Valerie du Preez - Insurance Advisory Executive, Dupro

Valerie du Preez - Insurance Advisory Executive, Dupro

How long have you worked as an actuary?

I started in an actuarial function before I qualified, but it’s been about 12 years since I qualified.

Which markets have you worked in as an actuary?

I started my career off in the South African market focusing on consultancy in life, non-life, and health insurance. In the UK market, I’ve worked primarily in life insurance through consultancy. I also work globally with students and startups delivering services to markets around the world.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

To read people’s minds.

What do you see as key characteristics of innovative actuaries?

Being able to collaborate.  Being open to the views of other professions and industries, and not being afraid to explore and take on new challenges within and outside their own environment. I would also include communications skills, that’s very important.

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

If you’re in a more junior role, access to proper tools, collaborative opportunities, and support from leadership are all important. If you’re more senior, the ability to be a leader is important. Specifically, being able to shape the changes needed for your team or function or organization. And the ability to know when to consult other experts, where needed.

Actuaries at all levels need to stay up to date on current challenges and influences facing their roles, those of their function and organization, and make sure they understand what opportunities could help them perform their role better. For example, how leveraging data science might shape and improve the way they perform their role. 

It’s also important to understand your role from an ethical perspective in order to play a role in broader society in a fair and responsible way. 

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

We are already seeing many actuaries taking on innovative roles, that includes roles within startups that are looking to challenge the traditional software market. So I see some interesting opportunities there. There are also important opportunities in the climate change field, where actuaries can use their skills, and the data available to  help understand and communicate the risks and its potential impact on society. So looking at wider fields, but using up to date and new techniques and approaches to better fill those roles.

Despite there being significant collaborative potential between data science and actuarial science, the two expert fields don’t always mesh in insurance. How do you believe they can work together more successfully?

More collaborative projects that have clearly defined roles would be a good place to start.

To give an example, in a use case for an insurer that was looking at lapse analysis, the real business problem was framed by actuaries and accountants. When looking to understand the data better, the front-end pipeline, the data management that helped extract the data, clean the data, and get the right insights, that was best done by data scientists. So using a real problem, and identifying clear roles within that pipeline, there was an opportunity for actuaries and data scientists to work together to deliver something good together. I think this is a great approach.

What makes innovation impactful? 

If you can prove the value, which could be anything from financial value, operational value, employee value through to customer value, putting value back into society, etc. If you can prove the value then innovation is impactful.

What are some of the more impactful innovations in the actuarial field and why?

So recently I have seen innovations that have helped teams embrace data science. For example there are pieces of software that can help the user code data science in a workflow style environment without them necessarily knowing how to code end-to-end. This workflow engine helps you do the front-end bit; bringing in the data and using built-in packages to guide you towards using the right models and engines. There are some real innovations in that space where you work within an environment in which to program without necessarily knowing all the ins and outs. However it also brings third party risks that the actuary would need to understand and manage, for example to know how to validate the model, irrespective of its wrapper.

There are also examples where actuaries are providing training within the context of their teams and helping push the teams to build original products for their companies. Bringing these solutions into the business and building these mini packages out in the business to deliver value.

I think actuaries are becoming more vocal about the different areas they want to get involved in. This could be climate change, ethical agenda, collaborating outside of the traditional actuarial realm - these are where I think we’re seeing real innovation. 

What is the best type of change actuaries can adopt to become more influential in the insurance industry?

Being more collaborative and being able to communicate better. This is particularly important when it comes to shaping your communication to the audience you’re speaking to.

I once heard an executive in a startup ask that they be spoken to like they’re a five-year-old trying to understand actuarial work. This is incredibly hard to do, but actuaries do need to try and shape their communication to the audience that really need to understand it, in a way that they need to understand it. I’m not saying that means we need to be able to explain stochastic modeling to a five-year-old, but improving and refining our communication skills will make us better collaborators and more influential. We need to be able to drive the value home for the audience, whether that be the board or a customer or whoever it might be.

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

Combine your actuarial career with practical experience early on, and try to get your hands dirty in real life problems that involve some of the skills you are learning while studying to become an actuary, but also some new skills. This will help you to develop the skills to identify and solve real challenges that could deliver value to your organizations later on. It means you deliver practical experience alongside the theoretical.