Sumit Ramani is an independent consultant with a strong focus on InsurTechs and non-traditional areas. Based in India, he has actively stepped out from his comfort zone from childhood, through graduating as an engineer and later switching professions and qualifying as an actuary, to starting on his own as an actuarial consultant as well as recently launching another venture that aims at helping customers identify their insurance needs. In his personal journey, Sumit shares the four key ingredients that have worked for him so far:
“I realised at a very young age that I have a thing for numbers and puzzles. I can vividly remember the morning walk when I was 6 and my dad, who is a medical doctor, introduced me to the concept of the time value of money. Since the earliest moments I can recall, he has been pushing the envelope. Hence, I believe that moving out of one’s comfort zone is possibly something that I have inherited. It also happens to one of the key ingredients of my success.
The second ingredient is taking charge of one’s life (and of course career!), which I first learnt the hard way during my formative years. Up until age 8, I was everything but meticulous. Every day after school, I would throw down my school bag and go out to play with my friends without even changing from my school uniform. Doing homework was out of the question and hence the mornings were the most painful part of my day. I would beg my mother to do my homework and she would agree after a lot of persuasion and my false promises to do better next time. But one particular day, she chose to turn down my request... Naturally, I was reprimanded at school. However, since then I have been taking care of my own work and have never blamed anyone else for anything that was my responsibility!
Perseverance and Personal Branding are the remaining two ingredients that have been helpful in my career. Let me talk about these and the first two ingredients as I share my life journey.
Small Town and Early Childhood
During my early years, up to age 10, I lived in a very small town that had a population of about 20,000 (which is very low by Indian standards) and pretty much everyone knew my dad. Back then I would always come first in class and that worried my dad. He decided to shift base to a bigger town, which was the touted educational hub in the region, to help me get more competition. This also meant moving out of his comfort zone for my benefit. Since then I have never come first in anything I did. But that’s largely because every time I started getting comfortable, I raised the bar!
Engineering, Derailing and Bouncing Back
One of the reasons for moving to the “educational hub” was to provide me with the right kind of conditions to get into one of the most prestigious engineering colleges. I had worked towards it for about 6 years but missed out by a few marks in the first attempt. The blow was hard and harsh and it did knock me down. At least for a while. I never blamed anyone else for the failure though. For things pertaining to me, the buck always stops at me!
When I reflect on it now, I believe I had everything that was needed except the perseverance. I didn’t try again and got myself admitted into a not-so-prestigious college instead. During the first three years of that course, I found myself somewhere around the middle of the class, well below my potential. My three years of coasting along had cost me dearly. This is the only phase of my life when I had stopped working on myself. At the end of the third year, I got a job offer with an IT company and it is then I woke up from my long slumber. I spent my fourth and final year on upskilling myself and learning what I needed to get a more challenging job.
In my quest to upskill for a job matching my ambitions, I built a Network Intrusion Detection System using artificial intelligence techniques (in 2006, as part of my final year project). My work was published, but in someone else’s name, which reduced my chances of capitalising on the research project to zero. I ended up taking the IT job I was offered. I was no longer derailed though – I had, once again, taken charge of my career!
From zeroes and ones to probabilities between zero and one
While I had taken up a job as a software engineer, I wanted to do something which required more application of mathematics and it is then I stumbled upon actuarial science. In 2007, there were about 200 Fellows of the Actuarial Institute of India and nobody I knew had a clue about the profession. I devoured whatever I could find on the web, went through the course outline, and decided to take the plunge. Luckily, around the same time a friend of mine connected me to an insurance company that was hiring IT professionals for their systems department. I grabbed the opportunity, took a job as a manager in the IT function of a life insurance company, and started writing exams. My first attempt was disastrous but after that, I cleared at least one exam every sitting (without study support). And each time I did, I would go to the appointed actuary of the company and ask for a job. My requests continued for 3 years before I finally moved into the actuarial function. It was the recommendation of my boss in the IT function that did the trick. He spoke highly of my project management skills, professionalism, and willingness to go the extra mile – my actuarial skills were still limited then. It is then I started appreciating the importance of personal branding i.e. how others see you.
Based on how you work and act, and the values you live by, you build a brand over time.”
Doing the trapeze act
After several years of perseverance, I qualified as an actuary in 2017 and quit a very comfortable and rewarding job with one of the leading global reinsurers. Everyone around me was surprised – I was next in line to be promoted and had recently graduated from an in-house leadership development program, was due for qualification bonus (followed by an annual salary hike and the year-end bonus), was loved by the team, respected for my work by stakeholders and my daughter was on her way to arrive in this world. I, on the other hand, was excited to start on my own. It indeed was a risky step but akin to a trapeze act – being a qualified actuary gives you a safety net. In the first year of independent consulting, I made double what I would have made had I continued in my stable job, spoke at international conferences, started volunteering for the actuarial profession in various forms, mentored others, and appeared on TV. And even with all this happening, I was around to see my daughter growing up!
My years as an actuarial consultant have been the most exciting years of my life... I have lived more, earned a lot more and learnt even more.”
Time for another adventure?
The riches are in the niches – over recent years I have found my niche: I focus on helping InsurTechs across the globe. My engineering mindset of putting structure to both problems and solutions, combined with an understanding of technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning and sound insurance/actuarial experience, puts me in a unique position to work and communicate with both InsurTechs and (re)insurers. The communication skills I learnt as part of actuarial curriculum and enhanced with the help of Toastmasters have contributed immensely in both my professional and personal life.
Being visible is as important as knowing your stuff. You might be a genius but it is of little consequence if the world doesn’t know!”
So far I have helped about a dozen InsurTechs across 5 continents in various capacities. I also helped a virtual horseracing company design its racing and betting engine and launched a platform that helps people identify their insurance needs. While I will continue to consult and advise InsurTechs, one of the next things on my mind is to build one!
Qualification as a professional gets your foot in the door, articulation gets you clients and delivery gets you more clients. What worked for me was the fact that I could paraphrase the client’s problem statement and propose high-level solutions fairly quickly. And in a language suited to that client. Then good work not only ensured that the client stayed for long but also resulted in many more clients.”