A Day in the Life of an Actuary

Actuary

The myth of actuaries having anti-social levels of intelligence and having no lives has just been busted. Science proves it. So does this interview with the rather jovial and social Tim Vieyra.

Actuary Definition: a person who compiles and analyses statistics and uses them to calculate insurance risks and premiums.

Not only is Tim an actuary, but he is also an entrepreneur. Here you have two career paths that shouldn’t be uttered in the same breath…according to traditional stereotypes. Yet, here we are with a man defying these stereotypes and using his actuarial background to fill gaps in society to make life that much easier and simpler. To him – it’s as easy as Pi…

“Not many people know what an actuary actually is. Actuaries are to insurers and financial services what engineers are to bridges. We deal with a lot of things, it centres on risk.” – Tim Vieyra

What would your normal day look like?

Time of Day Activity Comments
06:30 Wake up Kids etc.
08:00 Drops kids off at school. I drop them most mornings
08:30 Go to a coffee shop to get some work done. Vida E. Everyone has a drug problem and that’s mine.
09:30 and onwards Head to office. Time to get things done. Deal with programming, dealing with dev team, focus on team.
White-board problem-solving session. If it ends in a fist fight, it’s been a good session. Its very lively, like inside a popcorn machine.
Prototyping – new ideas, models and demo fun How many rockets must you build before one doesn’t crash.
Client and business meetings (strategy sessions). In a coffee shop 😉
16:30/17:00 Ride home, stop by Bloemendal. For a good bike ride. I leave the car at work then cycle to a coffee shop via Bloemendal again the next morning.
18:00 – 19:00 Kids get my attention here. Bath time
20:00 House of Cards or a movie. Or something more fun like a prototype. We don’t go out much in the evenings these days. Unless we can hire this reporter for babysitting.

What would your normal day look like? With your entrepreneurial side of life, what would your exact title be?

I’m an actuary. So when people ask me what I do and who I am, that’s my response. But I don’t know. It’s a difficult thing. I’m a person without the ability to focus on one thing. That’s a more fitting title, I would think.

What do you do though? Isn’t your company, Comotion, programming?

Yes. We started this IT company 3 years ago as Comotion. I’m the MD of that business. We wanted to get into the programming side of things and I actually use my actuary knowledge a lot in programming. We created a data product for brokers (financial services), which is doing very well.

Before this, you were working as an actuary?

Yes, I worked at Sanlam for 8 years. I designed the insurance products there. I’ve moved from the insurance space into the IT space.

And the other business? Business consulting?

We started that to help us while we were starting the IT business. To pay the bills. Which I’m scaling down on now. I want to focus more on the IT business. And of course there’s The Academy of Coffee in Woodstock, but that’s a hobby. We started getting into short-term insurance with another company called SAsure. We insure businesses against things like labour risks.

I did the product design for SAsure. We’re in partnership with two other guys in it. The actuarial science helps a lot. It’s a great background and qualification that teaches you how to think.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

The variety. And I think I enjoy solving business problems. Complicated problems. When I see a gap in the market, I try to solve it. I guess that’s the job of an entrepreneur, isn’t it? It’s rare to see one of these gaps. Once we’ve seen a gap and work on solving it, the fun starts.

What do you enjoy least?

I don’t know. I have taken on the attitude that if I don’t enjoy something, as in really don’t enjoy something, I have to do something about it. I have to try. Since I’ve employed that philosophy I can’t say that there’s something that I really don’t enjoy.

When you were in matric or started your degree, where did you think you would be now? Did you think you’d be in an office job or did you always want to start your own business?

I’ve always had this itch. By my working for a corporate firm for nearly 10 years, that never went away. Working for the corporate was actually the best thing. There are other people who have started their own businesses straight out of varsity, which is awesome. In my case, I had to learn a few things first which has helped me a lot.

All of the actuaries I’ve met are, in a way, very closed-minded. And the stereotypes seem to agree with me.

I know quite a broad spectrum of them and I have a huge respect for them. If you try and plan out your whole career, you’re going to end up in more structured places. Because its easier to plan and carry out. It’s cool and a lot of people enjoy that. I think if I had ended up that way I would have had a very fulfilled life in a place like Sanlam. But I needed to venture off on my own adventure and sometimes you need to make silly choices to get to where you need to be.

Doesn’t that make your actuary on the inside cringe though? The whole risk thing?

Absolutely. You have to turn it off. In the early phases of a business there is so much risk. The risk of failure is so high that you have to suspend worrying about it. To be fair, the actuarial thing isn’t a run-away-from-risk thing, but an understand-risk thing, as well as about making appropriate plans for the risk. It helps to really think about the consequences of what you’re doing, but when you start a business you really need to just go for it.

Are there many spheres that students can go into?

Absolutely. It’s a great qualification, actually. You’ll see that anywhere where money links with risk, that’s where you’ll find actuarial services. Some areas are:

  • Financial consultancies
  • Life Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Banks
  • Investment Management

Where and what did you study?

Actuarial Science at the University of Pretoria. It’s a BCom degree. But you could do it as a BSc and have more focus on mathematics than business aspects. The fact that you’re an actuary is not decided by your university, it’s decided by your qualification. And you need to write 15 exams. I’m actually an examiner for one of those exams – the investment exam. I set the exam and oversee the marking.

How has your career influenced your life? How has it determined your personal life?

Interesting question. In terms of personal finances, I don’t want to come home and project everything forward. I think the one thing that drives me crazy is that I always try and separate fact from fiction. Which key issues matter and what is just hogwash, but to the point where I apply that in every situation. Anyone who studied probability will understand this.

With places like Sanlam, was there any training provided once you came on board?

Absolutely. But actuarial studies continue when you work and they had this great programme where there was a lot of support for your studies. They’re  a great company from that perspective. The best training for me was being thrown into the deep end.

What type of person will be well suited to this kind of job?

  • A person with an aptitude for mathematics
  • Out-going and ready to meet new people
  • Someone ready to take something to completion, even if it means giving up some areas of life for a while.
  • A problem solver
  • For the more introverted: You’ll be given the hardest mathematical problems to solve.

For a high school student, what would your advice be if they want to study actuarial science?

Understand it first. But there are a lot of companies that will accept holiday workers. Even high school students for job shadowing. Take advantage of that. There’s quite a broad spectrum of actuarial science fields, so job shadow them all if you can.

What is the typical starting salary of an actuary?

It’s pretty good. I think between R20 000 and R30 000, if you have written a large part of your board exams. 

Once you’ve graduated, more or less how long till you’ve written your last exam?

Some people take 5 years in total, some take 15 years. Even with the brightest of people, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll fail. They are tough exams and the later exams get harder and harder.

What would your quirky advice be for students?

Have a blast during those 4-7 years you’re at university. Enjoy it. Don’t want to go and work too soon. At the same time, it’s the time where you can learn a whole lot of different things, if you’re not too busy having fun partying. Always have a lot of fun, but also learn about the things that interest you. When you enter the workplace and have a family, there’s a much more limited time to explore things that may interest you.

Take a look at some pictures of Tim’s life as actuary: (To keep up to date on Comotion,visit their blog.)

EduConnect 2cents

Now that we know that an actuary isn’t that mummified zombies sitting in a corporate world, spend some time exploring it if it interests you. When you have a basic set of incredibly useful skills, the world is your oyster. Have fun with it and take a little risk, even if it sends your radar beeping.

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