Switching from working in insurance to banking

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Shubham Mehta tells us about his switch from working in insurance to banking – and the opportunities he feels it offers.

Tell us a bit about your role and background

I am a part-qualified actuary based in New Delhi with an interest in wider domains. I started my career in life insurance and reinsurance analytics, followed by a role in the pricing function for a general insurance business.

I currently work at Barclays, where I look after the independent review of all quantitative and qualitative processes. This role provides exposure to wide-ranging topics on climate-related risks – green bonds, carbon trading, carbon footprint measurement, and reserve-based lending, to name just a few.

I am a member of the IFoA’s Banking Community Leadership Team and have been involved in the setting up of a pilot Banking Online Community.

What made you choose banking as a career path?

I have always considered banking an obvious area of work for actuaries. Banking is a dynamic and demanding practice area that is always evolving, providing new challenges, and this attracted me to switch to banking. Covid-19 and climate change have further exposed cracks and fractures within our global financial system. These provide opportunities to apply the actuarial skill-set to these new risks.

How has the actuarial skillset equipped you for a career in banking?

The actuarial skill set – a mix of critical thinking, problem-solving and effective communication – has brought immense value to the roles I have supported. In my interviews, it was helpful to explain the parallels between insurance and banking, as well as in conversations with experienced banking colleagues. Actuaries are well versed in dealing with technical jargon and are known for acting with honesty and integrity, skills that are highly valued in banks.

In certain ways, a banking role can be very different from one in insurance. Individuals usually stay in a practice area, whereas when you move into banking you leave behind the expertise and feeling of ‘self-importance‘. However, as time passes, you just need to demonstrate the value you bring to the projects and be known as the person who can get things done. Don’t get bogged down by the big numbers you see: with enormous size comes the responsibility to perform well in your critical role. You have to compete with a wide pool of talent, experienced bankers, and people with other various professional certifications.

Moreover, actuaries working in banks and consulting are relatively new to emerging economies like India. I feel that actuarial skills will be highly relevant and actuaries will be able to quantify new risks being posed to the existing systems, especially in the wake of Covid-19 and climate change.

What are some of the most interesting discoveries you have made while working in banking?

My role involves many skills I learned while preparing for the actuarial exams, but beyond that, it involves conducting research, literature reviews, and using niche statistical models. These models may not be directly covered in actuarial exams, but the complex problem-solving skills developed while preparing for the exams are always useful.

I get to interact with people at all levels, from analysts to heads of divisions. Irrespective of the level you work at, I have noticed that senior management always look for an indispensable resource: someone who is approachable, known for getting things done, and doesn’t shy away from challenging the status quo.

What have been some of the challenges?

Understanding the cultural differences between an insurer and a bank can be daunting initially. Lack of study support programmes may be a roadblock. However, ample time is available to study and pass exams. Banks do have educational policies that support higher education and qualifications relevant to their business. I think it will just be a matter of time before banks start investing in budding actuaries for the future.

Communicating effectively is equally challenging in a banking role. At times, you may have to express your opinion and judgment, possibly contradicting a colleague. This may not come naturally to all actuaries, but it gets easier with experience.

Transitioning from insurance to banking has not been easy: it may seem that your years of hard work in passing exams were in vain. However, it just takes some time and effort to understand and speak the technical jargon of banking. Once you invest time in this, the parallels between the two areas become more apparent, and you feel more confident that you have successfully made the journey.

What have been some of your most powerful learning moments?

Developing certain skills can have multiple benefits – they help you excel in your role, as well as demonstrate that you are competent and diligent. If you are keen on taking on new initiatives and can challenge the status quo, your skills are highly rewarded and the sky is the limit.

Spending some extra time during the initial phase of your role in banking helps. It enables you to understand the business inside out and to become known as an individual who can complete challenging projects in a time-constrained environment.

Do you see yourself remaining in banking?

Yes. Banking as a practice has been evolving at a much faster pace than other practices. It offers fresh opportunities to combine the data science techniques to new problems around niche models being developed. Furthermore, being a part-qualified actuary, I now have the opportunity to pursue the Banking Specialisation, which would help me improve the technical skills for my job.

How will you use what you have learned in the future?

In the near term, I plan to complete my Fellowship exams and apply the skills to my current role. The need of the hour is to address principal risks and expand my horizon beyond traditional areas – cross-practice roles will be in demand and continual upskilling is key so that my skills remain relevant.