By Katrine Pertsovski, FCAS, MBA, Candidate Representative on the Candidate Liaison Committee
As the world becomes increasingly more global and inter-connected, CAS actuaries are able to find more international work opportunities. In fact, two members of the Candidate Liaison Committee and Associates of the CAS, Celeste Bremen and Lucia Batista, are currently working abroad, with Celeste being based in São Paulo, Brazil and Lucia in Barcelona, Spain. I spoke to both of them about their experiences of working overseas while still pursuing their FCAS designations.
Future Fellows: What was your career path prior to working abroad?
Celeste Bremen: After graduating from University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Economics from the business school, I started my career with Zurich North America, in a Reserving function.
Lucia Batista: I did three internships during my time in college, with the last one being with a P&C insurer. After graduation, I worked for that insurer in North America for over 4 years, for most of this time in Pricing, but also in the Corporate team for 6 months.
Future Fellows: What prompted your decision to work abroad?
Celeste Bremen: I was always interested in international experiences. While I had an opportunity to travel quite extensively during college, I felt that I wanted an even more immersive international experience of living and working abroad. I’ve even taken language courses to prepare myself for such an opportunity. So when I heard that Zurich had a 2-year international rotation program, I couldn’t pass up that chance and applied.
Lucia Batista: I’ve always wanted to work in Europe at some point in my career, for both professional and personal reasons. My initial plan was to get my FCAS first, then explore opportunities in Europe. However, when I got the chance to work in Spain, I just couldn’t say no! While it may sound like a cliché, I think I felt a little too comfortable in Montreal given the work I was doing, and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try new things. I felt I needed that for my own development and growth.
Future Fellows: What has your experience been like so far in this role?
Celeste Bremen: I moved to São Paulo almost a year ago and am about half way done with my international rotation program. While I worked in a reserving role back in the US, I joined a pricing team when I arrived in Brazil. Besides having to adjust to a new team and work tasks, I’ve also had to get used to some of the cultural differences. The work environment here is much more collaborative and encourages more frequent personal interactions. While my coworkers back in the US would email me if they had a question, here my coworkers just come up to my desk to ask that question. We also don’t have cubes in the office, which makes the work setting so much more different from what I was used to back home.
Lucia Batista: I moved to Barcelona 8 months ago and I am currently working in pricing. Although one could think that is the same role I had before, the experience is very different. Not only have I moved from one country to another, but I’ve also changed employers as well. Although actuarial concepts are the same, the market is very different, and therefore the application of concepts does vary. I find myself thinking about the logic behind some analyses that back in Canada were done without much thought. This is one of the things that I like the most about my new role – I have to constantly think and make sure that what I am doing makes sense actuarially. The role is also a bit different from back home. Over here, the actuarial team works a lot with other departments, while back home we were a bit more isolated. Whereas the technical part is a bit more developed in Montreal, the actuaries in Spain have a lot more business and market knowledge. The cultural difference that is taking me a long time to adjust to is not work related...it is lunch time! People usually have lunch past 2pm...and the break lasts for almost an hour and a half! The first few days I was starving!
Future Fellows: How are you handling taking actuarial exams while adjusting to a new work environment?
Celeste Bremen: São Paulo doesn’t have any CAS testing locations, so I have to travel to Buenos Aires, which is a 2.5-hour flight away, to sit for my exams. I’ve done it for the first time this past fall and it definitely made the experience a bit more challenging. This gave me a new perspective on the benefits of the TBE and I look forward to it being implemented for more exams in the future!
Lucia Batista: My current colleagues don’t emphasize their exam passing as much as some of my previous co-workers, and the current study program is definitely not as generous as the one back home. Therefore, I have to be a lot more self-disciplined to pass exams here. It is definitely harder!
Future Fellows: What about social setting? How are you adjusting to living abroad while also handling new work experiences & exam prep?
Celeste Bremen: As back home, it’s all about managing your time effectively. I’ve always enjoyed jiu-jitsu and was able to meet people through it in Brazil as well.
Lucia Batista: When I moved to Barcelona last August, I didn’t have any fall exams remaining, which gave me some time to adjust before having to start studying again. That helped a lot with the settling down!
Future Fellows: What experiences do you think helped you prepare for working abroad?
Celeste Bremen: Learning Portuguese back in the US! But also keeping an open mind and trying to be positive and adaptable to help navigate a new environment.
Lucia Batista: I think it was helpful to fully understand what I was doing at work, so I was able to apply my knowledge in other situations. This sounds obvious, but I feel like sometimes we do some work mechanically, without fully thinking if it makes sense, is correct or can be done differently. These elements combined with “thinking outside of the box”, helped me a lot in the transition.
Future Fellows: What are your plans for your career in the future?
Celeste Bremen: Being almost half way done through my international rotation, I’m really looking forward to shifting my work focus from primarily learning to application and decision making. I’m excited for new interesting projects that are to come in the next year. I’m not exactly sure what’s in store after the rotation program ends but I know that I definitely learned a lot about a different area of actuarial work as well as a new market that I hope to take with me wherever I end up in my career.
Lucia Batista: For now, I would like to stay in my current position, as I still have a lot to learn about pricing techniques and the Spanish market. I first thought that I’ll spend 2-3 years in Spain before coming back home, but at this point I don’t know for sure if/when I will return to Canada. I plan to grow both personally and professionally from what I am experiencing now in my current role and location, and only time can tell if I will stay in Spain, go back to Canada, or go work somewhere else. But wherever I will be, I definitely would like to get my FCAS!
Future Fellows: What advice would you give to the Future Fellowreaders who are interested in working abroad? When in their career would you recommend they do that?
Celeste Bremen: Being able to spend the past year working abroad was such a rewarding experience for me and I would highly recommend it to anyone, if they are interested in such an opportunity. There is a lot of to learn and to adjust to if you decide to work abroad, but the benefits you gain from it, both professionally and personally, outweigh the challenges that you may experience in the beginning. If you are thinking of working abroad, don’t let the fact that you are still taking CAS exams deter you: it’s definitely possible to keep successfully taking them in the new environment as well. Talk to other people who worked abroad to gain additional perspective on the experience and apply!
Lucia Batista: DO IT! It is definitely something I do not regret, and I believe it’s a great experience, even if you might not see the benefits of it right away. On one side, I would say it is better to do it after attaining your fellowship, since you do not have to worry about studying and can enjoy the new experience fully. But on the other side, it might also be easier to do it while you are still young and do not have to make the big move with a family and kids, which could get a bit more complicated. Thus, I do not feel there is an ideal time to do it: if the opportunity presents itself, you never know if it will come around again...so grab it!
Thank you so much Celeste and Lucia for sharing your experiences with us!