High Tech

Q&A with Ravi Bhagat, FSA, MAAA, director at KPMG LLP

Photo: Dave Moser

What do you enjoy most about your actuarial career?

I enjoy that my career has afforded me the ability to continuously grow and develop both personally and professionally. I work with a broad range of people (not just actuaries) who have varying degrees of seniority. Beyond the growth opportunities, I appreciate the chance to solve real-world business problems by employing a combination of analytical and business skills.

I started my actuarial career as an actuarial intern at a mutual life insurance company and progressed by taking on new roles with increased responsibilities and managerial assignments. I was able to gain exposure to a broad range of actuarial specialty areas such as financial reporting, actuarial valuation, financial modeling, reinsurance and assumption management. While working full time, I was part of an actuarial development program and studied to pass the actuarial exams needed to attain a fellowship designation.

In the early part of my career, I learned the significance of cross-functional teaming within an insurance organization and the practical importance of collaboration and communication. After five years in that industry, I transitioned to the professional services space in 2011. Since then, I have focused on a combination of audit and advisory work with an emphasis on financial reporting and actuarial technology.

Looking back at it all now and being able to see my growth and development is truly remarkable. I am excited to see what direction and opportunities my actuarial career presents over the next 10 years.

What do you like most about your job?

I work as a director within the actuarial practice of KPMG, a Big Four accounting firm. I like the fact that two days are never exactly the same. You could say I like the feeling of anticipation that waking up with a level of variability and uncertainty regarding the day ahead of me brings. On most days, I spend the first hour of my day handling any urgent issues and then plan for the rest of the day. My job allows me to work on projects internally for business and people development and external projects with audit and advisory clients. In each case, I get to develop innovative solutions that employ my analytical and business acumen. I am keen on using existing solutions in new ways and partnering across solution networks (i.e., actuarial and nonactuarial solutions) to provide the best solution offering to my clients.

Video Exclusive: Ravi Discusses Challenges and Opportunities With New Technologies

Why should all actuaries be interested or involved in current and upcoming technology?

Over the past several years, there has been significant technological advancement within the insurance and financial services space. I personally see new approaches to solve traditional actuarial problems, and interestingly enough, I also see new challenges uncovered through the growing use of technology in the actuarial space. Outside of the pure actuarial space, technology is being used more and more to facilitate collaboration and teaming through tools such as shared workspaces, instant messaging and project management. With that said, it’s clear that technology is becoming (if not already) fully engrained in everyone’s day-to-day lives.

For instance, from a regulatory standpoint, there are new and emerging requirements (i.e., principle-based reserving (PBR), Valuation Manual 21 (VM-21), etc.) that require robust actuarial analysis facilitated through high-performance computing resources (e.g., grid farms, cloud computing, etc.). As actuaries, we need to be aware of these resources to effectively carry out our analyses and provide meaningful insights to our stakeholders. From a strategic management perspective, there continues to be a growing appetite for faster turnaround time on analysis where actuaries are asked to provide deeper management insight. To meet these demands, actuaries must embrace technology and develop innovative new solutions.

Given the growing use of technology in all aspects of our jobs, actuaries should develop a fundamental level of technology proficiency (for the basics, such as Excel, data analysis, etc.) and engage in technology discovery through the exploration of innovative and disruptive topics (for advanced topics, such as cloud computing, blockchain, etc.). It is then up to the individual actuary to draw upon the technology content, connect it to their personal and professional endeavors, and leverage it to carry them (and the industries they serve) into the future.

What would you tell a student or candidate about the benefits of being an actuary?

I have seen the role of the actuary within insurance and financial service institutions evolve dramatically over the course of my career. At one point, actuaries were restricted to being in the back office where they would focus on highly quantitative tasks and limit their exposure to other areas of the organization. In today’s world, actuaries play a leading role within their organizations and are active in overall decision-making. In fact, in many organizations, actuaries now hold senior-level positions such as chief executive officer, chief financial officer and so on.

For an actuarial student, the evolution in the role of an actuary opens up limitless opportunities. Essentially, you’re able to work with a wide variety of individuals (not just actuaries) and explore different functional areas within an organization. This free-form aspect of the role allows you to continually challenge yourself and provides you the liberty to delve into a focus area that you’re passionate about.

You serve as the chair of the Society of Actuaries (SOA) Technology Council. How has membership in the section enhanced your career?

Being a member of the SOA Technology Section has broadened my perspective on technology’s applications throughout the industry. The section does not limit itself to traditional actuarial topics (if such a thing exists), but provides a forum for a diverse group of individuals to gain awareness of new technologies, showcase technology applications and understand broad trends within the technology space.

I personally draw a connection from the innovative and disruptive technology themes provided by the collective group and develop new and cutting-edge solutions to solve real-world problems. I also find that being a member of the SOA Technology Section allowed me to expand my network and connect with likeminded individuals who are looking to further leverage technology in their day-to-day jobs. This is achieved through the casual introduction of technology topics and guiding each other to other outlets where further exploration can occur.

You specialize in actuarial transformation, modeling, reporting and model validation. Did you start your career in the technological arena?

Surprisingly, I did not start my career within the technology space. My career started at a mid-sized mutual life insurance company where I focused on annuity valuation. Shortly after I started my career, the computationally intensive Statement of Position 03-1 (SOP 03-1) and the Variable Annuity Commissioners’ Annuity Reserve Valuation Method (VACARVM) were both being rolled out, and I found myself spending more time understanding the technology challenges behind my work versus other aspects of it. I realized I had a passion for learning more about technology concepts and how I could do my job more effectively through the use of new technology.

When I joined the professional services space, I found that my personal interest in cutting-edge technology concepts and their application to actuarial business challenges was of interest to my clients. I was asked to speak more and more on emerging topics and provide my opinion on practical solutions. This extended into both the advisory and audit spaces as I started to define technology-enabled solutions. Ultimately, this connection defined my personal brand within the actuarial technology space.

What is the most important aspect of leadership?

As a leader within the SOA and within my firm, I see advancing people development as the most important aspect of leadership. In my role, I advance a culture of people development through a variety of activities. These two are the most impactful:

  1. Recognizing the importance of an actuarial development program.
  2. Supporting on-the-job learning and coaching.

I consider actuarial student development to be highly important to the long-term success of the actuarial profession. I completed the actuarial exams while working full time and have first-hand experience of successfully balancing competing priorities and working through practical challenges. With that experience, I have worked directly with individuals to help them structure their exam study schedules and develop an effective balance between work and exam progression. Our next generation of actuaries needs to have a solid foundation, and as a leader within the industry, I see actuarial development programs as a critical component of that foundation.

I am a strong believer in developing junior actuaries and students through on-the-job learning, and I support an apprenticeship model. For instance, I strategically bring younger team members into client meetings, internal coordination activities and account planning, as these are great learning opportunities. In doing so, I’m able to increase the business acumen of junior team members and, ultimately, prepare future leaders. From a technical perspective, I encourage members of my team to take on new challenges and learn new topics while I provide guidance and oversight. My hope is that through developing a culture of people development, the next generation of actuaries will be encouraged to “pay it forward” to future generations.

Who inspires you?

My father has inspired and influenced my life the most. He grew up in India and immigrated to the United States in 1984. He is someone who I would describe as a quiet hero. While in India, he started working full time at an early age to support his family and pay for his own education (including college). He became a successful chemical engineer and took on a managerial role at a large fabric factory, but decided to leave that all behind to pursue new opportunities in the United States. In accomplishing all that he has, he’s always been a humble man who has never had the need to brag or boast about his achievements. His motivation was solely driven by a sense of work ethic and wanting to better his family’s circumstances.

My father has always been my measure of success, and when I feel uncertain about my path forward, I try to envision what my father would do in the situation. The most important thing I learned from him is that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to as long you have a strong foundation built on solid work ethic and sound motivation.

Ravi Bhagat, FSA, MAAA, is a director at KPMG LLP.

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