I am Syed Danish Ali, 25 years old. I have around 4.5 years of experience as an actuarial analyst in management consultancy serving insurance clients across the Middle East and Pakistan. Aside from being student member as well as a member of various research parties of Institute and Faculty of Actuaries UK (IFoA), I am a final year sociology student of University of London (UOL; academic direction run by London School of Economics) distance learning B.Sc sociology. My early education includes 8 As in A levels and 10 As in O levels. I also love researching on data science and have been ardently researching about it since 2012.
Times of Youth: Could you define ‘Actuarial science’ for our readers?
Actuarial science is an applied mathematics field. Actuaries get to apply the mathematics behind finance especially insurance and hence, are usually referred as the brains behind insurance.
Times of Youth: Of all the possible vagaries in the world, what kind is the most crucial from an actuary’s point of view?
Almost every actuary is subject to market conditions. Despite the mathematical elegance, finance is ultimately ruled by the psychology of the human participants running the markets. This brings about new and reinvented challenges and risks all the time and this is what an actuary has to understand most profoundly.
Times of Youth: How does it feel to be a member of Public Policy Virtual Review Group of IFoA?
It feels quite integrated to have a sense of participation in crucial matters of policy-making such as future of investments, challenges brought about by aging populations especially in developed countries, and resources and environmental emerging landscapes.
Times of Youth: Since you are also an observer member of several committees of International Actuarial Association. (IAA), could elaborate more on its objectives and achievements?
Purpose of IAA is to act as a unifying body for actuaries all around the world. It is there to provide a sense of consistency to increase professional aptitude and reputation for actuaries. As far as my limited observations can tell, a sense of coherence is fused into the very fabric of IAA research and decision making, which reflects very well its overarching objectives.
Times of Youth: So, what are your current endeavors with regards to your actuarial projects?
It is really exciting to be here when there are so many new and improved regulations coming across the world and region where we work, especially solvency and insurance regulations that have almost made innovation part of our daily job. Actuaries are now becoming more involved than just their conventional strengths of reserving and pricing into broader areas of risk management, analytics, and investments.
Times of Youth: Your articles get regularly published by University of London blog. Tell us more about it and what all issues have you raised so far and their respective responses.
I try to pick a popular topic of regular and popular discussions and tell the side of story related to them that is generally ignored by most. My first article was on ‘entrepreneurship’ and why this has become a buzzword which tends to hide more than it reveals. In another post, I justified negativity, and the pain and suffering we go through instead of naively running away from our hardships. In another, I jotted down few observations on how to live a content life. The responses so far have been great and very encouraging. Recently I got my own blog series ‘Movies Mockingbird’ where I explained social sciences through movies. Through the description of movie and dialogues, the reader would get to know major social sciences concepts without even recognizing it consciously! The motivation behind it for me is that social sciences should be for everyone and not just for few specialized experts.
Times of Youth: At the end of it all, what is your real goal in life in terms of career?
The real goal is to keep trying hard to discover the universe of potential that is hidden inside each of us as human beings. After all, we all are stardust!
Times of Youth: What has been the best and your biggest moment of pride?
My failures! Especially when they are crushing enough. Despite what my achievements might imply, it is my failures that define me and are my pride. A knight in shining armor is glorified by us, but any knight with armor that is shining has not been to war. Mark Twain is correct to note that we actually regret more for things we did not do rather than for what we did. There is hardly any point in getting depressed on failures or being proud of one’s success because nothing is permanent in human affairs.
Times of Youth: Has your family been supportive of the profession you chose?
The family has been very supportive, but it has always been guiding me within a realistic framework. There is nothing to say that I am 100% in the right when I chose this profession or 100% wrong when I face setbacks. I learned from them how to see reality objectively and that it can be done only when one is free from internal turmoil.
Times of Youth: Do tell us one incident which totally changed your life/perspective.
Exams were approaching for 9 subjects of A levels and I was thoroughly burnt out. Then I read Khalil Gibran’s phenomenal words: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars”. I have never been quite the same since!
Times of Youth: We think you have the power to bring a rational change in the world. If given a chance, what would you like to do to make this world place a better place?
I would like everyone to realize what Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi realized: “Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.” Change never comes from outside from any Hercules. It is always within and inside each and every one of us.
Also, there is the curse of achievements. Since you have some temporary fleeting achievements that others do not, this tends to imply a disparity of merit. Others then pull that achiever down as much as they can for their sense of inequality and anger. The saddest part of this is that both parties are generally in the wrong here. The achievers start to create barriers for others and through their pride imply that they are somehow unique and more deserving. The others start to hate this that how can others seemingly rise ahead of them. One gives in to ill of superiority complex, the other to inferiority complex and so there is no innocence here, only varying degrees of guilt.
We have to realize that we all want is to help each other and that life is too short to live in mental projections of both inferiority and superiority. The mind is a clever device because it plays lots of tricks with us. Far more clever is the unequal and unfair structure of our societies that induces us to be trapped in futile competitions and conflicts forever. It is time we apply in both thought and deed that “Remember your humanity. Forget the Rest” (Bertrand Russell in Russell Einstein Manifesto).
Times of Youth: Any message for emerging young actuaries via Times Of Youth?
There are two aspects to consider here that are relevant in undertaking any actuarial exam. The first is the psychological and the second is technical; I will try to elaborate on both holistically. We can become anything we want to, like an actuary or software engineer or investment banker, etc., but it requires a solution-oriented personality.
From the psychological side, we have to realize that we ourselves are our greatest teachers; Tutors and professors can show us the way, but we have to travel that path ourselves. A person who is determined and keeps on pursuing ultimately gets his/her rewards, with or without any tutor. Later onwards in our lives, we will realize that ‘one repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil’ (Friedrich Nietzsche).
The best tool we have for passing actuarial exams are the study resources like study manuals and practice exams. From there, thoroughly read the technical concepts like time value of money, bonds and generalized linear modeling, etc. Understand them and then go practice the past papers and score yourself according to the practice exam solutions. Practice, practice again; Actuarial exams are not rocket science, but even then there is no substitute for practice; Through practice and comparing your answers with the solutions you will be able to look inside the minds of examiners and what they want from students in order to pass. An important requirement here is to give yourself ample time. There is no one-time requirement because every student is unique, but you should feel that you have given yourself enough time. Do not be in a hurry or haste to just give the paper and get it over with. It doesn’t work this way.
It is very important here not to give up. This is applied mathematics, at least till associateship. It is generally impossible that every time we get 100% correct answers and working; but that is how we tend to think; we think let’s say if, in the whole book, we don’t understand few concepts, that we have confused everything and don’t know anything; That is not true; focus on what you know; keep separate what you don’t know and do not mix these two in stress or panic that I don’t know anything.
Another crucial aspect is how to handle failure; some actuarial students might drop out because they fail a few times. Giving up due to failing not a good thing for actuarial students; we have to have the courage to face failures and still continue and not give up; yes actuarial papers are difficult to pass but the rewards after passing can be equally immense; so never give up; take a break, calm down and feel in control and eventually you will have the situation under control.
Do not reject the hero in your soul. Keep holy your highest hopes. And if actuarial papers are difficult we just have to remember that it is not that something is difficult that we do not dare, but it is difficult precisely because we do not dare (Nietzsche and Seneca).
With consistent hard work, ample time and unconditional confidence in your abilities whether we pass or fail each and every one of us can perform miracles.
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