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Master’s Program Can Offer Fresh Insights and Opportunities

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Given the high standards and hard work demanded by actuarial exams, many Fellows decide that once they have joined an organization like the CIA and achieved a coveted designation like FCIA, FSA, or FCAS after their name, they have studied enough.

However, some do decide to return to their books and gain further qualifications, perhaps to enhance their personal development or career prospects, or maybe branch into a non-traditional area. Among them is Neil Zheng, the first actuary to take the Master of Finance program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Mr. Zheng, associate actuary at Manulife in Toronto, is partway through the 20-month, part-time program. He explained: "I wanted to learn more about financial concepts and how to apply them to real life. When you reach a particular level of management, or work in general, you have a top-down point of view, starting with a theory and then penetrating down to real cases and real business problems. This master’s program teaches subjects like macroeconomics and portfolio management, so you understand more theories and learn why policymakers do what they do. I work in asset liability management but have to talk to people working in portfolio management—now I know what they are talking about."

Although the majority of actuaries earned degrees in subjects like mathematics or actuarial science and went on to work in such actuary-focused fields as insurance and pensions, a surprising number cite "finance" as their education route and have moved into non-mainstream fields. Rotman, which is one of a number of Canadian institutions that offer a Master of Finance course, believes the MFin qualification can help graduates become finance leaders by teaching them about such topics as valuation, derivatives and trading. On its website, the school says: "The MFin goes beyond a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or other professional finance program: with more class hours learning from some of the leading lights in the field, you'll gain the sophisticated knowledge that will fast-track you to a leadership position."

Mr. Zheng, who already holds FSA and CERA designations, plans to complete the CIA Practice Education Course next year. Manulife supports him by granting him study time, and he added: "I would definitely recommend this program to other actuaries. The Society of Actuaries [SOA] exams, for example, go quite deep, but the classroom is a very different way of learning. The professors are teaching using their life experience, which helps you connect the dots in the real world. During the self-study for some of the SOA exams, I struggled with some points and had to let them go because the study was so time-consuming. But in the classroom, if you do not understand some concepts you can talk to the professors and consolidate the information.

"It also helps to be in a class of 30 or so people, compared to the 100-plus you might have in a Master’s in Business Administration class. I am not an extrovert, so this is the right number to get to know people and share ideas. My classmates are all working in various aspects of finance. There are no electives, so we take the same courses together. We knew each other by the second week, and we have developed a real bond."

For more information on the Rotman Master of Finance program, which takes place in Toronto on Wednesdays and Saturdays, visit its website or contact Sean MacLure, assistant director, recruitment and admissions, Master of Finance, at sean.maclure@rotman.utoronto.ca or 416-978-7874.

Do you have relatively unusual qualifications, or do you use your actuarial expertise in an unusual field? Or do you know of an actuary who does? The CIA is eager to raise the profile of its members by highlighting the range of their skills and experience, and if you would like us to tell your story, or suggest one of your colleagues or friends, contact (e)Bulletin editor Andrew Melvin at andrew.melvin@actuaries.ca

 

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