Exploring the synergy: The role of an actuary in the banking sector

By Polly Han, FCIA

My journey began with a degree in actuarial science from the University of Waterloo. I had a foundation in numbers and a curiosity about the intricacies of risk, but little did I anticipate that this unique blend would chart a career path in the dynamic world of banking.

Starting off at the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, my role was akin to being a financial detective. I dove deeply into numerical data to unravel insights for life insurers and mortgage insurers – a rewarding puzzle-solving process that not only exercised my analytical thinking but also cultivated my business acumen.

The trajectory took an exhilarating twist when I transitioned to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), embracing the role of Senior Manager in Actuarial Services. Here, I found myself at the nexus of numbers and teamwork, working collaboratively with pricing, underwriting and claims teams. This experience underscored the profound synergy between data-driven analysis and the collaborative dynamics of business environments.

One of the most defining moments of my career journey occurred during my tenure in enterprise risk management (ERM). Taking the helm of the corporate-wide stress testing program, I recognized the increasing significance of climate risk scenarios in the ERM landscape. Drawing upon my actuarial expertise, I spearheaded the development of the first ever climate risk scenario at CMHC – a task that demanded a holistic understanding of the financial implications of climate-related events. This experience not only accentuated my decision-making abilities but also highlighted the potency of combining analytical thinking with emerging challenges.

And then, a new chapter unfolded as I joined BMO as Senior Manager in Retail Risk Methodology Analytics. Here, I was entrusted with developing and maintaining more than 20 regulatory capital (Advanced Internal Rating Based, or “AIRB”) models for the bank’s Canadian retail portfolio. Managing internal stakeholder relationships and leading the redevelopment of the Combined Loan Plan AIRB suite of models further solidified my leadership and communication skills. The experience illuminated the power of financial modelling in driving informed decisions and steering the course in a fast-paced banking environment.

“Amidst these challenges, the advantages of an actuarial background became strikingly evident. The inherent skill set of actuaries, enriched by analytical thinking and business acumen, thrived in this world.”

My role as a financial investigator, decoding complex scenarios, was complemented by my knack for data-driven decision-making. The fusion of these skills enabled me to shape robust strategies that navigated the nuanced terrain of risks and opportunities.

As I reflect on this journey, I’m reminded that career paths can be as dynamic as the industries themselves. The unexpected alignment between my actuarial foundation and the multifaceted banking realm was a revelation, showcasing that numbers not only drive calculations but also power dynamic strategies and decisions. The mix of numbers, analytical thinking, business acumen, decision-making and critical thinking carved a distinctive niche for me in banking. Continuous learning and staying updated with industry trends are crucial for career advancement.

Whether you’re deciphering risks as an actuary or leveraging mathematical models as a quantitative analyst, the world of banking offers a diverse array of paths for skilled professionals to thrive. So, here’s to the unexpected twists that lead us to exceptional destinations – a testament to the power of skills meeting opportunity, and the harmony they create along the way.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and does not represent an official statement of the CIA.

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