Passion for Maths inspires graduate to pursue Actuarial Science

Addressing the shortage of black actuaries in South Africa remains a crucial subject as the demand for actuarial professionals continues to grow at a rapid pace. This is the core reason why the South African Actuaries Development Programme exists. Through the donor partners, SAADP continues to produce black actuarial graduates and qualified actuaries who play important roles in the country’s economy. We spent some time with Mr Preshaylen Pillay, one of the SAADP Alumni and asked him some questions to understand his journey into becoming an actuarial graduate.   

Who is Preshaylen?

“I am currently 23 years old and working in an Audit/Consulting role as a Senior Associate at Ernst & Young, in Johannesburg. I have recently passed my final exam, the Fellowship Exam (in Life Assurance) and still have to complete a total of 3 years of working until I submit my application to be a Fellow Actuary.”

“I grew up in a family of 5 which includes my parents, my grandmother, and an older brother. I am extremely grateful for my family putting up with all the questions I had growing up – I would often ask many “Why”, “How” and “What if” questions from a very early age. My family has played a pivotal role in my growth and development as an individual. I cannot exclude the friends that practically became family when I moved to Johannesburg, who also added a lot of value to my life.”

Preshaylen completed his matric in Queensburgh High School in 2014 and went on to study Actuarial Science at the University of the Witwatersrand the following year.

How did you find out about Actuarial Science?

“My parents mentioned the Actuarial Science career after realising that ‘I was good at maths.’ It was only in Matric where I started to look deeper into this. I remember watching a video where someone was calculating the probability that a basketball player would shoot a 3-pointer at least 3 times out of 5 based on their skill level. I was amazed that you could actually calculate this, and I really wanted to develop a skill set that would help me solve problems like these.”

“My brother being one of my role models, studied a degree in Accounting, and he helped in building my curiosity in the financial space. I also enjoyed a challenge and the rewards of this career path were attractive, to say the least.”

How did you find out about SAADP?

“I [unintentionally] missed a Prefects’ meeting one day, and my Maths teacher saw me and said, “There’s this guy who was an ex-student at this school and he studied this crazy maths degree, you should speak to him!” I managed to get into contact with him, and it turned out that he was a SAADP Alumni who studied Actuarial Science at Wits.”

“I was fortunate enough to receive a bursary from SAADP and the support obtained from this organisation is unrivalled. Moving from Durban to Johannesburg, having to socially “start again” and make new friends seemed daunting at the time. But I had made good friends with other SAADP students and this made the transition easier. Apart from this, the various talks and discussions with actuaries that had been through the programme were quite inspiring and it was reassuring to see how successful they were, even though they had also struggled at some point during the journey.”

Why are Actuaries needed in the South African economy?

“The South African economy needs more actuaries because they bring a skill set that combines finance, risk, and social responsibility to derive solutions that will help us make appropriate decisions during uncertain times. In South Africa, there are not many qualified actuaries and there is a great demand for individuals who can guide companies through this uncertainty.”

Any advice for Grade 12 learners considering studying Actuarial Science?

“The advice I would give to Grade 12 learners that are looking into this career path is to make sure that they are passionate about the areas they will be studying and the impact they will make in the world. They should be intrigued by uncertainty and curious about how to better explain situations where there is uncertainty. Apart from being good at maths, they should enjoy solving problems that may seem arbitrary. The study path is challenging but they will see the world very differently after completing their studies – both mathematically and socially.”

What is your advice for a student currently studying Actuarial Science?

“The advice I would give to those currently writing exams would be to make sure you stay committed to achieving the dreams the younger version of yourself originally set out to achieve. Know that it is okay to have good and bad days when it comes to studying but overall, aim to be as disciplined as possible, because the sacrifices will prove worthwhile in the end. And in general, do not stress over every single problem that exists but pick the battles that align with achieving long term happiness – because that is ultimately, in my view, the fundamental reason why we live life – to be happy.”

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