“Unlike other jobs where every day is the same, there is change in here: new clients, new offices, new cities.” Interview with Salima El Khababi and Sjoerd Brethouwer from Milliman.
Q: To set the ball rolling, could you tell me a little bit about yourselves?
Salima: I’m 24 years old. I studied Econometrics at UvA: Bachelor and one year Master’s, after which I immediately started working for Milliman that I found through VSAE. So far, it’s been a year and a half for me here. I made the decision that Milliman is where I wanted to go, when working on my Master thesis. So August 1, two weeks after the final paper was submitted, I started.
Sjoerd: My story is a little longer. I started with Medicine in Utrecht. I did it for three years, after which I realised there wasn’t enough Maths for me there, so eventually I switched to Econometrics at UvA. Here I did a double Bachelor in Actuarial Science and Econometrics, and afterwards an Actuarial Master, also here at UvA. So seven years ago I was done with my studies, and I went working at EY for another five, after which I switched to Milliman. So it’s been 2.5 years here so far. You can say it’s a pity I picked a wrong major at first, but I did have a great time anyway.
Q: At which point did you realise that Medicine is not for you?
Sjoerd: That was the last year, when I realised that that was not the kind of environment I wanted to work in, even though the whole study went pretty well for me. I just wanted something more challenging. I would say Medicine takes more time, but Econometrics is just more challenging in itself.
Q: What are your positions at Milliman right now?
Salima: I am an Associate Consultant which is basically a junior position. What I do, is I help Senior Consultants with actuarial work. Even though I did Econometrics, I still followed Actuarial courses, and I am planning to do a Post-Master in Actuarial Science.
Q: If you had a chance, would you rather have done Actuarial Science than Econometrics at university then?
Salima: No, I made the decision to do Econometrics because I found it more challenging at the time, and I like to be challenged. For the most part, it was that desire for challenge that brought me to Econometrics. You shouldn’t forget that some courses in Econometrics Master are also the same in Actuarial Science Master, like Financial Econometrics.
Q: Sjoerd, what about your position at Milliman?
Sjoerd: Currently I am a Consulting Actuary, I already finished a Post-Master in Actuarial Science a couple of years ago. My work involves helping clients with actuarial and risk related problems, for example, I give them advice on how to price their products, how to improve their reserving models and or on how to improve their investment strategies from a risk management perspective. I’m currently working for both a funeral insurance firm as well as a non-life insurance firm. So you can say, it’s pretty broad. What I especially like about my work is that you aren’t only involved in calculating things, but there is a big deal of interaction with clients here. You have to advise them, convince them, give presentations, do research for them. This combination of interaction and calculation is why I switched to my current job.
Q: Could you describe your normal day at work?
Sjoerd: Today is a Friday, which is the usual ‘office day’ for consultants. Because we are working at clients’ sites quite often, we use today to discuss topics with our colleagues. I usually start the day with answering e-mails or making some phone calls with clients. In the afternoon there can be a presentation by a thesis student who works at Milliman, or some knowledge-sharing session between colleagues. There are also so-called “client meetings”, where all Seniors come together to discuss all the projects to date: staffing problems we have on current projects, plans for coming months regarding those projects and possible new opportunities, how we are going to make sure all the client requests are fulfilled, etc. The rest of the day I usually spend on the phone with clients or working on models, reports and presentations. Again, you can say there is a lot of “switching” between tasks that I have.
Salima: My day is similar. In the afternoon I go to meet the clients, mainly to the offices where they work. Unlike Sjoerd, who is more involved in advising, I am mostly busy helping Seniors with arranging and helping in general.
Q: Would you say you are happy with your position?
Salima: Yes, as Sjoerd said there is a lot of “switching” in what I do. Unlike other jobs where every day is the same, there is change in here: new clients, new offices, new cities. I would definitely want to stay working here.
Sjoerd: I am happy too. As I said I came here from EY two years ago, and I can say that because Milliman is a smaller company, we have about 50-60 people working in the Benelux, you need to be a little more self-supporting than in a bigger firm. That brings a lot of flexibility: if you need something, you can easily ask someone personally and it will be done within a day. However in a bigger company, there is a lot more bureaucracy involved, which slows a lot of things down. So, in short, the fact I have a lot more responsibility and independence is what I especially like about my job. I am looking forward to growing further and attaining a more senior position.
Q: Would you have anything to say about your extra-work life?
Salima: One Friday every month we have a presentation evening, where we share knowledge to starters, after which we have a “borrel”. The knowledge we share is mostly what life at an actuarial company is like.
Sjoerd: Every year we also have a ski holiday. We can do dinners a couple of times a year, where all come together. That is a great way to get to know each other outside usual office hours.
Q: Any suggestions you have for graduate Bachelor or Master students?
Salima: If you choose a job, choose something that you like, otherwise you would regret it. If you don’t know what you like, check VSAE events, speak to companies and to people there.
Sjoerd: Indeed, it is important to visit career events. Try meeting as many people from one company as you can: that will give you an insight in the atmosphere where you’ll be spending all of your time.
Q: Some econometrics students would say their study does not give enough opportunities to develop communication skills. Where did you pick yours?
Salima: I agree, but I think when you start working in a small environment, like here at Milliman, you get pushed to become more communicative. Because, when I started, some people were telling me I was a bit quiet. It is not the case anymore, the environment pushed me to start speaking. But I agree, it is missing both in Bachelor and Master. Though I think they shouldn’t worry too much, this is something one learns pretty fast.
Sjoerd: I think people who are interested in consultancy have to have both in-depth mathematical knowledge as well as communication and presentation skills. Econometricians that have no affinity with presenting at all may not find consultancy the best thing to do. But yes, you need to do other things alongside your study. Make sure, you find time to have fun with others: that improves your communicativeness a lot.
Salima: Don’t be afraid! Take the risk!