Bridging Borders: A Caribbean Actuary’s Odyssey from Trinidad to Brazil and Back

Actuary out of the Box
5 min readJun 4, 2024

Ronald Poon Affat, BSc(Hons) FSA FIA MAAA CFA HIBA, was recently honored by the Brazilian Institute of Actuaries as an Honorary Member, making him only the second recipient of this honor in the Brazilian profession’s 77-year history. Ronald is a former pupil of St. Mary’s College, where he won an Open (Maths) National Scholarship. He then pursued Actuarial Science at the University of London, City, in the UK, graduating with First Class Honors. Subsequently, he attained Fellowship status with both the USA and UK actuarial institutes, in addition to the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. Ronald is also an impassioned volunteer with the USA based Society of Actuaries (SOA). He was elected to the SOA’s Board of Directors for a 3-year term and received the SOA’s highest honor, the Presidential Award, for his contribution to the American profession.

This interview was conducted by Kyle Rudden Past President of the Caribbean Actuarial Association”, and Society of Actuaries’ Ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago.

KR How did you first become involved in the field of actuarial science, and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?

The actuarial profession is indeed niche, and I believe every qualified actuary has a unique story about how and why they entered this field. In my case, my father, an advertising executive, had several insurance clients who were close friends. Observing my interest in math, evidenced by my absorption in math books, chess, and the Rubik’s cube, his insurance clients unanimously concluded that I would become an actuary. My fate was sealed when I was accepted into the 6th form Maths group at St. Mary’s College and later won an Open National Government Scholarship.

KR You have had a very international career. Can you please share how you were able to construct such diverse global experience?

After leaving St Mary’s College, I spent a decade studying and working in the UK. Following this, I returned to Trinidad for a three-year period under the terms of my Government Scholarship and was offered the role of Chief Actuary for Guardian Life of the Caribbean. The beginning of my international journey then started with my first posting in Puerto Rico as the Chief Actuary for a Life of Jamaica subsidiary (now rebranded Sagicor). For the past 27 years, I’ve resided in Latin America, including Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil where I currently live. My career was not part of a well thought out strategic plan but rather seizing opportunities presented to me and recognizing the potential of each role.

KR Can you please discuss the recent honor you received from the Brazilian Institute of Actuaries and your contribution to Brazil?

The Brazilian Institute of Actuaries, founded in 1947, is the oldest professional Actuarial Association on the American continent. Throughout my career, spanning various industries such as Reinsurance, Life Insurers, and Health Insurers, I’ve endeavored to share the best actuarial practices from North America with my Brazilian colleagues. I successfully lobbied the Society of Actuaries (SOA) to consider Brazil as a key market for knowledge transfer, introducing the SOA Regulator training program to Brazilian Regulators. Encouraging my colleagues to pursue SOA qualifications alongside their Brazilian credentials has been a priority. I believe this professional exchange enhances learning for both American and Brazilian actuaries.

KR What strategies do you employ to effectively communicate actuarial concepts and findings to non-technical stakeholders, such as boards of directors or senior executives?

Board members may have a different background to the companies they guide which is beneficial as it brings diverse perspectives. However, as an actuary, it’s crucial to communicate in plain language to effectively contribute to the company’s strategy. My diverse background within the financial industry, including roles in Sales and Marketing alongside traditional Actuarial roles, has equipped me to understand business challenges from various perspectives, both actuarial and non-actuarial. My communication strategy also includes gaining some knowledge of my fellow Directors’ past industries so that I can gain an understanding of how they are viewing financial statements.

KR In your opinion, what are the most pressing challenges facing the actuarial profession today?

I prefer to view challenges as opportunities. Key opportunities include leveraging Artificial Intelligence to automate mundane tasks, allowing actuaries to focus on more complex analyses. Additionally, with people living longer, there’s an opportunity to develop products for a growing retiree population. Lastly, climate change increases the likelihood of extreme events, necessitating innovative risk transfer models and financial solutions to manage escalating catastrophic claims payouts.

KR How do you stay updated on the latest developments and trends within the actuarial industry?

I keep updated the old-fashioned way — by speaking face-to-face as frequently as possible with actuarial colleagues and a diverse group of insurance professionals and insurance shareholders. Engaging in discussions about industry performance and improvements to better serve clients is essential. Ultimately, client welfare must remain the focal point of our strategy, as without them, there would be no insurance industry.

KR What’s the best advice you can give to a young person who is aspiring to become an actuary?

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” The actuarial profession involves making numerous assumptions, and since no crystal ball is perfect, this inevitably leads to errors. Some examples of assumptions include life expectancy, the cost of health insurance, the frequency of car accidents and in a given year and interest rates on investments However, it’s equally important to recognize when assumptions need revising swiftly to ensure organizations can meet future insurance claims. Flexibility and resilience are key attributes for aspiring actuaries.

KR Other than Actuarial Science and Risk Management, what occupies the rest of your time?

Outside of my professional endeavors, I enjoy long-distance running, having completed 18 marathons including both the Trinidad and Tobago marathons. Additionally, I’m an aspiring writer, maintaining a risk management blog called ‘Actuary out of the Box,’ and serving as the editor of the Society of Actuaries’ Reinsurance Journal. I also still fiddle with solving the Rubik’s cube.

KR Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals for the future of your career?

After a fulfilling 38-year career as a global actuary and senior insurance executive, I aim to transition from day-to-day executive duties in Brazil to being an engaged volunteer to the continued development of Actuarial Science in Brazil and also offering my services to Caribbean organizations. This includes involvement with Boards of Directors, the Caribbean Actuarial Association, and engaging with aspiring actuaries through mentorship programs. Giving back to the Caribbean where my journey began holds significant importance to me, and I very much look forward to once again contributing to where it all started.

Ronald and Kyle can be contacted at poolside06@yahoo.com and kyle.rudden@kr-consulting.com respectively.

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