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Interview with Mária Kamenárová, Swiss Re

Mária Kamenárová woks as a Risk manager at Swiss Re Management Services in Slovakia.
Written on 11/07/22

1. What made you decide to become an actuary? 

During my studies at the Economics University a new program was opened in cooperation with the UK government and Institute of Actuaries. I liked mathematics, so I enrolled. We were the first actuarial students in Slovakia and we graduated in 1996.

2. In which actuarial fields have you worked so far in your career and what are the main tasks in your current position?

During my career I was lucky to have the opportunity to work in many different actuarial and risk management areas. I started as an actuary in the Government Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and Family where my duty was the actuarial assessment of the pension scheme decumulation phase for newly-established 3rd pillar pension funds in Slovakia. I only stayed there for one year but it helped me to understand the system of governance of government institutions in my country. 

Then I continued to work as a life actuary for a Dutch insurance company, where I stayed for several years. It was a small company that only had 3 actuaries and we did everything that needed to be done -- starting from traditional reserve valuation for statutory reporting purposes, pricing of new insurance products and cooperation on new product development, some reporting of reinsurance and Embedded Value valuation. My specialization was Embedded Value and actuarial model development in Prophet software. I liked that very much. Within the development program for young actuaries, we could rotate between various projects so I happened to become a product manager helping to make the first Critical Illness product for the market.

Later my career developed more into management as I got an offer to head the actuarial department in Prague after our head office was merged with the Czech office, where I had the role of Chief Actuary. I was just 29 years old. Thanks to my supportive husband and family I decided to take it. During the next few years there were many opportunities to learn and develop my leadership skills and style; I want to thank my colleagues and mentors from that time. Later on, the scope grew and I was appointed Chief Risk Officer for 10 companies in two markets consisting of three insurance companies, three pension funds, two banking companies and two mutual funds. During this time, my team and I completed the Internal Risk Capital Model implementation, I learned Operational Risk Frameworks and participated in some M&A transactions, especially in the area of pension funds, as well as my passion: Asset Liability Management. But the best thing, in my opinion, is the development of my team that developed and grew not just in size but also in terms of competencies and skills. The decision was made to restructure the back-office organization, to move actuarial activities to a Shared Service center in Romania and that was  difficult for me, so I left.  

New job opportunities were Solvency II project manager in Belgium in a composite insurance company covering Non-Life insurance, mostly Motor, Home Insurance but also SMEs. It sounded interesting and I spent the next seven years there, being responsible for the implementation of all three Solvency II pillars and, at the same time, acting as the guarantor of quality for actuarial and risk management valuation processes, thus covering the Risk Function Holder and Actuarial Function Holder roles. I learned, sometimes the hard way, but definitely a lot, about project management and especially how to manage IT projects and IT systems development and management. But I also learned that it is difficult to ‘sit on too many chairs’ (i.e., to have too many roles) and deliver on quality in a manner that satisfies you.  
During this time, I began representing the Slovak Society of Actuaries in the European Actuarial Association on the Insurance and Professionalism Committee. So, when later an opportunity came up and I was elected AAE Board member and later Chairperson I agreed. As it does require extra time, I found a new employer who supported me in these activities as it was clear I could not be a manager of many organizations and focus on too many priorities. So, right now, I am a senior actuarial/risk manager specialist. Firstly, I focused on IFRS17 implementation but later I changed to Solvency II and ORSA as it was easier for me with my previous experience; these are my current duties at SwissRe.

3. What personal skills and professional knowledge are particularly important to be successful in your profession?

In my opinion, the best personal skills are curiosity and the resilience to be eager to learn the new areas that the actuarial profession offers you, and to keep learning. The more professional experience and expertise you have, the more versatile an actuary you can become. I have to say I kept studying after finishing my university education. Firstly, I studied for the Chartered Financial Analyst qualification. Though I did not finish it to get the full CFA title, the knowledge helped me to become a better risk manager and perform better in ALM and understand the world of asset managers. Later I studied Financial Risk Management on a course provided by the Global Association of Risk Professional so I have the title of FRM. Even though it is designed for the banking sector as it covers Basel regulations, it helped me to better understand Operations, Counterparty and Liquidity risk management. My most recent education covers Sustainability and Climate risk to understand what actuaries might offer to help better manage these future risks. 

But hard skills – factual knowledge-- are not enough: the right communication content, style and message are key to success. It is important to have the skills to do social networking and be heard in the right way. For me this is a life-long learning process. 

The next very important skill is the ability to maintain a healthy work life balance, recognise what is too much and to have the strength to rebalance again: simply recognising what takes too much energy away and does not make me happy. 

4. Which aspects of your job do you particularly enjoy and which aspects do you find less enjoyable?

Firstly, I enjoy being an actuary and financial risk manager. As you could see, what I like very much is the ability to take on various roles and aspects, gain new experience, work intensively and with passion with young actuaries and so on. I like to utilize my experience to train young actuaries. I like to promote the actuarial profession and show how to become a better actuary and risk manager.  

5. What are the main challenges facing actuaries in the future?

I think the main challenge is to stay relevant for our stakeholders, to add value to our employer’s business where we focus on our customers. We have to provide excellent service, keep learning and adapt to new situations in the future.