased a U.S.-based company in 2007; this moved me back to the United States as the CEO. So I do not work much in an actuarial function anymore, I manage people, and do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.   

How is the actuarial career portrayed in Israel?
The career is known and well respected in the insurance industry, but not many people outside the insurance industry know about it. The insurance industry in Israel itself is not regarded as very “chic” so the actuarial profession is tainted by this image and is not very sought after, except by students who are very interested in statistics.   

What is the outlook of the career in Israel?
There is a demand for actuaries. However, the problem in Israel is that insurance companies do not yet appreciate the effort and time it takes to finish actuarial programs, so there is a lack of certified actuaries. Many people start pursuing a designation while they are working, but don’t finish. The actuarial profession is also fairly new; the original actuaries in Israel were people who trained in other countries like the U.K. or U.S., and then moved to Israel. Not too long ago there were mostly life actuaries in Israel and only one P&C actuary – I was the second P&C actuary. But today, all insurance companies have dedicated P&C actuaries.   

Could you compare and contrast working as an actuary in Israel to the United States?
It is a bit harder working in Israel because the actuarial profession is not as appreciated as it is here. Students also don’t get as generous an amount of study time. In Israel there is a big focus on your work product early in your career. Similar to here, it is very well understood that actuaries are needed for reserving. Pricing and product development responsibilities for actuaries are not very clear, however, and roles of actuaries vary greatly by company.

What was the hardest part about making the transition to the United States?
Everyone that moves from one country to another must be prepared to take a few steps back; I was a CEO in my position in Israel and became a Senior Vice President when I moved here in 2002. The situation becomes even more difficult when there are language barriers; even if you are fluent in the language of the country you move to you will probably need time to learn the specific insurance terminology of that country. The good thing for P&C actuaries is that a triangle looks like a triangle in any language! The corporate cultures are also very different from country to country, what is considered inappropriate in the U.S. may not be considered a problem in Israel and vice versa.   

What words of advice do you have for other international candidates?
When you move, the burden of proof is on you to show that you are qualified. Being in a different culture that may speak a different language is also difficult. You will have to work harder than anyone else. Spend more time listening than speaking in the beginning to learn the ropes, but at the same time, don’t be too quiet, speak up when you know about a topic to show that you have something to offer. It will take some time, initially you won’t be as effective or appreciated working in an environment different from your own, but don’t give up. Whether it is pricing in Mumbai, India, or capital modeling in New York, U.S.A., the fundamentals of actuarial work are the same so don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams and opportunities; once you get over the hurdles, the rewards can be tremendous!   

Thank you, Mr. Foguel, for your time and willingness to be interviewed. We wish you all the best!   

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