Last month, when 21-year-old Abhishek Kumar graduated as a civil engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, he wasn't enamoured by any of the recruiters that had dropped in on the campus.
With a fascination for maths, his focus was to become an actuary. So he applied to insurance companies and consulting outfits.
Today, Kumar is thrilled to be one of the 12 employees at insurance major HDFC Standard Life in Mumbai, training to be an actuary. He is hoping to become a full-fledged actuary by the time he is 25.
Three years ago when multinational reinsurers Swiss Re set up its service office in India, it imported a practicing actuary.
After spending years in Japan, today 31-year-old Walter de Oude is its only actuary for India. But Oude, who recently hired a host of students who are training to be actuaries, says he is scouting for more.
He isn't the only one. Almost all the insurance players, including the quasi-government Life Corporation of India, consulting firms and even banks are wooing actuaries assiduously.
They are each hiring about 10 to 15 students who are being groomed for actuarial posts.
So much so, that even before they appear for the first of the 14 papers necessary to become a full fledged actuary, the post-graduate students in maths or statistics are being showered with lucrative offers.
Gone are the days when actuaries were employed only by the LIC at abysmal pay scales of 7,500 a month.
"Like in many sectors, the entry of private insurance players has changed the dynamics of the game," says K S Gopalakrishnan, appointed actuary at Birla Sun Life.
Today, a fresh post-graduate student attracts between Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh annually. A full fledged actuary with five to 10 years of experiences carries an annual cheque of Rs 20 lakh.
While an appointed actuary gets Rs 30 lakh. That's because, with the insurance sector booming, actuaries are hot property now.
Their skills relating to forecasting events which are probable and assessing financial implications have become dear. They design insurance products, formulate premium tables and even dole out investment advice.
"They are the financial technicians who make sense of the future," says Oude.
Banks too are jumping on the bandwagon. "We are using actuaries for the investment and asset management businesses," says the appointed actuary in a foreign bank. Indian banks are still waiting in the wings.
R Kannan, appointed actuary at SBI Life Insurance Company, is actually on deputation from the Reserve Bank of India.
"Once the Basel II norms come into effect, RBI is likely to issue guidelines on how the banks can utilise actuaries," he says. The central bank has used actuaries for valuation purposes in the case of mergers and acquisition and valuation of financial instruments.
No wonder then, the number of students enrolling at the Actuarial Society of India is galloping. From barely 471 students enrolled at the ASI in 2000, there are almost 3,486 students.
"This doesn't improve the situation much," says the head of an insurance company, who also visits the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata to hire students.
While there are 3,000 actuaries in the UK, the US has around 10,000. In India, the current demand for actuaries is 5,000, say the players. But the number of actuaries who are members of ASI are only 203, up from 143 in 2000.
"These also include the foreign actuaries operating in India," explains LIC's Agarwal. While many are employed with insurance companies, others are with insurance consulting firms like Watson Wyatt.
What's more, according to G N Agarwal, chief actuary at LIC, the average age of a practicing actuary in India is around 60 compared to 65 years five years ago.
That's why, almost all the players are funding the actuarial studies of their employees.
Almost a decade ago, Padmaja R had a choice for post-graduation a masters in computer application, business economics or actuarial science.
"When my father said that by taking up the last I could be one of the rare species in India, it was a challenge," she says and joined LIC. Today, at 35, Padmaja has since moved from Global Trust Bank to a leading insurance major.
Earning a fat packet, she says, "By joining the private sector, my learning curve became shorter. I have packed in much more than what I would have learned at LIC," she says.
It's a rich man's world
A fresh PG student gets between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh annually.
Full-fledged actuary with 5-10 years experience gets Rs 20 lakh.
An appointed actuary gets Rs 30 lakh.