This month we have the pleasure of interviewing Servaas Houben, who spent a number of years as an actuary in Curacao. Servaas is an international actuary who started his actuarial career in the Netherlands, before moving to Dublin, London, Curacao and now back to the Netherlands. Besides his actuarial degree, Servaas completed the CFA and FRM credentials. Servaas is a regular presenter at conferences, and writes for actuarial magazines. His focus has always been on innovation to ensure that the pension and insurance markets remain relevant in the future.
How many practicing actuaries do you have?
We have around 10 practicing actuaries. They are involved in pensions, life insurance, non-life insurance and health. Curacao is not very advanced in the areas of risk and asset management, and hence actuarial influence in these areas is very limited.
What is the word for actuary in your local language?
When was actuarial science first introduced?
As we are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, most actuaries study there to acquire their actuarial degree. The Netherlands have been one of the front runners in the area of actuarial science since Johan de Witt (17th century) who completed seminal work in the area of annuities.
What is your favorite part about being an actuary?
Being innovative—creating awareness regarding new trends in mortality and interest rates and reflecting this in new products and improved risk management.
Can you share an interesting anecdote or two from your career?
Although the Dutch Antilles are islands with a limited population (300,000), we managed to perform our own in-house mortality study which gave excellent insights into longevity trends longevity and how we can deal with them.
Do you have any advice for young people in your country interested in pursuing this career?
When you have the opportunity, work in different locations and different industries (pensions, life, etc.) so that you gain a broader perspective of the challenges and possible solutions you might encounter later in your career. Also, try to work in a country where they don’t speak your mother tongue, as it stretches you and gives you greater resilience.
What are some of the highlights of the history of the actuarial profession in your country?
The Dutch actuarial society has become more and more influential in stimulating the debate on longevity and sustainability of pensions. Partly because of these contributions we received the title “Royal” in 2013.
What are some of the main challenges and projects for your association over the next 5-10 years?
Ensuring that actuaries remain relevant in the future which implies focusing on developments in risk management and data analytics.
What developments on the horizon could affect future opportunities in your country?
Longevity is a worldwide challenge which will affect the sustainability of pension plans and the issue of if future generations will still want to participate in this setup. Furthermore the reputation of pension funds and insurance companies is vital to ensure that the general public continues to trust in these institutions.
Where do you think the changes to actuarial work in your country will happen in the next five years?
I expect that developments in the Netherlands will be fast in the next five years due to regulatory changes and the amount of media attention. Curacao faces the risk of lagging behind—our current regulations, for example, are not risk-based and we lag behind much of the world when it comes to our regulatory environment. If Curacao doesn’t catch up soon with risk-based regulations and product innovation, it will be difficult or nearly impossible for Curacao actuaries to be involved with doing business outside of Curacao.
Who are the main employers of actuaries?
Pension funds, insurance companies and self-employed actuaries.
What qualifications do you find most important for upcoming actuaries?
Education is nice, but life experience and ethics are important characteristics in the long run. Reputation matters, so make sure you work for companies that have ethical standards with which you agree .
Do the schools in your country have actuarial majors, minors, concentrations or do students study on their own or overseas?
Mainly overseas in the Netherlands; however, some of the courses can be done through home study from Curacao.
What is the credentialing procedure like for an actuary in your country?
We follow the Dutch/European system in which one has to complete a certain number of educational hours per year. When someone wants to become a certified actuary, one has to work alongside a certified actuary for a couple of years.
Do employers support the cost and time of exam preparation?
Yes, students get time off and exams are paid for.
Are there any noteworthy non-traditional actuarial positions?
Not at the moment—actuaries tend to stick with reserving and pricing in Curacao.
What is your favorite Excel function and why?
Sumproduct because of its versatility.
Do you have any non-actuarial hobbies?
I love travelling and reading, which I suppose are not traditional actuarial hobbies. My main hobby is chess, which is based on problem-solving and hence very actuarial!
Could you tell us a little bit more about your country or association’s plan for increasing the number of actuaries and actuarial opportunities in Curacao?
We are organizing the Caribbean actuarial conference this year for the first time in Curacao which should help to increase awareness of the profession here.
What could people from outside of your country do to help the profession grow in Curacao?
Create more awareness regarding risk-based regulations as this is still one of the areas where the regulations in Curacao are lagging behind. The same applies for longevity trends.
What can the actuarial society or profession in Curacao do to help the profession grow worldwide?
We can become more active by writing articles and presenting abroad to get more involved in other geographical regions.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I recommend anyone with a keen interest in problem solving and lifelong learning to pursue an actuarial career.