“After graduation, I want to work in an insurance company, and liaise with government to create and implement policies that allow low-income families to have access to life and health insurance. My ultimate goal will be to start my own insurance company” writes Nikkita Ngalande, a sophomore majoring in actuarial science at Michigan State University through the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. Last summer, she landed a life changing internship at a world-class insurance company, Swiss Re, in Cape Town, South Africa. When she returned to Michigan State, we asked her to share her experience.
It was the second day of spring break when I received an email from the Africa Careers Network about an internship opportunity in South Africa over the summer. I was thrilled about the opportunity to intern with Swiss Re (the second largest reinsurance company in the world). I knew it would be an amazing opportunity for me to get exposure to the insurance industry right after my first year in college.
Fast forward a few months and there I was at Cape Town International Airport, ready to take on a new experience in a city I had never been to before. As I rode to my apartment in a cab I was struck by the beauty of the city, it was like nothing I had ever seen before, a peaceful blend of mountains and raging ocean shores.
The first week at Swiss Re flew by quickly; I was thrown into a whirlwind of compliance training and online lessons about the company and the reinsurance industry. My notebook was quickly filling up with words, phrases and acronyms that I had to look up whenever I got a chance to. Despite the steep learning curve, I loved every second of being at Swiss Re, everyone was so kind and friendly, and every time I looked up from my desk, I had a spectacular view of Lion’s Head (a top tourist attraction in Cape Town) to reassure me that I was just where I wanted to be.
As I got further into the internship, I started getting the hang of things, I was more conversant with the industry jargon and I started working on my projects. My daily tasks ranged from coordinating with another team of actuaries and data analysts in Bangalore, India to cleaning and validating data before working on it. My first project entailed creating cash-flow output models using visual basic. This project was both challenging and rewarding because I had no prior experience with visual basic (a programming language of excel). During this project I gained essential visual basic improving my excel skills tremendously. My next projects were Intra-group Retrocession (IGR) claims investigations and Permanent Health Insurance (PHI) termination studies. This project exposed me to the technical skills that are used in the insurance and reinsurance industry.
Aside from my projects, a couple of informal activities contributed even more to my experience at Swiss Re. I particularly enjoyed Cape Town days and Lunch and Learn. Cape Town days were activities held during the first week of every month where everyone in the office interacted with each other, sharing experiences and learning more about what each individual was working on. That was time to connect with people on a more personal level. Very important in networking.
Lunch and Learn was a bi-weekly learning session held during lunch time for the all the office staff. During Lunch and Learn external professionals and internal workers would give presentations on various topics. Usually, staff members used this opportunity to talk about their departments and the work they were doing. The bi-weekly team lunch was an informal lunch held at different restaurants around Cape Town. The team lunch served as a team building opportunity for the evaluations team. Team lunch was one of my favorite events because it was always an opportunity to learn from experienced actuaries and to explore Cape Town further.
Interning with Swiss Re was an amazing experience for me and I gained both technical and non-technical skills. Technically, the industry jargon and work culture in a reinsurance firm. Otherwise, what makes a successful actuary. It was even more elevated learning about insurance and financial reporting regulations in South Africa.
Coming from a country with only a few people in the actuarial profession, being at Swiss Re offered me the opportunity to get firsthand knowledge on how to succeed in the profession. Being at Swiss Re also helped me put into perspective what I want to do after graduating and how I will use my education and experience to impact Africa.