Forecasts possible for everything but marriage

Professional consulting services, which the Economic Development Board is nurturing, is a key sector that supports firms here in making critical business decisions. It has good prospects on a global level for people from diverse backgrounds. In the fourth of a seven-part series, Arti Mulchand talks to three people working in the sector.

A stress fracture sustained in 2005 while doing national service ended Mr Brian Ho's dream of becoming an officer, but being medically downgraded to doing administrative work led him to a different destiny - predicting the future.

A book about actuarial science drew him into a world where his task was to figure out the likelihood of a particular event happening, helping to decrease the odds that something undesirable would happen, and minimising the financial impact of unfavourable events on companies such as insurers.

"I thought it was an interesting mix of mathematics and business savvy, and decided it was for me," says the 28-year-old senior associate with Deloitte Analytics.

Actuaries can help an insurance company decide what premium to charge, given information about the insured, or help a firm figure out how much to pay for fire insurance, factoring in the nature of the business and even how often the firm holds fire drills.

It is a niche area, and only a handful in Mr Ho's cohort at Nanyang Business School ventured into this world of measuring and managing risk.

He worked with a reinsurer for two years after graduating in 2010, building "catastrophe models" to measure and mitigate risk.

One model became a reality when, in 2011, a 9.0-magnitude Tohoku earthquake hit Fukushima, affecting several clients.

However, Mr Ho was convinced that his skills could find a broader application so, in 2012, he moved to Deloitte, one of the Big 4 accounting houses.

There, he found a rewarding future in forecasting for industries such as finance and health care.

His projects included working out whether automation could help reduce waiting times at a hospital pharmacy. While doing the number-crunching, his team worked closely with pharmacists and the hospital to understand the limitations of what could be done.

"We needed to ask what the numbers really meant and how they would affect people. The eventual solution helped cut waiting time to less than 15 minutes on any given day," he recalls.

At the moment, his skills are being put to a different kind of test as he prepares to marry his girlfriend of five years.

His Excel worksheets can track budgets and table assignments, and Tumblr takes care of RSVPs, but can he forecast if his marriage will be a happily ever after?

He replies with a laugh: "I think there are too many unknowns in that equation. That, I have to leave to fate."

This article was first published on Nov 3, 2014.

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