Xinrou Chen is a graduate student at Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, where she is pursuing a Master of Actuarial Practice. Xinrou completed her undergraduate work in English Language and Literature at Xiamen University in China, and she recently interned at AEGON-INDUSTRIAL Fund Management Co. in Shanghai.
Xinrou is expected to complete her program in December 2020, and we spoke with Xinrou in October 2019.
Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.
I like bungee jumping, and I’ve gone twice so far. The first time I jumped was in New Zealand, and New Zealand is the homeplace of bungee jumping. At the time, I was 18 years old, and I did it just purely because I was curious. After that, I found out I actually enjoyed the feeling of doing it, so the second time I jumped was from Macau Tower, and it’s from 233 meters.
I’ve encountered many excellent professors at ANU. The program I’m in is very intensive, but the professors utilize the time very well in class to explain the class materials.
What has your experience at ANU been like?
I’ve found that ANU really cherishes the student experience. At the end of each course, the professors and lecturers encourage students to give feedback and fill out the evaluation surveys, so that the lecturers can improve their teaching qualities and maybe change the design of the courses according to students’ feedback.
There are also many activities and events held at the university to help students to feel less stressed. For example, during finals, the university will bring in some very cute dogs onto campus so that students can play with them and have some fun out of their study time. Each college will also have their own activities. For example, I’m currently in CBE, the College of Business and Economics, and our college will hold activities, such as teaching students to do ceramics or painting, just to help students feel relaxed.
ANU also has various activities and societies. I’m currently a member of the ANU Actuarial Society (ASOC), where I’ve worked for the society committee for one year. I think participating in societies can connect students together, and no matter whether you’re a domestic or international student, if you share similar interests or similar academic backgrounds, then you can make friends within the societies.
What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose ANU?
When considering schools, I first decided on my destination. I knew I wanted to study abroad in Australia, so I looked at UNSW and the University of Melbourne, in addition to ANU. All of these schools are very well-known universities, but the program at ANU, the Master of Actuarial Practice, was more open to accepting a student like me who had less of a mathematics or statistics background.
What influenced you to pursue actuarial science?
In high school, I did well in mathematics, but because in China we separate students into arts students or science students, I ended up studying art and history. When I first chose my undergraduate degree, I didn’t think too much about my future career path. I liked English culture and was curious about the lexicology of English, so I chose English Language and Literature as my major. I also minored in Mathematical Finance, though, so after completing my degree, I thought maybe I’d try something new and get back to that feeling I had with mathematics in high school. I wanted to leverage my English skills in an English-speaking country and pursue a graduate program in a more practical field that would promote my future career path.
I had a friend who was studying actuarial science in Australia, and he told me more information about this industry and how there may be many opportunities in China, as well as around the world. I did some research about this major, and I found that, except for some traditional roles for actuaries, there is actually an increasing number of nontraditional roles for this major. So I thought actuarial science would provide me with a lot of opportunities around the world in different companies.
What has been your experience with the actuarial science program at your school?
I’ve encountered many excellent professors and members of the teaching staff at ANU. The program I’m in is very intensive, but the professors utilize the time very well in class to explain the class materials. After class, we also have tutorials each week to review and work on practice questions.
I’ve found that the tutors in our university are very helpful. They all have very strong academic backgrounds—some are even pursuing their PhDs—and they give us a lot of support in solving any problems we have in our studies.
In terms of career, I think our college is very supportive in many aspects. For example, I’ll be participating in a program called MomentuM, which is a 12-month professional development program that involves workshops, trainings, networking sessions, and connecting you with a mentor—all designed to help students build up their soft skills, which will be helpful in their future careers.
For actuaries, they need to not only understand mathematics or statistics, but also communicate effectively with others. I think this program will be very good for me and help me develop my professional skills for the workplace.
As I mentioned before, we also have our actuarial society, ASOC. I’m currently working for the international relations team in ASOC. ANU has many international students, and our team’s goal is to promote communication and interaction between international students and domestic students.
One of the biggest events that ASOC holds is a bi-annual actuarial trip. One is held in Sydney, and it’s mainly for introducing the domestic companies in Australia to the students. Another one is held in China because we have many Chinese international students in actuarial science. This trip allows us to introduce the Chinese firms to the actuarial students.
What is your favorite class so far and why?
My favorite class so far is called Investment and Asset Modelling. This is the first Part II course that I encountered, and I think the design of this course is quite different from the previous courses that I’ve attended. It is purely because this course involves abundant discussions in class, and the design of the class is more flexible. It’s not like you attend the lecture, listen to the professor’s words, and then practice the questions when you go back home. It’s about sharing different opinions about the industry.
We contribute half of our time in class to the discussions, which I think is very valuable because there are others in the class who have had two to three years or more of working experience, so they are able to share their broad industry perspectives. This is particularly interesting to me because I don’t have a significant amount of working experience so it is good to hear their opinions.
This course also teaches us some useful technical skills, such as R and Excel. So I think it’s a very practical, useful course, which combines what we learned theoretically with what we’re going to deal with in practice and in reality.
What has been most challenging about studying actuarial science? Is there anything you wish you would have known ahead of time?
I think the most important thing is time management. I’m doing four courses per semester, and if you do four courses all related to actuarial science in one semester, there will be a heavy study load, so you have to know how to manage your time well. In terms of what I wish I would have known in advance, I think maybe just because of my background, I would have done some review of probability theory and what I did in high school mathematics.
Have you had any insurance-related internships? If so, how was your experience?
My last internship was based in Shanghai, and I worked in the risk management team for the AEGON-INDUSTRIAL Fund Management Co. My major tasks included organizing the risk indicators that should be monitored from over 200 fund management contracts.
Except for the traditional roles for students who graduate from actuarial science, we also face a lot of other opportunities and other nontraditional roles around the world, including risk management, business analytics, and investment and fund management. These are all nontraditional roles, but they are also required by many companies. I think the internship in the risk management team can help me to better understand how to hedge risk as an actuary does.
What are your future aspirations or career plans?
In terms of my program, I’m expected to get an exemption from all of the foundation program, all the Part I exams and most of the Part II exams. In the next three to five years, I hope that I can get exemptions for all the three parts of the exams for being an actuary.
I’m open to what I’m going to do in the future. I’m willing to do the traditional roles, as well as the nontraditional roles. And because I have only studied this major for one year, I’m kind of still thinking about what I’m going to do.
ANU is well known for its research background, so I’m also considering maybe doing further research in this university. But it will depend on whether it suits me and the future opportunities I have. My plan is to apply to be a tutor for the next semester to see if I can handle the questions that I encounter in this job. And then after finishing this semester, I’ll also try to capture some research opportunities to see if I’m suitable for it. I’m open to both the research path and also the more practical path in the business world.
What are the latest developments or trends in insurance?
I think one of the things is the technological development. I think this is a hot issue in this industry, because it definitely will impact how we build our models. In the past, many industry professionals have expressed some worry about technological development, considering it a threat to the traditional roles. But nowadays, more people in this industry are optimistic about the fast pace of the changing technological development. This is because most of the experts in this industry have built artificial intelligence into their business models.
With technological development, it can also help to improve policyholders’ health, as well as lower the insurance rates of the claims. So I think for now, the signs for technological development are all positive.
Do you have any favorite books, websites, or media that you would recommend for someone interested in insurance?
I always look at the Actuaries Institute website. I think this is a great resource for actuarial students because the latest news is posted on the website, and you can watch and learn about the changes in the industry. The site also has an online magazine called Actuaries Digital, which I really like. A lot of young actuaries contribute to that magazine, so it’s great to take a look at and imagine what your future career will be like.