Nazir Valani, FSA, FCIA, MAAA
A drive to push through the fear of failure is one of the traits that separates successful entrepreneurs from the pack. And as Nazir Valani learned early in his career, that drive is especially important when doubts come from people he looked to for encouragement.
Nazir has put many doubts to rest after a series of difficult situations and choices. After fleeing from Uganda to Canada as a teenage refugee, he changed majors from chemistry to mathematics relatively late in his collegiate studies and had to make up for lost time earning his degree while preparing for his actuarial exams. He didn’t truly realize the importance of the exams until prospective employers started asking him about it. Yet, he persevered and completed his FSA.
Nazir believes one of his greatest lessons was learning how to take initiative and learn on-the-fly. Early in his career, while working at Halifax Life Insurance Company, the company faced a difficult implementation process for launching a new insurance bundle. After an IT leader within the company estimated that it would take three years, Nazir boldly offered a six-month completion. Suddenly given the reins to a project far bigger than he’d ever managed, Nazir created a true “team spirit” among Accounting, Administration, Actuarial, Underwriting and IT. Once he got them to believe this turnaround was possible, Nazir’s team completed their work in just six months and two weeks, and Nazir was awarded the company’s first ever “Excellence Award.”
“When I was doing my ASA,” Nazir says, “I was having problems with one of the exams. My boss called me in and said, ‘Nazir, I want to be honest with you. You should pick a different career. You’re not smart enough to become an actuary.’ I wanted to prove him wrong.”
In thinking back to that moment, Nazir says,“You need to have the passion and interest to be successful. And it’s not just the exams, it’s everything else as well.”When you have a drive to succeed, avoiding risk can be the biggest risk of all.
Nazir rose through the ranks to become the director in charge of actuarial services, but blended his wide-ranging education with an open mind and an eagerness to seize opportunities. He cold-called GGY AXIS, a small software company that was not hiring, and pitched the president on why they should create a position for him to help them work with customers to implement the software. After Nazir was hired, he helped the company grow the business and corner the Canadian and the Caribbean actuarial software markets. Later, he moved into a new position at Prudential Insurance Company of Canada to head-up their product development in the high net worth executive market. He later kickstarted a self-run actuarial consulting company that became Canada’s second-largest life insurance actuarial consulting practice.
Nazir said he owes his success to chasing uncertainties, capitalizing on opportunities and learning along the way. However, he was always certain of one core element to success—actuarial excellence. When KPMG approached him to buy his consultancy, he was skeptical. What did an accounting firm know about actuarial science? That’s why Nazir came to accept KPMG’s offer on the condition that he would build their actuarial practice. Soon he was leading three practice areas at KPMG—Life, Pensions and Property and Casualty.
Nazir credits the SOA exams, along with the practical work he experienced throughout his career, for helping mold the true pioneers in his industry. As he neared KPMG’s mandatory retirement age, he still wasn’t ready to give up developing his career, so he launched his second business—Valani Global.
To provide the constructive encouragement he wishes he had received at the start of his career, Nazir is helping the SOA mentor the next generation of actuarial talent by speaking at events and meeting with young actuaries. By now, his doubts have evaporated, and how he overcame them is a testament to his personal and professional development.
“At one point in my career, my boss came to me and said he’d heard if there’s an impossible task, give it to me, and tell me it’s impossible—and I’ll get it done.” Even today, Nazir is always looking for that next impossible task.