Never Give In

Q&A With Simpa Baiye, FSA, MAAA, CFA, director at PwC

Photograph: Rob Tannenbaum

What drew you to the actuarial profession?

I have a somewhat atypical story: As a 10-year-old boy living in Lagos, I was convinced that I wanted to become a pilot and an aeronautical engineer. Fast-forward to age 13 while attending a private American school in Dakar, Senegal, and my Ghanaian private math tutor suggested I consider the actuarial profession. He thought my flair for business and my quantitative skills would be a good match. I still did not fully appreciate the meaning of the word “actuary,” so I went to a nearby library to do more research on the profession. I also wrote to the Institute of Actuaries in England and received a brochure that gave me a lot more information. What appealed to me most was the ability to combine probability and statistics in solving complex financial problems within a business setting. After a few more conversations with my parents, I made my decision. Here I am today.

Can you describe a successful day?

A successful day for me is one in which I provide and communicate valuable insights to my clients. In my current role as a consulting actuary, I often advise clients in the U.S. life insurance industry on the financial risks and rewards of their acquisition targets, product plans or investment strategies. I cannot overstate how pleased I am when my clients understand the complexities of the businesses they are looking at and come away with the confidence to make a decision. A successful day also ends with me making a difference in my family and/or my community.

What do you learn from the people with whom you work?

I have come to appreciate a variety of styles and work habits. My colleagues are all very successful and motivated, but they approach business issues in different yet equally effective ways. Bringing this “cognitive” and “procedural” diversity together greatly enhances the value our team brings to our clients.

Who inspires you?

People who never give up in the face of tremendous adversity and setbacks inspire me. Historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Olaudah Equiano. Contemporaries such as the Australian motivational speaker Nick Vujicic also come to mind. They do not sugarcoat their circumstances, but choose to look—with realism—toward a better day. They resolve to live and grow in spite of their circumstances.

Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to share with up-and-coming actuaries?

Stay aware of the changes in the industry. Take the time to learn from your successes and setbacks. Keep upgrading your communications skills. You own the long sprint that is your career. Cultivate a personal “board of directors” made up of diverse mentors. And in the words of Winston Churchill: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

What is your best advice for staying ahead of the competition?

Keep learning about the ever-changing world of finance and insurance. Look to adjacent industries for insights that are applicable to yours. Invest personal time in educating yourself early on changes in the regulatory environment and technology that could affect your clients and industry.

Simpa Baiye, FSA, MAAA, CFA, is a director at PwC.

Copyright © 2019 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.