Stuart South – charting new paths to excellence
WHEN Stuart South stood up in class on his first day at Campion College and introduced himself, he said he wanted to become an actuary. At the time he wasn’t quite sure what an actuary was, but his mother had suggested the career choice to him since he was great at maths. Now, after a few surprises and detours on his educational and career journey, South is not only a manager in the Capital Markets Department at Sagicor Investments, but he is one of the youngest certified actuaries in Jamaica.
“Throughout high school my ambitions changed a bit, and I decided I wanted to be a software engineer,” South shared in an interview at Sagicor Investments’ Hope Road headquarters. “I loved computers and programming, and in sixth form I applied to a few prestigious colleges abroad to study computer science, but life doesn’t always go your way…”
South had also applied to study actuarial science at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, as a contingency, so when he was not accepted into either of his preferred universities, he pursued that course of study instead, holding firm to his belief that everything happens for a reason. During every year of his degree tenure, South participated in Sagicor Group Jamaica’s summer internship programme.
“When I graduated from university I really wanted to work at Sagicor because I loved the culture, but there were no full-time jobs available at the time in any of the areas I was qualified for, so I took a job at a manufacturing company,” South recalled.
But South had left such a great impression as an intern that when a position for an actuary came up at Sagicor Financial Corporation in Barbados six months later, his co-workers in Jamaica recommended him for it.
“I was in a bit of a conundrum because I was enjoying my job, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to relocate to Barbados, but I decided to take a leap of faith and go for it,” he shared.
After an initial adjustment period, South settled into living and working in Barbados. After two years he had become so accustomed to living in that island that he had a hard time deciding whether he wanted to return home when an actuarial analyst role became available at Sagicor Life Jamaica.
“I had such a good circle of friends from around the Caribbean and I was enjoying my time there, but eventually I decided to come back home,” he shared. “I came back as an analyst in the Employee Benefits Division.”
South explained that an actuary is a problem-solver who manages risks. In the context of insurance companies, actuaries help to quantify, manage, and mitigate risks associated with the benefits of insurance products, and ensure that these products meet the needs of clients while being viable for the insurer.
“I enjoyed this role because I got to work in pensions, and it allowed me to speak with a lot of different people and stakeholders about the importance of planning for retirement,” he shared.
As he matured into his role at Sagicor Life Jamaica, South received many accolades. One of the biggest moments, he recalled, was being recognised as Sagicor Group Jamaica’s team member of the year for 2019.
“I was very surprised when I received that award, but I was ecstatic,” South said. “It’s always good to be recognised as it shows that I am going in the right direction; this is motivation to do even better.”
On his journey to becoming a certified actuary, however, South experienced disappointment several times.
“There is a misconception that it’s the people who are most academically inclined who become certified actuaries, but it’s actually the people who are most dedicated and can brush themselves off from failure,” he noted. “It’s a different ball game doing the professional actuary exams while working full-time and having other responsibilities. It’s a lot of dedication, sacrifice, and prioritising.”
After completing his final exams to be inducted as a fellow of the Society of Actuaries in 2021, South decided earlier this year that he wanted to take another leap of faith into the world of investments. In August he assumed the role of manager, capital markets, at Sagicor Investments Jamaica Limited.
“I decided to give it a shot because I’m very passionate about investments. It’s one of the ways in which we can effect meaningful change within society, both from a macro point of view, down to the individual. We see a lot of change being effected through the private sector and persons in the investments field have a big role to play in the growth of the economy for the benefit of all of us,” South said.
Still in his early thirties, the actuary feels as if he has just started a new chapter in his life, and he is looking forward to filling each page with exciting new experiences both personally and professionally.
“My goal is to continue developing personally and professionally, and ultimately, I would like to be an executive here at Sagicor so that I can influence the future growth of the company, which will allow us to continue improving the lives of our people in Jamaica and the wider region,” South said enthusiastically.
He shared that, while growing up, he learnt many lessons from his parents – who are both bankers – particularly the importance of being kind to others and living a life of service to those around him.
“And these lessons have stuck with me and served me well over the years,” he said reflectively. “I try to live my life in such a way that people will remember me as a good person, a person who cares. A good co-worker, a good friend, a good family man. I want people to remember me for making a difference in the financial sector in some way and making the lives of everybody around me better.”