Thursday, September 08, 2016

My Actuarial Journey - Tan Kin Lian

My name is Tan Kin Lian. In 1966, I left school at the age of 18 to work as a clerk in a life insurance company. I enrolled as a student in the Institute of Actuaries and studied to pass the actuarial subjects one a time. This was done while doing a full time job in several companies over a period of ten years. I qualified as a Fellow of the Institute in 1975.

I took the actuarial profession because I liked mathematics, logic and problem solving. I was fascinated with statistics and how statistical data can be analyzed and studied to tell us about what is happening in the real world. I also enjoyed the subject of probability. It helped me to understand the chance of certain events happening. This was useful in gambling and in taking risks.

In the old days, we did the statistical calculation using printed tables of the values of the functions. We did not have Excel. When I started work, we use mechanical calculators. The first electronic calculator, which was developed by a Japanese company, cost one year of my salary!

I learned about the importance of getting data, analyzing data, understanding the results and applying them in the real world. That skill comes from the actuarial training.

To be a good actuary, you must love data and how they can be used to make important decisions in everyday life. These are decisions at the personal level, corporate level and at government level.

Just imagine how much better the country can be for the people, if the government makes the right decisions on managing the economic and social activities in the country. They can make the right decisions that work for the majority of the people, if they know how the decisions will impact the different groups of people.

Apart from being a trained actuary, I was skilled in information technology and computer systems. At the corporate level, a good computer system helps the corporate to operate more efficiently, at lower cost and provide better service to its customers.

The data from the business can be analyzed to make decisions to improve the marketing, operations, product development and management of the business.

I encourage actuaries to have an interest in this area.

Many actuaries are familiar with the use of Excel. This is an important skill. But it has its limitations when it comes to handling large volumes of data. I overcome it by learning to use SQL database and to structure and analyze the data.

For example, I can analyze a few million transactions in a database of motor insurance policies and claims to know the average claim rate by type, age and use of vehicle and by gender, age, occupation and experience of the driver. This can be used for pricing the motor insurance policy correctly to achieve profits in a competitive market.

I am able to analyze the data further to know if the workshop is overcharging on any of the repairs and is aggravating the damages to inflate the cost. This is not easy. You need analytical and problem solving skill. You also need to understand the nature of the motor insurance business.

As the insurance company has to handle a few hundred repairs every day, it is important that the computer system is able to highlight the repairs that need to be investigated further. Some insurance companies pay attention to the large repairs, but the overcharging applies to the medium size repairs as well.

Now I wish to come to my key point.

The skill of an actuary is to identify a problem, to understand it and to find practical solutions to handle the problem effectively.

You may not deal with the practical issues when you study the actuarial subject. But when you work in an insurance company, you will soon realize that the pricing, marketing and claim management are vital to the success of the company.

Are you able to find the solutions to help the top management to run the business? Remember, you will want to be the top management one day!

If you wish to interact more with me, send an email to

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