Octavio Rojas

Octavio Rojas

I am an actuary from Venezuela, graduated from the School of Statistics and Actuarial Science which forms part of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences of the Central University of Venezuela. There are many issues here that don’t match other countries around the world. You can’t apply international standards in a country where you don’t have a shares market as that of the US or the UK. It’s hard to follow things in terms of actuarial practice when it’s so different from the rest of the world, but there are situations where that give me unique skills to practice in other places. Many places are facing a major inflation problem, while here in Venezuela we’ve been facing inflation since the 80s. That provides me with a hands-on approach to dealing with it for clients in other countries.

What do you see as key characteristics of innovative actuaries?

Everyone talks about diversity, equity, and inclusion. One of the most important things is to be open to new ideas, even if they seem far-fetched. Now is when brainstorming should take a high place in innovation so we can foresee things and not try to do things as we did during the conditions we used to have. We have to foresee things in terms of the pandemic now. We will have another day when the situation will provide us with a new normality, a concept that is now in people’s minds, but not so much in terms of the inflationary issues, or anything outside of the pandemic. It would be a big step forward to have a mindset that you have to look at the whole picture. You have to think outside of the box because this cannot be treated in the same way we used to do things. We have to be completely inclusive in terms of points of view from those who are not just in actuarial science, but also in other areas to see the whole picture and not only a piece of it.

What do you think makes innovation impactful?

To be able to make anyone understand what you’re doing, how you got to that idea, and what you're saying. Communication takes a very important place because you can tell someone the formula you used, but you have to help them understand the outcome of that for them to be aware of what you’re saying. What trends are the models predicting? What are the pros and cons? There are so many things that you have to tell the story of, not to another actuary, but to the world. Unless you can do that, you can only be innovative to a certain extent because you won’t be able to sell the idea or make people aware of what you are saying. If you can help others understand what you’re talking about, it will make a short, medium, and long-term change.

What factors do you believe influence the impact actuaries can have within their organization?

You have to understand that everything is important nowadays. We have to be as capable as possible and not think that what we know as an actuary has to only be used in the actuarial field. We have to approach other projects, we have to approach other people, and we have to be able to help other people understand what we do and what we’re capable of doing. Until we are truly able to do so, we’ll always be seen as the people who provide an idea but nobody understands what we’re saying. We have to make that quantum leap for people to see exactly what we’re talking about.

People look at data science, AI, and so forth, and you have to be open to those things but you also have to see the pros and cons. These things can’t do one hundred percent of the tasks we do. Understand the concepts and how you can apply them, not solely to your peers, but also to those surrounding the entire process so you can explain it and sell it to everyone. At the end of the day, if you’re spending all your time trying to explain the way things worked that you did, then you’re losing your time and effort that could have made a difference, not solely for the profession but for the country as a whole.

What are some key ways that you see the actual profession evolving in the next few years?

It will depend on the strength of how diversity, equality, and inclusion issues are considered from now on. Some people talk about it but, when you look at what they do, it’s solely within the diversity part, or they treat it as solely regarding the inclusive. If you’re providing the tools to foresee the future, you have to build a diverse, equal, and inclusive mixture. In terms of that, you have to foresee how it should apply to the challenges you’re facing, or your geographical area if it’s a multicultural and multinational issue. For example, in the Caribbean or Latin America where every country will have its diversity, equality, and inclusion issues. The more you are comprehensively dealing with things, the more prepared you will be to predict the future. No matter if you use AI, dealing with people is not an algorithm. The people part is something that is constantly changing; it changes over time, changes in different countries, and changes in different regions. So you have to be open in a true sense, and that will eventually drive the future.

"Data scientists can learn from actuaries and we can learn from them."

The SOA in the US has recently included soft skills in the actuarial curriculum for the exams. They’re now giving recognition to people who work with data and analytics. So, that is something that can be seen as an example that you have to be inclusive and diverse. Data scientists can learn from actuaries and we can learn from them. The most important thing is to have that view because that will eventually make us different, which will both amplify and align with the changes that we will face in the future.

What advice would you give someone considering an actuarial career today?

Understand that you don’t only have to be in the insurance sector. Actuarial science deals with anything that has risks involved. Many companies consider risk management, but they don’t call an actuary to be the first person for the job; they look for an economist, an engineer, or an accountant. They think actuaries only look at the negative part of the SWOT analysis. But to do a proper risk management analysis you have to look at the SWOT analysis as a whole; the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities, and the threats. Otherwise, we are not going to be able to provide a good sense of the risks and how the company should handle challenges to provide useful information for your client, internal or external.

How do you think actuaries and other fields could be more collaborative?

We should write more. Nobody writes in an actuarial way, or actuarial newsletters, and so forth. We should open ourselves up to that. This would help people understand that we can help in a multidisciplinary fashion, that we can help people and not wait for them to come to us to ask what we do. It’s not other people’s job to understand us, so we need to promote ourselves.

What are some of the best types of change that an actuary can adopt to become more influential?

The first thing is to understand that we are part of the solution, and to be part of the solution you have to be able to communicate effectively. People need to understand you’re a piece of the puzzle, not a piece that does not fit. We must see ourselves as an important piece of the puzzle when doing risk analysis, no matter the industry. There is a lot that you see in the news about risk nature and decision-making. In many cases, the actuaries participated in that decision, but nobody will tell you that. You have to find it out for yourself.

What are some of the more impactful innovations in the actuarial field that you've seen?

It's driven by the requirements and needs given changes outside and inside the actuarial field. For example climate change; we have to do risk management. Involving ourselves in that discussion is a big plus. Same as the inclusive insurance and other issues which are outside of the insurance perspective but do, and will, make changes for the whole population. The scope changes depending on the size of the project but you will have an impact. Whether people will see it or not depends on how well it’s communicated. But we are being considered to do something about it, that’s a big plus. You see, little by little, that high-level positions, like a CEO, have an actuarial background. Of course, that will take some time to be manageable for most people, but small steps are important.